Baseball video game fans deserve better.
R.B.I. Baseball is a series that tries to fill the absence of licensed baseball games, aside from the Sony-exclusive MLB The Show. This is its third iteration on Switch and after following a more substantial update last year that brought a longer Franchise Mode to the fore, the 2019 edition doesn’t seem to add all that much. I can’t speak too much to minute differences as this is the first time I’ve really dug into one of these games. The press release speaks of “reengineered ball physics,” new uniform and gear options, playable baseball legends, and weekly roster updates.
As someone who has long loved various baseball video game series over the years, I was hopeful that R.B.I. Baseball could scratch that itch. Sure, it might be more arcade-like, but if it has accurate rosters and fun gameplay, it could be a great way to mess around with a sport. Unfortunately, from the moment the gaming umpire uttered “Play Ball!” I had a bad time with R.B.I. Baseball 19 in almost every possible way, other than the fact that it’s entertaining to suffer in its misery in multiplayer.
The running feeling that pervades every inch of this game is that it feels like someone dug up a game from the Sega Genesis on 1994 (let’s say the extremely specific World Series Baseball, published by Sega and played by a younger Neal) and sprinkled some steroids on it to release it 25 years later. The Franchise Mode is very simplistic, not at all on par with any decent similar mode I’ve played in a sports game in 20 years. The only cool part about it is that you can make use of the minor leagues, but all that does is remind me of other games that did it better 15 years ago. Franchise has a customization aspect of it where you can effortlessly mess with team rosters to your will to make a super team or put Bryce Harper wherever you think he belongs. In general, the managerial aspects aren’t engaging.
If the gameplay was fine, then the disappointing sim aspects wouldn’t be so bad, but unfortunately the gameplay is a relic of the ‘90s. R.B.I. Baseball is pitched as this carefree throwback to old video games. The swinging boils down to moving your hitter in the batter box and timing a swing with minimal nuance. Pitching is just fastballs and change-ups. Fielding isn’t fun: trying and failing to thread the needle between arcade and sim. I played a lot of those old video games and the better ones worked because they actually came through with the simplicity they preached. R.B.I. Baseball attempts to have its cake and eat it too but still gives you a variety of options and controls without focusing on making the game enjoyable. It lacks the deft touch of the Nintendo-published Griffey games, Sega’s underrated Tommy Lasorda Baseball or even the ancient inspiration for this series, Atari’s R.B.I. Baseball. And looking back and breaking out those old R.B.I. Baseball games in 2019? They aren’t even good now. R.B.I. Baseball aspires to a series that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny while painfully living up to the sad legacy by being a mediocre-at-best bummer of an arcade sports game.
It’s a tragedy that the only MLB-licensed baseball game exists as a Sony exclusive. If you’re seeking a good video game where you can play as the Yankees or the Dodgers, get a PlayStation 4 or go dig up a copy of MVP Baseball 2005, a 15-year-old game that still runs circles around R.B.I. Baseball 19. I’m sure there’s some fan community updating the rosters for MVP Baseball on PC or something. Go play that. Don’t take yourself out to this ballgame. Don’t take yourself out with this crowd. For unenjoyable baseball video games, maybe it should be one, two, three strikes, you’re out. I don’t care if it ever gets back.