With another baseball season, comes another baseball game. But this game isn’t an entry in the MLB The Show series. This is R.B.I. Baseball 2017. Yes, that same series from back in retro-year. The series made a comeback a few years ago and this is the 4th entry. Now for the sake of clarity, I’ve not played an R.B.I. baseball game since the NES entries. This would be my time up at bat for the modern versions. R.B.I. Baseball is not intended to be a simulation game, it’s more of an arcade style game. Therefore, a comparison to MLB The Show would be unfair. I will acknowledge that The Show DOES have a mode similar to what R.B.I. is trying to replicate, and that’s a simple and retro style baseball game. R.B.I. Baseball is unique in the sense that it’s a sports game essentially developed by the league it is portraying. Meaning it is developed and published by MLB.
Now, with all that out of the way, here’s the scenario. I found myself far away from home due to work. Being the purchaser of physical media that I am, that meant I was far away from my MLB The Show. I’m a huge baseball fan and I really found myself itching to play some MLB. I’m also a traditional gamer in the sense that I prefer a controller in my hand and being glued to the television screen. Also, I wasn’t about to plop down another $60 on a game I already own which was only intended to hold me over for a week until I made it back home. Then something happened. Corey Seager was staring at me. Sitting there on the shelf with a $20 price tag. Somewhere between skepticism and optimism I remembered the time of ESPN NFL 2K5. Not being naive though, I recall the bad rap the earlier R.B.I. games received. But as I said. I had an itch I needed to scratch. So I bit.
Presentation / Graphics
As soon as you hit X to start the game you’re greeted with a “Welcome to R.B.I. Baseball!” From a guy who sounds extremely bored and unenthusiastic. Promising. The background music is a series of continuous generic old school sports jams with the occasionally sound effect to remind you that it’s on a loop. No big. The next prompt is to download a roster update which was a nice touch. The menus are bare, nothing complicated and straight to the point.
Each team has their respective uniforms and ballparks to pick from and picking my New York Mets, I was pleasantly surprised that the lineup and roster was accurate for the most part. Even more so that all players had their player photos. Yes. Even the bench players and later additions to the bullpen.
While in game there is no music and there’s no announcers. All you get is the umpire yelling out whatever call is being made. I found myself getting bored as hell. It doesn’t even have a replay mode. I guess they don’t want you to zoom in on the player models. Which brings up my next point. They all look exactly the same. Just different skin tones, and in the case of Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom they actually have long hair. Other than that, nothing makes them unique.
There are 4 modes to pick from, Exhibition, Season, Post Season and Online. Exhibition is your standard pick up and play, you can play against a second player. Season is the mode where you can sit and play a full or partial season. Post Season is basically a tournament mode and then there’s online which is self explanatory. Now, for how the game plays.
The defensive play is broken. For myself, pitching and defense is the most exciting part of a baseball game. The controls are awful. Nearly every baseball game I can think of follows the traditional method of throwing to bases. 4 face buttons, 4 bases in nearly the same shape. But it feels like either R.B.I. Baseball either purposely decided it wanted to be different or just wanted the player to have a hard time. The way you throw to a base is hitting the X button WHILE aiming with the analog stick. Now let me explain to you why this does not work. That same X button is what you press to change fielders. So if you press it and change your guy, the one closest to the ball just stops moving. That’s it. It’s almost like they give up on the game too. You can’t anticipate the throw either. What I mean by that is if your running south to catch a ground ball but need to throw it to first, because you’re running downward, he will throw it home. If you turn the analog stick toward the base early, then the player will just happily run that direction. Letting the ball just pass by. The jumping and diving is automatic and seem to have no rhyme or reason. When a dive looks like it’ll catch the ball, they just keep running. When it’s a close ground ball, the players dive. Even when it was within reach, actually allowing the ball to pass. It makes no sense.
That’s just the half of it. Whenever the AI managed to hit the ball up in the air I found myself panicking a bit. That’s because there’s absolutely no way to gauge where the ball is going to land. When I finally caught a fly ball I was overcome with a tiny sense a joy. Not because I felt myself overcoming a learning curve, but because I guessed right. There’s absolutely no reason I should have a hard time guessing where an infield pop up is going to land. That’s not to say there isn’t an indicator somewhere showing you where the ball actually is. The problem is when it starts to fall and you run after it. The drop makes it go double the speed of your player when it’s about to land. Making it impossible to grab. The AI on the other hand has no problem, of course. Upon fiddling with the settings, I changed the fielding cursor to static which is the only redeeming feature the settings contained. Settings also contained a ‘modern’ control scheme which only broke the fielding even more. On the controller layout screen some explanations were blanked out, and in the next page it was explained. This left the base throwing to what was supposed to be the more traditional method, but all it did was break it even further. Half the time it didn’t work and resorted back to direction and X for throwing.
Pitching is the only thing that is reminiscent of the old NES games. Hold a direction while pressing X to pitch, then aim if you want it to break. I mean, it does what it’s supposed to. It’s just a shame the developers did nothing further with the mechanic. You don’t have just 2 buttons. You can assign pitches to them. The developers failed to do anything to show that they cared about this game.
Batting is probably the only part of this game that works. It’s just hit X with timing. You can hit, steal bases. The basics are all there. Unfortunately it doesn’t matter who you pick to pitch, field or bat. There seems to be absolutely nothing that differentiates them.
R.B.I. Baseball MAY have been passable if I had just stuck to treating it as a $5 iPhone app. Even then it’s overpriced. It feels like the developers just slapped a couple of logos together and took an in-concept engine and called it a day. The game’s controls and inability to do baseball right in its 4th entry guarantee that my curiosity will never get the best of me again. I really tried to like this game. To find a redeeming quality that would allow myself to apologize to my wallet. I played multiple games. Stay. Away. This is an insult of a game. For paying $20 I almost want to deny myself forgiveness for being curious. Needless to say. I’m gonna cuddle my copy of MLB The Show when I get home. Stay faithful, gamers.