R.B.I. Baseball has a long history with Nintendo consoles, first appearing on the original NES in 1986. The series was annualized following the release of R.B.I. Baseball 2 for the NES in 1990, until taking a 19 year break following Super R.B.I. Baseball’s 1995 release on the Super NES. Fast forward to 2017 and the series is finally making its way back to a Nintendo console. Sadly, R.B.I. Baseball 17 was not worth the wait.
R.B.I. Baseball occupies a strange space in sports gaming. In 2017, sports games have largely moved away from arcade-style titles in favour of more simulation-like experiences. A quick glance at the most popular sports titles in the world - Madden and FIFA - will tell you all you need to know about the direction in which the market has been headed for the last 20 years.
The developers of R.B.I. Baseball seem to be only partially aware of market trends, as the game seems unable to decide if it wants to be a retro-inspired arcade-style baseballer, or a modern simulation-style affair.
We were surprised to see that R.B.I. sports only two modes: Exhibition and Season. An Exhibition mode is a single game, where Season takes you through an entire season’s worth of games. That’s it. There are only two modes. There’s no online play or functionality to speak of, nor is there any career mode, both of which are staples of the genre at this point.
Once you’ve selected a mode playing a game is functionally no different. The game loads relatively quickly, until you notice how undetailed the arena is. R.B.I. feels like a mobile phone game blown up to fit the Switch’s larger screen; remember, too, that this has also been released on other consoles. The frame rate is rock solid, which is a positive, but it’s easy to see how it achieves this as the graphics are more reminiscent of a GameCube game than something that was made in the last ten years. The stadiums are filled with “cardboard” spectators, which is something we haven’t seen in a long time.
Character models are similarly undetailed, though it’s impossible to tell, as the camera never zooms in on a character. There are no replays, even when you score a Home Run or Grand Slam. The animations are barebones as well. When you reposition your pitcher or batter they’ll simply slide around rather than actually move properly. The stadiums feel lifeless as well, not only thanks to the spectators but the fact that the ground is one flat object with different textures seemingly painted on. The Switch isn’t as powerful in raw graphical grunt as its competitors, but it’s definitely capable of far more than this.
We could forgive R.B.I.’s visual shortcomings if the game didn’t suffer mechanically, but sadly it does. Whether you’re pitching or batting, the game offers no feedback on how to improve your chances of success. This element is critical to teaching players how to improve and to not have it is a cardinal sin in sports games. Occasionally the game will let you know of the types of pitches you can throw or how to steal a base, but the experience isn't enjoyable.
The control scheme is very straightforward, which is one of the few things the game has going for it. Pitching, batting and fielding are all intuitive, and even those not well versed in sports games will have an easy time figuring them out. That’s good, because there’s almost no tutorial to speak of in the game.
R.B.I. Baseball is a game that isn't sure of what it wants to be. It incorporates some elements of both retro and modern titles, but rather than fusing successful elements of both eras, R.B.I. falls flat. Extremely dated visuals, poor presentation, absence of online modes, bad animation and overall lack of polish make for a game that we simply can't recommend, even to hardcore baseball fans. Vote with your wallet and let Major League Baseball know you want a better game before giving them your hard earned cash.