I think the current sentiment being echoed for many console gamers is that the Switch is doing its best to be for everyone. Platformers, shooters, fighters, simulation, casual…it looks like visual novels and even more RPGs are on the horizon, and this is all excellent news. But sports game, the often scoffed and overlooked crowd, has been on the short end of an already pretty short stick. Sure, you’ve got a couple of throwback games from the NEO GEO era, and some passable indie titles. But fully fleshed out, well designed, AAA sport titles haven’t really been spotted as of yet, though the word of both FIFA 18 and eSport legend Rocket League coming soon should, hopefully, fix that. In the meantime, however, we are left to contend with what we’ve been handed, and that also means, for baseball fans, RBI Baseball 17 is the best we can do right now.
Right off the bat, I acknowledge what the makers of RBI were intending. Coming to you straight from the MLB, RBI Baseball 2017 had goals and visions of being the comprehensive, full experience that sports nerds crave and arguably deserve. When I first loaded up the game, it immediately connected to the internet to download the latest roster, which I took to be an excellent sign. RBI Baseball 2017 seems committed to a realism factor, and part of that is making sure it has the most up-to-date information as far as how the real teams are doing. And, coming from a childhood with the NES and Genesis, it’s mindblowing to see the game update itself on a regular basis to make sure that it still has the correct information as the season progresses. Of course, you don’t have to keep the lineup of your team the same as what’s currently happening in the real life bullpen. Though you can’t trade players to make your ultimate dream team, you can, at least, control who is going to be making the game each time, who is riding the bench, and who needs to relieve Fister after three straight innings of giving up runs.
Graphically, the game is…ok. I say ok because it fluctuates wildly between some gorgeous shots of the players in portraits, not to mention some good attention to detail for the stadiums, to what looks like little more than fleshy wire frames of the players out in the field. One stick that I always use to measure out the game is the Ken Griffey Jr series from the SNES. Although simple and 16 bit, I always liked how the players looked, equal parts lean and muscular, really exemplifying what an athlete was, and also serving as a nice pivot for variety between players; that is, not everyone looked exactly like Ken Griffey Jr. RBI Baseball 2017 is not the case. I really felt like the big difference between the players was a combination of uniform color and skin color. If my television was monochromatic, I would have no idea who anyone was, where anyone was or what they were doing. Some have already argued that the graphics needed to be tapered down in order to accommodate the Switch’s underpowered processor vs the powerhouse competitor consoles, and I suppose I can give them that. NBA Playgrounds chose to go a more cartoonish route in order to compensate for how things appeared, but I guess RBI felt it was better to ignore the overall appearance as long as they got the core element right.
And they did. Sort of. You get some very, very vague instructions when you start up your first exhibition match (or, God forbid, you just jump right into a season). You start to feel out how you can switch up the ways to swing and bunt, but I never felt like I had a ton of control for how my batwork went. There were suggestions that a combination of buttons would angle things, but that felt wholly unintuitive. I thought I would move my body with the left stick and angle my swing with the right, but it was using the C buttons (and not even all of them) that gave me some semblance of control. Mercifully, my time at bat was short, as I either struck out pretty fast or gave up easy pop flies that turned into outs. By the way, my line drive to left field should have become at least a single, and I was astonished at how quickly the Blue Jays outfielders worked together.
Playing the field is another mess altogether. You can adjust your pitches a bit, but, again, it’s up to the player to figure out how to better curve and slide your pitch to give at least a bit of a challenge to the AI. Who didn’t give a damn what smokeshow I put on, they still hit it high and hard every time. The player you control automatically adjusts based on proximity to the ball, and this turned into a fiasco when the ball landed between two fielders, I started running left with one, then the targeting changed and suddenly my center was running AWAY from the ball. I grabbed it up and promptly threw it to home plate, not first, because that was the default of where I threw. By the time I worked out how to throw to the different basemen or even do a lead check on first, it was way too late, I was four runs down and never recovered.
Here’s what it really boils down to. People love the original RBI series, and it was easy to see why. It was a simple game that relied on fun mechanics and simple but effective buttons to make sure you could grasp the game and play the hell out of it, because, chances were, you loved baseball more than you loved video games, and this was a nice compromise for when the weather sucked and/or your friends liked video games more than baseball. The franchise sat dormant for almost a decade before being revived, and it really hasn’t been the same since. MLB has turned it into a bizarre hybrid of a game, and the 2017 version is a slightly better incarnation than previous entries, but still has that odd feeling to it. It’s way, way more complex than you’d expect, and it does an amazing job of capturing stats, identities and the feeling of being a baseball manager, giving you a lot of choices and approaches to the game from an overhead point of view. But, once you get down onto the field, you’re met with a mixture of simple, almost rough gameplay combined with the expectation that you’ll be able to throw, hit and run with the best of them despite simply being unable to. You’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, and I think RBI knew that, because the price tag is surprisingly low in an era where the big name sport games easily command twice what RBI is asking.
For people who absolutely need to scratch that baseball itch on the Switch, RBI will make it happen for you. There’s enough here, between playing through a full season of games to having some moderately decent one-on-one action with friends, to make it a worthwhile purchase, but that is almost entirely because it’s the only game in town. If you aren’t that interested in baseball or sports games in general, RBI Baseball 2017 will leave you frustrated, confused and mortified at how much data it takes up on your memory card. And, truth be told, if another great baseball game comes out in the next month or so – even some lighthearted variation of Backyard Baseball – it’s plain to see that RBI will end up sitting out the remainder of it’s season on your Switch.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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