Baseball season is once again upon us, and as home runs, diving catches and contrived handshakes to celebrate a win begin to fill our television screens, you may be feeling the itch to play some digital hardball as well.
Xbox One owners know the situation well by now: If you want to play an MLB-licensed game with current rosters and don’t own a PlayStation 4, the only place to turn is the R.B.I Baseball franchise.
The fond memories of playing R.B.I. Baseball on NES or Genesis may resurface momentarily when playing the current iteration, but the feeling is unlikely to last. Simply put, the bar has been raised so significantly in sports video games in the 20-plus years since R.B.I Baseball’s heyday that it’s tough to recommend R.B.I Baseball 17 as a purchase to most, even considering the $20 budget price.
The game currently offers three ways to play: exhibition, season and postseason. Online play, which was part of the offering for R.B.I. Baseball 16, is not available…yet. The official website for the game promises “in the upcoming weeks we will be rolling out a new and improved Multiplayer Mode for consoles.” What improvements we will see over the previous multiplayer experience have not been revealed.
Season mode is quite simple: play the 2017 MLB schedule with your favorite team. Roster management is limited to rearranging lineups, pitching rotations, and potentially utilizing a handful of reserves. There are no trades, no free agency and no rookie classes in future years.
The gameplay on the field is standard arcade baseball, but there are frequent bugs and quirks that can make for some frustrating moments. User-controlled fielders will occasionally dive on their own, even when they have no shot at the ball. CPU baserunners will often make boneheaded decisions on the basepaths, such as trying to stretch a single into a double when down multiple runs late in the game.
Controls are extremely frustrating unless you change the control scheme to Modern (which moves throwing to the face buttons rather than a direction on the D-Pad or analog stick), and the Ball Height Indicator to Static (otherwise, line drives and fly balls are extremely challenging to gauge). The lack of a good tutorial or detailed explanation of the controls will surely be discouraging to those new to the series, or new to baseball games in general.
Once you get comfortable with the pitching controls and mechanics, the CPU AI won’t put up much of a fight on Medium difficulty — they are constantly befuddled by changeups in the dirt. On Hard, you will need to focus on every pitch to have success. The gameplay can be fun and challenging in stretches, between the odd glitches and animations. The fast pace of play is welcome in a sport that is often knocked for being too slow.
Visually, this looks like a game from the PlayStation 1 era of consoles. The stadiums are the standout of the graphics as they are mostly represented faithfully and look quite good. Other than a few shades of skin tone, the players all look the same. In some respects, this “style” can be acceptable in an arcade baseball game, but after seeing the visuals of Super Mega Baseball, it’s a shame to play a game with such mediocre graphics on consoles that are capable of so much more.
Considering where R.B.I. Baseball 16 left off last year, the newest iteration is a shameful effort. Besides slightly changing overlays, there are no obvious improvements, and it’s even a step back as online multiplayer is not currently available. Unless you are an Xbox One owner who must have an MLB game with updated rosters, it’s hard to imagine a large audience that could appreciate and enjoy this game. Save your $20 and wait a few months until Super Mega Baseball 2 arrives.