R.B.I. Baseball 16 Review
If R.B.I. Baseball were a Major League batter, it would've just swung and missed on its third consecutive strike. Developer MLB Advanced Media has now had three opportunities to put out an arcade-style baseball game on the Xbox One that's worth a $20 download, but even working with successful The Golf Club creators HB Studios for two straight seasons has not helped to make this franchise's comeback attempt a modern hit.
Many basic, expected features remain missing from R.B.I. Baseball 16, such as customizable controls, roster editing, free agency, trades, drafts, player progression and retirement. Most of those features have existed in baseball games as far back as the Super Nintendo, or at least, as early as the Nintendo 64.
"Many basic, expected features remain missing from R.B.I. Baseball 16, such as customizable controls, roster editing, free agency, trades, drafts, player progression and retirement."
R.B.I. Baseball's main competitor on Xbox One, the unlicensed Super Mega Baseball, arguably offers a deeper overall game, even though only three full-time contributors worked on that project. Konami's Power Pros series, which debuts on the PlayStation 4 in April, also had more stuff crammed onto its PlayStation 2 DVDs than R.B.I. Baseball 16 managed to fit into its 4.32 GB file, which I'd assume mostly consists of the textures and models for all 30 of its PlayStation 3-quality stadiums. That space certainly is not being taken up by audio files, since there's no play-by-play commentary, a good (albeit small) selection of organ music and an annoying four-second guitar riff that repeats every half inning.
Even after two sequels, R.B.I. Baseball 16 still struggles to check half the list of "things a sports game should have" in 2016. It's got the usual Exhibition and Postseason options. There's a single-team, multi-season mode, but it contains no farm system, and it offers no roster management other than moving players up/down your order and to/from your bench. Online play is available, but even on opening night, I was waiting between five and 15 minutes per match to find an opponent. Two of those games were so laggy the Xbox One booted me out mid-match. The third game went the full nine innings, but it, too, was noticeably laggy. Statistical leaderboards do track your online performance, if you really want to see how you compare to other R.B.I. Baseball 16 owners like "Creeper Lord 29" and "Save Us Trump."
If R.B.I. Baseball 16 had strong core gameplay, then most fans could probably overlook the lack of supporting features. But on the diamond, this game does not offer anything you can't find at your local flea market in the rows of dusty cartridges that cost 99 cents. Fielding on the default setting with the slow-moving ball landing area causes too many unnecessary errors, especially in the outfield. For some unexplained reason, there's no way to turn on the static ball landing target during online play, so expect to see lots of dumb outfield errors online, unless MLB Advanced Media decides to patch the stationary landing area option into the game at a later time.
Pitchers in R.B.I. Baseball 16 can pick from three throwing speeds: slow, medium and fast. Medium burns the least stamina; if you only use slow and fast pitches, your starter will probably be tired by about the fifth inning. Pitching more conservatively and saving your "best stuff" for the counts where you really need them usually allows your starter to last about seven innings before needing a reliever. Human opponents tend to crush fatigued pitchers, but against the computer, tired starters can miraculously keep going well past their expiration point without much damage being done to their health or to their team's runs allowed total. In one Season mode game against the computer, I kept R.A. Dickey on the mound for 14 innings and somehow managed to surrender only three runs while striking out 17 AI batters.
Hitting is based on timing and distancing your swing so the ball strikes your bat's sweet spot. But R.B.I. Baseball 16 provides zero on-screen feedback to help identify the sweet spot and when exactly you should be swinging. So expect to strike out, ground out and fly out a lot until you figure out the correct timing and spacing.
The batter and the pitcher can also make significant lateral adjustments while the ball is still traveling towards home plate, which makes me wonder why R.B.I. Baseball 16 uses joystick commands to determine your swing type -- you tilt up for a grounder and tug down for extra power. Your batter is usually squirming around until the last possible millisecond before swinging, so a smarter control scheme would have placed the different swing types on the face buttons: X for neutral, A for power, Y for grounder and B for bunt.
"...you'll have to get used to awkwardly tapping the left and right bumpers for baserunning and cutoff throws..."
R.B.I. Baseball 16's controls are not configurable at all, so you'll have to get used to awkwardly tapping the left and right bumpers for baserunning and cutoff throws, since there's no way to remap those buttons to the more comfortable left and right triggers. There is not even an option for manually controlled diving and jumping, as both of those animations will trigger automatically whenever your fielder is in range of an oncoming ball. Automated dives/jumps might have been a good idea if they consistently produced positive results, but in my three days playing the game, they've actually caused more errors than outs.
Since the online play is so troubled, and the computer is such a predictable opponent, the only enjoyable way to play R.B.I. Baseball 16 is with some local competition (local co-op, unfortunately, is not an option). But those fun moments the game generates are not because R.B.I. Baseball 16 does anything particularly well, but because most video games -- even your Barkley Shut Up and Jams or Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketballs -- provide some basic level of entertainment while going at a buddy.
If you don't have somebody who can sit with you on the couch and joke about how far behind the R.B.I. Baseball series is compared to its competitors, then consider putting your $20 towards a used copy of Power Pros or a digital download of Super Mega Baseball.