As a big fan of baseball, it’s natural to be filled with hope every spring. Hope that this will be the year that my favorite team finally stops being inconsistent, hope that they will finally stop delivering an underwhelming product, and hope that they will finally take the steps necessary to stand tall against the best competition out there.
As an Xbox One owner, I have the same hope – the hope that MLB Advanced Media will release a baseball title for the Xbox console that can be mentioned in the same conversation as MLB the Show, without it being a joke. Unfortunately R.B.I. Baseball 19, like my favorite team in baseball so often does, once again disappoints with an experience that makes me long for the days when baseball on the Xbox was fun.
By sports game standards, R.B.I. Baseball offers a pretty bare-bones set of modes to jump into when you load up the game. You can choose your favorite team in the menus, and doing this will earn you an easy achievement the first time you play with that team. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to choose between Exhibition, Playoff Mode, Franchise, Home Run Derby, and Online Multiplayer. Playoff Mode allows you to choose a team and play through the entire playoff bracket to try and win the World Series, while Franchise sees you take control of a team for up to ten seasons. Multiplayer in R.B.I. Baseball gives players the option of competitive multiplayer or playing against a friend online. You can also take a look at the legends teams which are new to the game this year.
The good news about R.B.I. Baseball 19 is that MLB Advanced Media has done a good job of recreating all 30 major league ballparks, and player likeness is passable to good. Player animations for pitchers when on the mound, and position players when in the batter’s box, are also very authentic. A lot of attention has been paid to pitching motions to make them specific to their real-life counterpart, and the same can be said for batting stances – even including how a player might move the bat around when in their stance.
Anyways, that’s the good news.
Controls in R.B.I. Baseball are incredibly simple, arguably to a fault. Pressing A in the batter’s box will swing the bat, and there are no variations on the swing mechanic. Your power hitter is up with runners on and you want to swing for the fences? Press A to swing. You’re in a two-strike count and need to protect the plate against a tough pitcher? Press A to swing. You can, however, press B to bunt in the moments that the situation calls for it, or if you’re just looking for some variety. Baserunning is also very easy to master – the X button and the left stick will allow you to advance runners or try to get extra bases on a hit. Throwing the ball in the field, as in almost any baseball video game, requires you to press the button that corresponds to the base you want to throw to, or LB to throw to the cutoff man.
When you’re on the mound, you’ll press (you’ll never guess) the A button to begin your pitcher’s motion and deliver the pitch. To get movement on the pitch, you’ll need to use the left stick to make the pitch move left-to-right or vice versa. Holding the left stick up while pressing A will execute a “slow pitch” – this would normally be a changeup, but the movement of the pitch makes me think knuckleball – and holding the left stick down while pressing A will cause the pitcher to bring some extra heat. Each of these variations will cause your pitcher’s stamina meter to drain faster, so you’ll want to only use them in moments that call for it.
There’s nothing wrong with simple controls in a sports video game. They can make the experience more accessible to young kids who love baseball, or to gamers who are new to baseball video games; the much more complex control scheme of a game like MLB the Show can be intimidating to first-time players. The problem with the controls in R.B.I. Baseball 19 is that the simplicity takes away from the nuance of the game, and the nuance is what makes baseball great. The way R.B.I. Baseball 19 plays eliminates the fun of trying to set up a hitter for the down and away slider or the high fastball. It takes away the feeling of being in a 1-2 count against Chris Sale and protecting the plate as you fight off tough pitch after tough pitch. A lot of the strategy and individual battles are just not present enough here – in fact, once you get the swing timing figured out you’ll be hitting so many home runs and liners into the gap that you’ll likely be bored.
Simplicity can be good, though – if the game plays well. However, the animations and AI behavior in R.B.I. Baseball 19 are often downright maddening. Players react and do things on the field that are so utterly unrealistic that it can take the player right out of the experience, and throwing animations for fielders are often lacking.
To provide an example, my left fielder’s momentum took him into the wall when chasing down a ball hit down the line into the corner, and he was pressed up against the wall while facing it. So far, so good. This happens all the time in actual baseball. So there’s me pressing LB to get the ball to the cutoff man (who was not anywhere near the correct cutoff position for the situation for at least the third time in the game), and all of a sudden the ball just comes zooming away from my left fielder toward the cutoff man. All while the left fielder is still pressed up against the wall, with no repositioning or stepping away from the wall to make a good throw. Essentially, he threw it back over his shoulder, right on target and with the same velocity as if he had done a crow hop.
These instances are all too common in R.B.I. Baseball 19. Players will dive the opposite way of the ball, make miraculous on target throws while running the opposite direction of the throw, and AI players will attempt to steal and then suddenly stop and go back to first base for no reason whatsoever. In fairness, every sports video game has glitches and flaws. Every single one. But the most frustrating thing about R.B.I. Baseball 19 is that it seems to be a lot of the problems we see every year, with no improvement, and that it appears MLB Advanced Media put a lot more time and care into player likeness and authenticity than into actual gameplay and fun factor. On the flip side, a game like Super Mega Baseball 2 doesn’t have MLB players or stadiums, but delivers an experience that’s true to the sport; challenging, rewarding, and fun.
The bottom line is that Xbox One owners who are baseball fans deserve a much better licensed Major League Baseball experience than this. R.B.I. Baseball does some things right, but the core gameplay experience makes me want to turn on my PlayStation 4 and play MLB the Show. Xbox gamers who don’t have that luxury will be far better off with the vastly superior Super Mega Baseball 2, unless you’re completely insistent on having the real teams and stadiums.
If you really want the real players and ballparks, just know that while there are some fun moments, R.B.I. Baseball 19 will likely leave you frustrated and wondering when a good licensed baseball game will finally arrive on the Xbox One.