RBI Baseball 16 is the third modern instalment in the franchise developed by MLBAM, and comes with a whole host of new features, including full nine inning match played in less than 20 minutes, easy to use classic controls, all 30 MLB teams with complete rosters, Season, Postseason and Exhibition modes, including saving seasons capabilities, online play and gameplay settings: Easy, Medium or Hard.
Baseball is a niche sport in the UK certainly. It’s likely that most considering picking up RBI Baseball will have at least a passing interest in the sport, and will have some familiarity with the rules and nuances of the sport.
I, however, am not familiar with the game (though I do love sports and sports games.) If you’re like me, the first thing you’ll want to do is gain some understanding of the rules of baseball, and go looking for the tutorial. Unfortunately, there was no such thing. So, instead, we were thrown straight into a match.
Being thrown straight into a match against AI players with no idea of the controls (there are popup notifications of the controls and terminology but you have to be very quick at reading it as it doesn’t stick around very long, and it only shows up once) means pressing buttons to try and get the players to react. It’s a disconcerting and disappointing start – and seems somewhat short sighted.
Sure, the majority of people picking up the game will know what to do, more or less. But others won’t – and will be turned off almost immediately. This feels like a failure to take the opportunity to grow your audience – people lead busy lives and those with only a passing interest in the sport are unlikely to stick around for very long. And are less likely to pick up the next instalment.
There’s also something a little last-gen about the whole affair, too. Whilst that might be forgivable nearer the console’s launch, we’re coming up on three years in to the life cycle. Visually, things could be better; players look more like poor renders instead of realistic likeness, which could have been easily achieved.
There’s very much a feeling that more attention has been paid to the realism of the environments, which look suitably authentic, although the spectators look like flat cardboard cut outs. The lighting effects are the most impressive visual element. but players don’t look like you would expect; they are all built from identical models, with only skin tone changes to differentiate between each. Apart from the name of the player in the corner of your screen, it is almost impossible to figure out who you are controlling.
Controls are simple; if you are a pitcher, press A to throw the ball or use A and the left Analogue stick to control the speed of the ball or to curve it. You can also reposition the pitcher by using the Analogue sticks. This is jarring though – pitchers don’t move realistically. Instead, they glide from side to side, as does the batter.
I’ve got pretty good reactions, but it’s difficult to work out batting distances and time the swing correctly. I fell victim to a strike more than enough times. Eventually getting the swing right, the fly ball was caught far too quickly by the seemingly infallible AI fielders. Sports games in particular need to provide a challenge without feeling unfair – this is a balance RBI Baseball completely fails to achieve.
Controlling the fielder yourself is a different story. The ball indicator feels inaccurate and it can be difficult to determine where the ball is going to land. It’s also difficult to prompt the fielder to throw the ball back to the right base; he never throws it at the person you are aiming at. Most of the time it feels like the players are randomly playing catch with the ball, while the rest stand at the bases watching in amusement. Things get a little better closer in, as the infield defence controls seem to be more responsive than outfield defence.
There are glitches, too. Fielders will catch the ball even if he hasn’t made direct contact with it. Normally I wouldn’t complain about getting a free point here and there but when the AI fielder catches the ball in such an unfair manner it can get very frustrating. This game certainly takes a lot of getting used to.
It’s fair to say RBI Baseball is trying to offer a pared back sporting experience – this is no cinematic tour-de-force. There’s no in game commentary – crowds will cheer, umpires will call ‘Strike’, ‘Out’ and ‘Safe’ and there’s a short replay if you manage to hit a home run, and that’s your lot. It feels a little sparse, but at least there’s little extraneous to stop you getting into a rhythm.
There are only three modes on offer; exhibition (where I would have expected a tutorial), season / post season and online head to head. To its credit, the season mode has some surprising depth. There’s full stat tracking, accurate rosters and solid attribute ratings.
This game betrays its Nintendo Entertainment System roots – RBI Baseball 16 feels more suited to a mobile platform rather than a console title. The arcade experience could have landed as a breath of fresh air in an generally bloated sports game scene. Instead, frustrations and inconsistencies mean that, unless you love arcade style sports games, this game is unlikely to hold your attention for very long. If you are familiar with the sport it represents and can grasp the controls, RBI Baseball 16 has a pick up and play quality – but wouldn’t you expect that without those qualifiers? Arcade titles shouldn’t be as complex as full simulations games but here there are just too many inconsistencies to truly recommend this title to anyone but the most baseball-starved sports fan.
RBI Baseball 16 is available now from the Xbox Store priced £15.99.
Lacks the immediacy of an arcade game and the depth of a simulation.
RBI Baseball 16 could have been a welcome and simple breath of fresh air in a world of bloated sports simulations. A lack of immediacy and some fundamental issues within the gameplay – the ball indication and pitcher perspective gets a little confusing at times – means this title fails to hit the mark.
There’s some pleasing depth in the Season mode and a fun versus mode, but there are just too many missed opportunities to lift RBI Baseball 16 out of the pack.