Ah… R.B.I. Baseball… An old favorite from my youth of many I knew. We’d play this game often, whether at our houses on NES or even Super R.B.I. Baseball at the local Boys and Girls Club on SNES. Back when games were pure and we all just wanted to have fun. Where we didn’t care about graphics or cover athletes or downloadable content being overpriced. Times have changed, and with the recent revival of this series, so has it. But, don’t go getting too excited for major league changes, because, well, sometimes this game feels stuck in the past.
With R.B.I. Baseball 16 out on the market, we partially get a choice in our baseball video game experience. I say partially, because while this is out on both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles, this is the only baseball game available on the former. The latter gets the award-winning MLB: The Show every year. Brand deals aside, we have to work with what we’re given, and right now, this is what we have. If you’re a fan of Sony’s The Show, I doubt anything will ever break that relationship, so stick around if you’re curious about how this franchise has turned out. If you’re an Xbox only player, or just on the fence about your baseball needs, this review could very well be for you.
And, as luck would have it, while I sit here writing this review, cover athlete Mookie Betts just hit his first home run of the season on Opening Day for the Boston Red Sox. Hopefully the first of many, being a Sox fan myself. This is the cover you’re getting should you live in the USA. For any Canadians who may have stumbled across this, you’ll be getting Toronto Blue Jays star Marcus Stroman. I doubt you’ll find anyone complaining about these guys being the faces. And if you’re someone who would rather hold this game in your hands, you can also buy this year’s edition for the same price as digital starting today (4/5/16).
OK, OK, you’re not here for all that, I get it. Let’s get into the nitty and the gritty of R.B.I. Baseball 16. When you first boot up the game you’re treated with a classic jingle that may make your inner child smile. You also get classic sounds throughout, like when you hit a pop fly or a modern take on the stadium jingle that plays when you have a man on base. Those are appreciated from someone like me, but if you don’t have that history, you may not notice, or may not like how it’s presented. When you hit the menus you’ll notice there isn’t much there for you to dive into. We’ve got Exhibition, a Season mode (full or condensed), Postseason mode (which starts you out as a Wild Card team), and Online Play (either inviting a friend or random Smart Match). That’s all. If you’re looking for depth, you’re looking in the wrong place, and for casual fans of the sport, this will suit them nicely.
When it comes to options in these modes, again, don’t look for much. Hell, sometimes you shouldn’t even look at all. There are few. You can adjust the season length, but that’s it. The game features Full 25 or Classic 16 player options for the roster size with roster updates throughout the real MLB season, and Opening Day Rosters should arrive by mid-April. Don’t expect replays, or different camera angles, because those don’t exist. The camera is static for both batting/pitching and fielding. The only shifts are when the game deems it for non-play, which isn’t often. You won’t warm up pitchers, you’ll put them in and go. Don’t look for stats, because you won’t find any, unless the game supplies you with them, or at the end of the game. We do get a Mercy Rule, however, which I very much enjoy.
Controlling the game you can choose from 2 variations: Classic or Modern. Classic fielding has you use a direction and A or X to throw to a specific base, whereas Modern uses the buttons as corresponding bases. The same goes for pick-offs while pitching. If you can’t figure out which base is which button in this scheme, I think you’re playing the wrong game, friend. As far as batting and pitching goes, it’s very basic, again, targeting the casual fan. A or X to swing/pitch, directions to either hit pop ups or grounders, and speed and curve for pitching. Although, I found more success hitting home runs just pressing the button without holding down than I did while holding down. Maybe it’s my deficiency, but the way the batter free-form moves in the box didn’t click with me in order to “plan” my at bat. I just hit the button and hoped for the best. Also, when you’re in the field, don’t look for any jumping or diving buttons, those are handled on a play-by-play basis when the game feels you need to do it. Whether the game guesses correctly? That’s a hit or miss in its own right.
Graphically, no beauty contests are going to be won here. I’m not saying the game looks bad, but there’s nothing that stands out in any way either. Well, maybe the stadiums, but that’s not really saying too much for this game. The stadiums do look nice, but we never get much of them other than the static angles the game offers. The players themselves have few models to them. I don’t know the exact count, but besides a few variations, almost every player looks the same, so don’t go expecting to notice Pablo Sandoval’s gut or you’ll be sorely disappointed. I also never got any looks at their faces other than the glimpses you can get if you’re lucky to get the camera to shift just right in the field, so I think it’s safe to say that the game does not offer very close likenesses of their real life counterparts. As for the animations on display, those are average. Some look fine, like the batting, but others are sometimes weird. They can be stunted, and some of the catches either never make it to the glove, or it looks as if the ball just appears where it’s supposed to. Foul balls can get stuck in midair near the walls or rolled up tarps (especially in Fenway by first base), and while running off the field after the third out, sometimes a player or 3 will run back to their position for no reason in unison, almost as if they are operating on the same rail and they had hit their end and turned around. This isn’t game breaking by any means, but, it’s definitely noticeable. And the crowd looks like a game of “Guess Who?” where no one wins.
Where the game has most of its issues, if you don’t count the nature of the game itself, is in the frame rate. Sometimes it’s good, but many times it is not. The game suffers from plenty of slowdown. Where this is mostly seen is while fielding. Frames drop all too often, especially when throwing to the bases. It occurs most often when occupying the infield. This doesn’t completely hurt the game, but it doesn’t make it shine, either. You can over look this most of the time because while playing by yourself it doesn’t really affect you all too much, it’s mostly cosmetic. However…
On XB1, the online play works, but it could work a lot better. Frame rate isn’t always stable, which really affects how you bat (obviously) and the fielding feels more like a chore here. Button presses oftentimes took too long to register when fielding, and that really hurts you when the game struggles to let you get a throw from the outfield off. I couldn’t find any games to join for online play on PS4, but I seriously doubt that would alter my final opinion and grade for the game, so consider this the definitive review, but when I do finally find one, if it alters any feelings, I’ll be sure to update this accordingly.
If you’re an Achievement Hunter/Trophy Whore, this game may not appeal highly to you. Most of the ones offered are ones that could likely take you a lot of time to accomplish. Games can be completed moderately quick, though, so take that into account if you’re going into a full season of 162 games for some of these.
So if you’ve read this far and didn’t just scroll to see the score, you’d probably guess this game isn’t a home run. It’s really just a bunt you planned out and managed a single. Which, in baseball, is fine in certain situations. In this situation, I do think it’s fine, and I do feel like I will revisit this game every now and then during this baseball season to scratch that itch I feel when the summer nights are long. I enjoyed the game in small doses. R.B.I. Baseball isn’t trying to blow your Sox off (har har). It’s taking a very minimalistic approach to the national pastime, and for some people, that’s all they’re looking for. This series seems to be doing exactly what it wants to do, and that’s recreate the classic game for modern times. If you’re a casual baseball fan, or just a casual baseball game fan, this very well could satisfy that itch. If you’re looking for incredible graphics, realistic animations, lots of game modes, etc., I hope you have a PS4, because that’s the only way you’re going to get that near perfect baseball experience. Otherwise, especially on Xbox One, this is all you’re going to get.
R.B.I. Baseball 16 is out now on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 digitally and at retail for $19.99, or digitally on Steam for the same price. You can also get it on iOS and Android devices for $4.99. Codes were provided by MLB Advanced Media for the purpose of this review.