R.B.I Baseball 20, developed by MLB Advanced Media, is the latest in a quiet annual effort to provide baseball fans with a fun, arcade-style alternative to other heavyweights on the market.
With simplified controls aimed at pick-up-and-play potential, the series has spent the last few years commanding its niche.
But there is a challenge—mixing things up enough in a way gamers have come to expect on a yearly basis from sports releases.
By boasting revamped pitching and hitting, R.B.I. 20 manages to feel fresher than any release in the series yet.
R.B.I. 20 has appealed in the past due to its simplicity and quick-hitting nature.
Arcade action is especially fun for a sport that has struggled to keep fans interested in recent times. Making it simple to control right upon picking up a controller has previously helped the series find a ton of success.
And kudos goes to MLB Advanced Media for taking the bold step of revamping two critical elements like pitching and batting. The reworks are done well enough to make sense for players who have experience with the series but also retain the usual pick-up-and-play qualities present in past iterations.
Players get a variety of realistic pitching options based on the pitcher and scenario, shifting the analogue stick to select one, then using the left stick to place the pitch.
In the batter's box, players use a power gauge to decide whether to emphasize getting quality contact or swinging for the fences. It's not quite as intuitive as pitching—holding a button as the ball arrives at the plate and releasing for contact is a little strange. But it doesn't take long to adapt.
While pitching and hitting are headline items, there have been some important quality of life changes. Ball physics are clearly improved. Pickoff attempts flash a camera when a player needs to respond and represent a minigame. Hit the correct button corresponding to a certain base fast enough and catch a runner out.
Unfortunately, some past gameplay problems still persist. There are some turnoffs for those hoping for something close to realism. It seems hitting and pitching animations are often recycled. At a time when baseball is trying to appeal to the next generation and superstars have distinctive looks and behaviors, it feels a little lacking.
Likewise, infield A.I. struggles a little: Sometimes a fellow defender will shoot off toward an unexpected base or a routine play will turn out to be anything but.
Even with its flaws, R.B.I Baseball 20's gameplay is the big selling point here. It's quick, a blast with multiple people and doesn't take itself too seriously. There are enough changes to feel like the gameplay is taking measured steps annually, too.
Graphics and Presentation
R.B.I Baseball 20 doesn't really set out to take the crown as the best sporting experience graphically.
Even so, there is more detail baked into the visual experience this time around. This won't help R.B.I. escape comparisons to graphical powerhouses like The Show, but it's nice to see strides made in these areas. It feels like those behind the game could've just as easily shrugged off those details under the guise of this being an arcade offering.
There remains a give and take, though. Ballparks still look true to form but player models seem a bit all over the place. Crowds sound like they react better to the on-field action—just don't squint too closely at the blotchy forms.
The new camera perspective when pitching feels leagues better than past games.
There isn't much in the way of broadcast intros or endings between the action. There aren't sideline reporters or mascots running around. But for those familiar with the series, this year's presentation is still a step forward due to the varied camera angles.
Cracks of the bat also ring out, and the announcer calling out balls and strikes is a fun nod to classical games and their limited presentation. A varied soundtrack hits the right arcade vibes too.
Franchise and More
Game mode offerings from the latest in a long-running series won't blow anyone away on paper: Franchise, exhibition, postseason/tournament, online play and a home-run derby.
But gamers aren't gaming on paper. It's nice to at least have a franchise mode in an arcade slant like this. Players can hop in, sign free agents, make trades on various settings and ultimately control a team for a decade, but it is a bit basic.
Play the games (after selecting how many) and improve the roster. It's not bogged down in extra details like the price of hot dogs at concessions and managing player relationships, which means it fits pretty well into the overarching theme.
Otherwise, exhibitions and postseason play are what they sound like. The home run derby is a good sidetracking option with friends or otherwise. The game also boasts legends from different eras, which is a nice checklist item to have included.
Team ratings are streamlined into smaller categories, while player ratings are still out.
R.B.I Baseball has been an accessible option over the years, which makes sense given its arcade feel. Players who don't want to go all-in on the typical pitching and batting experience can streamline things with classic controls that ask for button presses. Fielding is another accessibility boon as players can simply turn it to automatic.
Expectations will again be key to the reception for R.B.I Baseball 20.
This isn't a hardcore simulation, nor is it bloated down with many game modes and layers of time investment to understand. Pick it up and play, accepting the faults where they might arise.
This year's steps feel a little more weighted than the last few thanks to revamps of such critical systems. Things feel markedly different, including while fielding, which is a good thing.
A further expansion on the presentation and gameplay are a must for continued progression. But R.B.I Baseball 20 is a good starting point for newcomers and evolved enough to warrant a look for those with series experience.