There was a time when a console would have many baseball games released in the same year resulting in a vast library of baseball games. Gamers who were baseball fans had no shortage of games to play. These days, Sony’s MLB: The Show is the only game in town following the demise of the multiplatform series from 2K Sports. So unless you were a PlayStation (4, 3, or Vita) owner, you’ve been being deprived of baseball gaming. That’s where MLB.com stepped in.
MLB’s Advanced Media wing caught a lot of folks off guard when they announced earlier this year that they were developing and publishing their own baseball game, particularly that it wouldn’t just be an iOS/Android game would also be coming to home consoles. Even more surprising, they were reviving a once popular gaming franchise: R.B.I. Baseball.
If you grew up gaming in the ’80s and ’90s on an NES, then you likely played R.B.I. Baseball. The first one released in 1986 and was the first home console game to be licensed by the MLB Player’s Association; which meant it featured real MLB players (of course the game wasn’t licensed by MLB itself, so it featured no actual MLB teams). The game would spawn seven sequels before going dormant following the release of R.B.I. ’95 for the SEGA 32x.
Is R.B.I. Baseball ’14 the glorious return of one of the more iconic NES/SNES sport franchises? No. Is it still fun though? Yes.
R.B.I. Baseball ’14 recaptures the old school gameplay of the series, almost to a fault. It is as simple as it gets and plays like its NES predecessors. Some will find issue with that, especially the gamers who didn’t come up with playing baseball games in this style. This isn’t a simulation and it isn’t complex like modern baseball games try to be. It is very much old school, and frankly it’s a little ugly.
You pitch with the X button, and can modify the pitch using the D-pad. You swing with X and bunt with Circle. Throwing the ball is done with X and the D-pad/thumb-stick in the corresponding base direction. It’s the same simple controls that a couple of generations of gamers grew up using. I for one like the simple arcade approach.
However, there is a problem with R.B.I. ’14, and it’s related to fielding… something you’ll be doing a lot of. The act of catching the ball is simple enough; so long as you have a guy within a decent range of the ball, you’ll grab it. You don’t have to dive or jump, if you’re close then you’ll automatically do it (and catch the ball). The problem can be getting to the ball though.
For some reason, when the ball is hit in the air towards the outfield, the camera will stay with the ball. Instead of zooming out and showing the ball and the field you’re controlling in the outfield, it just stays with the ball. So until the ball reaches the outfield, you can’t see your outfielder, which can make it difficult to tell exactly where you’re at which is kinda necessary to properly track the ball. Likewise, a grounder could be easily missed because the game starts you off trying to grab the ball with a guy (we’ll say third baseman) who shouldn’t be instead of one who should be (shortstop). Now you can press X and take control of the next fielder, but its baseball… ground balls go pretty fast.
So the fielding can get in the way. Of course after a few games you start getting the hang of it a little more, but it’s still a lingering problem that will never allow you to be confident in your fielding abilities. More often than not I found I didn’t have much issue (if anything, I would usually get caught under running a fly ball so that it ends up going over my head), but when it’s there it is annoying.
There’s no getting around the fact that this game is ugly by modern standards. It’s on PS4 and Xbox One now, and honestly it looks like it could have been on PS2 and Xbox. That’s a slight exaggeration of course, because it would be blurry if that were the case and the game is fairly sharp, but it’s just an ugly baseball game with some wonky animations.
Now I’ve got to be honest, the graphics don’t bother me at all. I’m a gameplay guy; graphics are way down my totem pole. So I can get over it and accept the game for what it is: an old school, arcade style simple baseball game. Sound is also a bit of a joke (music wise), but for a game like this, I don’t really care for music.
While I can put aside the graphics and audio, one thing that does deduct from the overall experience is the like of stats. You can make a game with an old school feel, but that doesn’t mean you can’t also incorporate modern staples. The game offers up only two modes: Exhibition and Season. You can see your win-loss record and standings in season, but there are no player stats. The stats that show up in the game are the players stats from last year’s MLB season.
It isn’t just season stats that are lacking, there are no in-game stats either. Short of your own memory, there’s no way to tell what a guy did his previous times at the plate. Sure, it’s easy to keep up with what your guys are doing in your head, but it’s a little more difficult to keep track of what the opponent players have done each time up to bat.
The lack of any sorts of stats, or way to see a player’s abilities (some pitchers throw faster, some runners run faster), is a real bummer and quite frankly mind bogglingly. For a game that seems to want to be a throwback to the days of simple pick up and play arcade style controls, making it so that you have to follow every team in real life to know what the players are capable of is a bit of a head scratcher.
At the moment, there is no online multiplayer component for the game. So if you want to play with a friend or family member, they have to be at your house playing on the couch beside you. I’m not going to deduct points for that though, as online multiplayer will be coming to consoles later this Summer. It’s nothing that’s going to change the game, but at the very least it will provide a little more replay value.
R.B.I. Baseball ’14 isn’t in the same league as MLB: The Show, but it isn’t meant to be and that shouldn’t dissuade PS4 or PS3 owners from picking it up if they’re a baseball fan. If you’re on Xbox One and want to play baseball, well this is all you’ve got and it’ll certainly scratch the itch of playing some baseball. It’s not deep, and it’s lacking in a lot of areas, but it does pack a hefty amount of old school fun. If you can look back on the NES era baseball games fondly (I can still play Bad News Baseball to this day), then you should get some fun out of R.B.I. Baseball ’14.
Hopefully the MLB Advanced Media guys give it another go next year, as there’s a solid foundation in place that they’ll hopefully being able to expand upon in a lot of ways without sacrificing the old school feel of the game. I’m having fun with it and operating my season as the Braves, but I do think $20 is about $5 (at least) too much for this game. If you’re not a fan of baseball, and arcade style baseball games, then there isn’t anything you’ll find appealing about this game at that price. Too bad it doesn’t have a demo.
RBI Baseball ’14 gets a two out of five: DECENT
* A PSN code for this game was provided by the publisher for review.