Caught in a rundown.
I have loved baseball for as long as I can remember, but have only ever found a few baseball games that have really clicked with me. The majority seem to focus on reality and simulation, which is just more serious than I want to be. The two games that stick out as all-time favorites for me are RBI Baseball on the NES and Ken Griffey Jr. on the SNES, two games that focus on the core game rather than all of the depth that comes along with America’s pastime. At first glance Super Mega Baseball looks to be along those lines, with cartoonish characters and goofy team names. It’s definitely my style of baseball game, but it tries to do too much and winds up being a good game with a bit of an identity crisis.
Right off the bat (see what I did there?) the game makes its intent clear. The metal opening music and look of the players and venues give a lighthearted feeling that carries through the game. Players have exaggerated reactions, including sweating profusely in tense situations. There’s just enough in the way of stats to separate power hitters from contact specialists, and with a wide range of difficulty levels and assistance that can be set individually per player, the game can cover a variety of player skill levels.
Platforms: PS4, PS3
Multiplayer: Local only
The base game play is fairly straightforward. Hitting is mostly a matter of timing, and pitching is a two-step process, first choosing the pitch and then moving the reticle to the target area – the closer to the target, the better the pitch. On balls hit to the infield the game kicks into slow motion for a few seconds, giving the player time to react. Balls hit in the air will be tracked and caught by the nearest fielder, generally without any player interaction required (more on this in a bit).
Beyond the basics is where things get murky. When batting I had control of a reticle – I assumed that on higher difficulties I would need to use it to target my swing, but I was able to make perfect contact without touching the stick. When pitching, the game pushed my reticle towards the target, regardless of the difficulty, which made things more difficult because instead of just trying to hit my spot I had to correct for whatever the game was doing for me.
The same was true in the outfield – no matter what difficulty level I played on fielders moved to the ball, which was fine when the play was easy, but when my intervention was required it made things difficult. Super Mega Baseball doesn’t really have a system for selecting defensive players; if I stopped moving a player it automatically moved control to the next closest defender. That meant when taking control I had one shot, because letting up on the stick would switch my control elsewhere, leaving me unable to make adjustments.
It’s a shame because the game can be a good time. There’s a thin layer of RPG-style progression, which allowed me to hire coaches and trainers, who would gain me stat boosts I could assign to players. I could play 16, 32 or 48 game seasons alone or with a friend, although sadly the game only supports local co-op. Player appearance and jersey numbers are editable, so I was able to give some character to my team, which was fun.
The overall visual style is appealing, and was smooth throughout. The hard rock intro left me wanting more, but the music stayed in the menus, and never crept into the game. Aside from the aforementioned issues control was nice and responsive, with the notable exception of stealing bases. I could never find consistent timing for when to press the button, and the best solution I could come up with was to hammer on it as the pitcher was getting set, which got old quickly.
Even with the issues, if I kept the difficulty reasonable, ignored the batting reticle, learned to work with the pitching target and never tried to steal, I had a good time with the game. At its heart Super Mega Baseball feels like those old games I loved, I just wish they would have just focused on making the core game work and left out the additional systems, which not only don’t enhance the game but actively detract from it. It’s a classic example of a game that I’ll still play, but always be bothered that it didn’t live up to its potential.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.