Ever since I was about 13 years old I have loved the game of baseball. I have owned and enjoyed many versions of baseball video games over the past years from the NES to the Sega Saturn right on up to the PS4 with MLB: The Show 2017. I even had an old handheld baseball game from the ‘70s or early ‘80s that was 2 player and just had red lights to tell you where the ball was and a series of red baseballs that came toward home plate and all you could do was hit the swing button at the right time. The rest of the game was totally random telling you what the outcome of your at bat was. We have come a long way since those days and I was pretty excited to see what R.B.I. Baseball had to offer for the switch.
This is 2017 with incredibly powerful gaming systems that can really immerse you in the sports genre, from intricately detailed players to highly detailed stadiums and the fans watching you play. R.B.I. Baseball doesn’t have any of that. The stadiums are the actual ball parks of each team. The players themselves don’t look too bad. The crowd is made up of stains of color smattered throughout the park and every game seems to be a sell-out. When a batter hits a ball, you have two options for how the game tells you where the ball is going. The default is crazy stupid. It’s a circle that follows the ball directly beneath it and gets larger as it goes higher and smaller as it comes down. It takes a long time to get used to lining yourself up in the outfield to ensure you catch a fly ball. The other, which is the better of the two options, is a circle that tells you where the ball will land. At least then you can try to get to that spot. The computer controlled opposing team always does. You do maybe half of the time.
There is no music associated with this game so I guess it scores a zero. Other sounds include a voice that tells you the outcome of the pitch and whether a player is safe or out. There is the crack of the bat, snap of the ball hitting the glove, and the sound of a player sliding. The crowd will cheer a little and clap, even if the opposing team scores in your house. They will even chant something that has zero loyalty to whatever team is on the field. Just shouting “let’s go” and stuff like that. It was so vanilla that I couldn’t even tell you after just stepping away from the game is that’s what the chant actually was. The important thing to take away is that it’s not them cheering “Let’s go [home team]!” There is an organ that plays when there are three outs tallied and it’s the same every inning. It was easier to tell you all the sounds it had rather than the long list of sounds it didn’t have including but not limited to a play by play announcer.
The controls are about as basic as the NES version of R.B.I. Baseball from the early days of gaming. You have one button to pitch the ball. Pushing down on the left stick is a fast ball. Leaving the stick centered is your normal pitch and pushing up is a change-up. The change-up will just bounce in front of the plate if you continue to hold up, unless your pitcher is your team’s ace, then it doesn’t seem to hit the ground as often – if ever. Your pitchers have stamina and a fast-ball or change-up will deplete this stamina faster. With normal pitching my starters always seemed to be too tired to go on after the 5th inning. Sure, you can throw the slower ball more and hold the left or right directions to get the ball to slide or curve, but you can end up walking more batters than anything if you rely on that. Your choices are to slide your pitcher left or right and then one of the three speeds and then steer the ball left or right.
There are no knuckle balls, breaking balls, or different types of fast balls. Hitting consists of the A button for a bunt and aiming your bunt left or right with the d-pad or stick. Which reminds me you can use the directional buttons/pad or stick for all movement or base selection. The other choice for hitting is the B button which is combined with pushing up on the d-pad/stick for contact or down for fly balls. But you don’t want to hold that d-pad down or up because your batter will move. You push it just before you swing and hold B for a full swing. It’s really that simple. Stealing bases is pushing the base you want to steal and then Y. Want to go back? Then the base you want to go back to and B. Send all the runners with the L button and bring ‘em all back to the previous base with the R button. You can choose your control scheme. One is pressing the directional pad toward the base you want to throw to or my personal choice, each button represents a base. If you hit X it will throw to second and so on. There really couldn’t be any simpler of a baseball game. So I do give it props for simplicity. In fact, everything is so simple that they could’ve named it just plain old “Baseball”.
How does it play? That’s the important question. If you played R.B.I. Baseball on the NES then it plays just like that. If you didn’t, then imagine you took MLB: The Show 2017 and stripped everything out of it that gave you any real control over anything other than the most basic of play and you’ve got an idea of what we have here. Single player isn’t very fun. It’s a grind. They give you the option of playing a full season with the most current roster that you can update whenever they decide to release an updated roster. Then you can choose to use that or the default. What that left me with was no Miguel Sano on the Twins because he’s currently injured and three bench players. That’s 2 catchers and a shortstop. I never had an injury to a player, but I doubt that it’s a part of the game since everything else has been stripped out. Errors happen randomly and you can expect 1 per game for your team and less than that for the computer player. I was going to play this with my 9 year old son, Micah, to get a taste of the 2 player mode, but after watching me play three innings he went in his room and watched Netflix.
The draw for this baseball game would be to have a portable version that you can take anywhere that’s easy enough for any age to pick up and play. It’s the real players, ball parks, and you can play three different modes of a season, the play-offs, or just an exhibition game. If you want to play a friend it has some appeal. It has a reasonable price tag of $29.99. So put all these together and I would still wait for it to hit $10 before plopping down cash for it.
There are some problems with the gameplay that I just can’t overlook. I was pitching, a runner on first and third so I pulled a pick off move to first base. Safe. What happened next was nothing. The game didn’t go back to the pitcher. After about 10 seconds I threw it to second then to third. They called the runner on third out even though he was just standing there on the base and hadn’t moved. To me it was funny in a disappointing sort of way, but if I was a 10 year old boy playing my 12 year old brother I may have chucked the controller and quit. There may have even been tears.
The fact that this is the only officially licensed baseball game that will most likely hit the Switch just isn’t enough to give our readers the thumbs up to give it a try. Even the price tag doesn’t make up for this lackluster attempt at bringing America’s favorite pastime to the Switch. It’s really just an unpolished and disappointing version of one of my favorite sports games. It would be better to not play baseball on your Switch than to bring this into your collection for anything more than that $10 price tag I mentioned. At least then you can say it’s a cheap way to play baseball. I can’t guarantee that the frustratingly inconsistent and buggy game play isn’t going to ruin that fun anyway.
Jay has been an avid gamer since the Intellivision days. His hobbies include building PCs, 3D modeling and printing, and spending time with his children and dog.