R.B.I. Baseball 18 enters the fray at an important time for the video game realm as well as the MLB Advanced Media division.
This particular arm of the MLB went from maintaining websites to developing its own video game in the span of a few years, reviving a classic franchise with a built-in fanbase as a way to offer a more arcade-esque alternative on the market.
R.B.I. 18 is the equivalent of an up-and-coming team with a loaded farm system. This is the first in-house-developed offering from the MLB Advanced Media division and boasts a bevy of new features, so here's the verdict on the key points and whether the rest of the market has something to worry about in future years.
At a time when the game itself has to worry about tempo issues, R.B.I. 18 keeps the gloves off and goes right back to its arcade roots, offering quick-hitting action in all phases.
The gameplay is simple and will appeal to some while turning others away. At the plate, one button controls the swing and places a bigger emphasis on timing than anywhere else. There is a minimal feedback loop here besides the result of the play.
It's the same story on the mound. Unlike other games, the perspective doesn't change when a player takes control of a pitcher. One button controls the pitch, and the direction a player presses an analog stick influences what sort of pitch it is. Stamina management is there but minimal, with some pitches using more than others.
Gameplay is fun, though veterans of other games, like MLB The Show, will have the sensation of losing control at times, as if some of the occurrences on screen are the result of RNG (random number generator). Sifting through pitch options and ball placement or reacting to ground balls while gunning the ball to a base gets thrown out in favor of punching one button.
And if you're like me and try to break things, there's some of that as well. Fielding a ball as an opponent reaches base can hang the game up forever if you simply keep pressing buttons to toss the ball to different bases. The runner won't move any longer unless you goof hard enough to throw the ball away, which I did. The game itself won't advance until you stop moving.
It's an older way of handling things, if not a funny one. This applies to player animations as well—as long as you put a player under the ball in the outfield, he'll catch it, even if he's turned the wrong way.
In one instance, I had a computer opponent in the outfield catch a ball in full sprint and wing it behind his back down to first base, a feat that would make Superman blush.
None of this doesn't mean the game isn't fun, but the shortcomings for a game trying to build itself up and still hit yearly releases aren't hard to find.
Graphics and Presentation
One of those shortcomings can be found here: There aren't any announcers to chronicle the action.
It's not an odd thing to point out, as the only sound players will hear besides a guy yelling the count is some licensed music playing between innings. Playlists and playing with other people can mitigate the issue, but it's one of those things you didn't realize could be missed until it's gone.
Graphically, R.B.I. 18 does better with stadiums than it does players. Most look like true-to-life offerings, though the crowds in them aren't exactly dynamic. And I had at least one instance of an opponent hitting a homer in my stadium and the crowd going nuts while the celebratory music played.
Small details like shadows and lighting look great as well. Players themselves simply don't stand out, though, and while there are improvements upon past offerings in the form of unique animations for star players, it's going to be one of those cases where they need to keep adding them for years.
Without announcers, cutscenes between batters (players disappear and get swapped out for the next batter right in the batter's box during an inning) and other missing shots now taken for granted in games, R.B.I. 18 can feel hollow to those expecting a more cinematic experience.
Franchise and More
One of the bigger additions surrounding R.B.I. 18 is the new franchise mode.
The offering is more of a simplified version of what players may have come to expect from a franchise mode.
Players can take a team of their choice through 10 years of play, earning a grade at the end. There are a few small modifiers here, permitting trades without any denials and inking whatever free agents you want after a season.
There aren't any other options to speak of—players can view a calendar, stats and standings. Franchise is an integral part of any sports game these days, though the offering here is simply taking a preferred team through a season and then doing it again.
Simplicity reigns supreme elsewhere. There aren't player ratings. There is progression to add some replayability, but it's odd not to see basic overall ratings considering the basic nature of the game.
The separate home-run derby is a fun addition, yet it doesn't have an online mode, only leaderboards. And the implementation of legends is a nice touch to the roster.
Speaking of the roster, one of R.B.I. 18's notable innovations other games could take a cue from is the ability to download an updated roster reflecting real-life changes directly to a franchise mode. It's a small thing, but a quality-of-life upgrade allowing for a mode players invest hefty amounts of time in to remain authentic as a season progresses.
R.B.I. 18 is all about expectations.
Those expecting a simulation experience are looking in the wrong place and will leave this offer feeling like it is bare bones.
And to be fair, R.B.I. 18 has a ton of work to do in future years to carve out staying power. This feels like a game designed by a new team with the intent on filling a niche and also crossing it over to mobile and tablet platforms. For those interested, the iPhone and iPad versions launch on Tuesday, March 27, with Nintendo Switch, Android smart phones and tablets releasing later this Spring.
Which doesn't mean it isn't fun. R.B.I. 18 is a fun pick-up-and-play experience far removed from the outsourced efforts earlier in the series. Those who want to kick back and play simplified, fast baseball games with friends or online will find a solid offering here.
There's a retro style sure to punch the nostalgia button for many and weave in new fans as well, thanks to the simple pick-up-and-play nature of the game.