When I first heard R.B.I. Baseball was returning with its classic, top-down gameplay in tow, I thought Major League Baseball hit the jackpot. A fun, arcade-styled baseball experience that pays homage to the NES era sounded like the perfect complement to Sony’s efforts to capture the realism of the sport in The Show series. After just one game, I came to the conclusion that the MLB’s attempt to wax nostalgic is a Chicago Cubs-sized failure.
The pitching and batting are the only aspects of the game that are even remotely entertaining. Mimicking the NES games of yesteryear, the batter can freely move around the batter’s box, even during his swing. The pitcher is just as skilled, using some form of telekinesis to alter the trajectory of a ball mid-flight. The disparity between pitch types – a knuckle ball that shakes violently before bouncing inches in front of the plate, and a rocket of a fastball that flies by in a flash – keep the batter honest. A good eye and the ability to quickly move into a position to put good wood on the ball require a fair amount of skill.
This is where the fun ends. The remainder of the gameplay package is a frustrating blend of old-school design and poor baseball logic. Keeping the heart and soul of an old franchise intact is one thing, but when that experience is outdated and has been improved upon by two decades of different baseball games, it should probably change with the times, at least a little bit. Sadly, that isn’t the case here.
Any ball hit into the air is a concern, as fly balls are not tracked with a landing zone indicator and fielder locations are often hidden off-screen. Some hard-hit liners move faster than the camera tracking, meaning you sometimes stare at nothing but grass. Where is your fielder? Where is the ball? You find out as soon as the camera locates them. Yes, there is an option to turn on fielding assistance, but this completely removes fielder control; the only interaction at your fingertips is throwing the ball.
Fielding visuals are crude and can lead to baserunning mistakes. Most catch animations play out well before the ball gets to a fielder's location, and some hits that appear to be out of their reach magically warp to their glove for an out. CPU reaction times are also spotty. I saw a second baseman stand motionless on a ground ball hit up the middle, and a pitcher run right past a bunt attempt.
Baserunning logic is equally as flawed. If men are on first and third, and an attempt is made to steal second, the runner on third will try to steal home. This happened twice over the course of 12 games. I just stood at home plate and tagged them out. I also witnessed computer-controlled baserunners on second and third refrain from running on a ball hit into the air with two outs.
Should your pitcher get roughed up or fatigued, a call to the bullpen is in order. Who can you call in? Your options are limited to two starting pitchers and the closer. There are no other relievers in the game. The CPU has no idea how to manage them, either. In a scoreless game with two outs in the top of the second inning, the CPU substituted one starting pitcher for another.
The only avenues of play offered are exhibition and season modes. While the season offers the authentic Major League schedule complete with an all-star game and playoffs, statistics are not tracked. You can’t even look at a box score mid-game. Furthermore, you cannot trade players, view rosters, simulate games, or do anything in the season other than change your uniform. No online options are offered, either.
My goal to play through as much of the season as I could was often interrupted by the game freezing on the post-game scoreboard graphic. I had to return to the dashboard to reload R.B.I. and play the game I had just finished all over again.
I don’t know whom this game is for. Old NES titles like Baseball Stars and Bases Loaded offer more advanced modes and gameplay than R.B.I. Baseball 14 does. Implementing a robust franchise mode, full 25-man rosters, and stat tracking wouldn’t have taken away from the retro charm.
R.B.I. Baseball 14 is one of the most baffling new releases I’ve come across. The visuals are somewhat modern, and the rosters are current, but everything that happens after the pitch is thrown harks back to the ‘80s – a time when developers were just starting to figure out how to make baseball games.
A troubled retro experience that ignores two decades worth of sports gaming advancements.