I started off playing R.B.I. Baseball 16 not knowing much about baseball. Home runs are a thing, of course, but anything beyond the basics was out of my particular field of expertise. Unfortunately the only thing the game did teach me, was what it’s like to lose over and over again to teams I knew nothing about.
Newcomers to the sport are not welcome in this game, that much is made abundantly clear from the very first innings, all the way through to your third or fourth game. Then it continues. There are no difficulty options here either, nothing to tailor the game to the individual, meaning you either find a way to adapt or simply fail. And fail you shall.
R.B.I. Baseball 16 is an officially licensed game at least, meaning that fans will instantly recognise their favourite teams and can manage them accordingly, picking the best pitcher that will suit their gameplay style. Again it has to be noted, however, that newcomers are shunned even when picking their team as there are no stats to give any hints as to the ability of each team. You’re left to fend for yourself and live with the consequences – especially frustrating when trying Season or Post-Season mode which, as is the custom with this game, give no indication as to what they entail. Season mode is simple enough, playing each team in a sequence throughout a baseball season, but post-season offers no explanation whatsoever. Even after playing you’ll probably be left none the wiser.
When you do play a game, the controls are simple enough, with a simple press of A to pitch (pressing a direction varies the movement of the ball) and A also swings the bat, if you happen to bat first. Luck plays a big part of the action as your bat seemingly misses the ball despite clearly making contact, displaying the woeful hit detection on offer in the game. Timing is key when making your swing however, and it’s incredibly hard to get right, especially with the aforementioned lack of difficulty settings and no tutorial whatsoever. You are forced to endure, to persevere through the hardship until you essentially teach yourself the basics. If the game’s intention was for you to feel the pressure of a real player then it’s genius, though I suspect it’s merely poor design rather than anything meaningful.
Fielding and pitching feels a little more of a complete experience, with luck playing less of a part (except when the AI hits a home run out of nowhere, almost always when there are at least two batters on bases). Getting your pitch right is the first stage, which requires some tinkering in strategy as you attempt to curve it without throwing a foul ball, or vary the speed to encourage the batter to swing early or miss altogether. If any of these strategies fail and the ball is hit into the outfield, this is where things can go a little awry, thanks to some really sluggish controls and movement speed. If the ball is hit low and goes far it takes an age for your fielder to reach it, then it takes another age for the throwing animation to finish, by which time the opposition are already on their way to another run. If it goes high then an indicator helps you determine when the ball will land, giving you the chance to catch it. It’s just a shame batting isn’t as fun.
The smooth framerate does aid in learning the timing required for batting at least, but it’s likely down to the visuals never coming close to pushing the Xbox One’s hardware. From the oddly chunky-limbed umpires to the poorly detailed player models, R.B.I. Baseball 16 looks like a PS2 game. Visuals aren’t everything, of course, but in a game with so little going for it, it’s just another flaw to add to the list.
R.B.I. Baseball 16 seems like a game specifically designed for fans of the sport and nobody else, but due to some questionable gameplay mechanics and a total lack of respect for the person wielding the controller, it turns out to be a game that only gluttons for punishment will find appealing. A challenge is all well and good, but the player needs to be given the tools to succeed first.
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