The list of baseball games I’ve played in my life includes dozens of titles. From the days of the NES until now I take the time every year to play games featuring my favorite sport of all time. Homerun on the Atari 2600, Little League Baseball, RBI Baseball, Hardball III, Tony LaRussa Baseball, The Show, the list goes on and on. As sim games increase in popularity it’s nice to see some franchises sticking to the arcade roots of the sport from years past. I don’t feel one way or another is right or better. They really come down to personal preferences. RBI Baseball ‘17 looks to recapture the feeling many people had playing the series back on the days of the NES, but with an up to date look.
Let’s just start with the obvious. RBI Baseball ‘17 has flaws, and it has a lot of them. They can’t be avoided, but do they get in the way of what otherwise could be a pretty decent baseball game? If you’d asked me after the first couple of hours of my play through I would have said yes. However, as I’ve put more and more time into the game, learned those flaws and how to deal with them I find myself continuing to come back to the game far more than I imagined I would have. As I’ve had a few minutes to just sit down and play something I have almost always chosen to start up this game. So, what are the flaws, what do I think could be improved, and what would I like to see out of the game should they come back next year?
My biggest problem has been with the batting mechanics. It’s really hard sometimes to simply hit the ball. There are three different pitch types that pitchers can choose from and they are very hard to tell apart. They can throw the ball really fast, moderately fast, or relatively slow. The only way to tell them apart is by the slight difference in how long it takes the pitch to reach from the pitcher to home plate. The difference is almost completely negligible, however they make a huge difference in how well you can make contact with them. If you recognize the slight wobble of an ‘off-speed’ pitch just don’t even bother swinging because the pitch will land in the dirt, despite the fact that no pitcher would ever intentionally throw a ball that lands feet in front of home plate.
The pitching animation is also off. A pitcher who is throwing a ball will release the ball near the top of their arm swing and the ball will be released and visible to the batter while it’s over the pitcher’s head. The pitching animation in RBI Baseball sees the ball released from the pitcher’s hand at the end of their follow through. This means that not only is the ball starting much closer to the batter it’s also being released from the wrong side of the pitcher’s body making it very difficult to tell just where the ball is going to be at any given time. The path the ball travels also feels unnatural as it moves from the right side of the screen to the left; opposite of the way it should if the pitcher was actually throwing a ball. It means that in order to really be effective at batting you should just swing at every pitch, regardless of where it is. I average 12-15 strikeouts per game because of this, but I also average between 15-20 hits in most games because I’m making contact so often. My players are simultaneously the best and worst hitters in the league.
Aside from the on the field game itself feels pretty good. There are definitely weird things going on such as unnatural throwing animations. I don’t know how many times my shortstop has underhanded a throw to first base because the game chose the wrong animation. Every player also feels like they’re in a hurry. All the animations feel like every second of the game is the most urgent. There are no casual throwing animations or times when a player will stop to take a step before throwing. They catch and release all in the same basic motion.
Rosters are also constantly updated, which is a nice feature. The player portraits feature the actual players with their numbers and you’ll get regular updates through the regular MLB season. I was not expecting that with an arcade baseball experience so it was a nice surprise to get a message when I first booted up the game asking if I wanted to update all the rosters.
I never had a problem with fielding. There are some nice options for this. You can choose classic fielding or modern. If you choose modern it will assist you with moving players into position to make plays and it makes fielding balls in the game feel really good. A few times the AI will make some very odd choices and have a fielder sprint to cover a base when in reality they could have very easily fielded the ball to make an out. I’d say it makes the right decision 90% of the time. I’ve never lost a game or had costly errors happen that I couldn’t recover from because of it.
Where the game suffers most, outside of hitting, is presentation. This is about as bare bones a baseball game as you can get. There are no instant replays. Stats are mostly meaningless as every pitcher on your roster feels exactly like the other with the exception of how long they can pitch. There is no real announcer. The stadiums feel slightly flat. They’re close to being real world representations of the stadiums, but many small details, like the water fountain at Kaufmann Stadium just aren’t there. The players don’t feel different from each other. There are only a small handful of body types, not many different batting stances or pitching motions. At one point a player hit a home run and it actually put in a small home run trot animation, but didn’t go past the batter leaving the batter’s box. It was a tease, but showed there could have been some potential to the presentation. No custom characters or stadium customization exists. It’s all about the on-field play and the little frills that make the game feel like a proper sports game just aren’t present.
As far as options on the field you have three different choices, a quick exhibition game, season play, or the playoffs. That’s it. Pick your teams, choose the length of your season and go. You can simulate large portions of a season if you want to speed up the process and not play all 162 games. You can even choose which uniforms you want to wear for a game, which is nice. There are no other options outside of these though. No home run derby, no skills challenges, no training, no custom seasons or leagues, nothing. This game is about playing a season and that’s really what they want you to do. No trades, no injuries, no call ups, just baseball. There’s also no online play. You can play against people locally, but no online play means you’ll be playing alone unless you have people over regularly.
Many of the small gripes could be attributed to this being an arcade baseball game, but as this series is now four years in they should have the on-field stuff down, but even that isn’t perfect. I would like to see some things change in that respect. Make the differences between players matter more, give more unique options to players for batting stances and throwing styles. The problem becomes then when does the game stop being an arcade baseball experience and become a sim? Then if it’s closer to a sim it has to live up to competitors who have long histories of making quality simulation baseball. Do you sacrifice that to make a quick pick up and play experience or do you tread slightly into that bigger, more deep experience?
Despite any flaws that the game has I couldn’t help but find myself playing it. I was looking past those flaws. Learning to how play in spite of them. I love baseball. I love simulation baseball, I love arcade baseball. RBI Baseball ‘17 is a good game. It’s not a great game. It’s really hard in this day and age to bring an arcade experience to consoles. I see the makings of a really fun baseball experience here, but you do have to look past its blemishes.
Review copy of the game provided by the publisher
Played through more than two dozen different games
Total Play Time: 10 hours