Jim Palmer was one of the greatest pitchers of all time. In 19 seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, Palmer won three Cy Young awards, four Gold Gloves and three World Series championships. Seven years after his retirement, the six-time All-Star returned to the mound. In two innings of a spring training game, he gave up five hits and two runs. He immediately went back into retirement.
RBI Baseball retired in 1995. Nearly 20 years later, the franchise has been revived. With the MLB 2K series shelved and the prospect of no baseball looming for Xbox owners, MLB decided to take matters into its own hands. Developed by MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM)–the same company that handles MLB.com and MLB.TV–RBI Baseball 14 is a nod to its decades-old ancestors, ditching the advanced systems of modern sports gaming for a more accessible approach. Unfortunately, RBI Baseball 14 is a game that satisfies neither baseball fan nor casual gamer and the result is a comeback attempt that—much like Jim Palmer’s—falls short.
Nostalgia is Misleading
“There’s no good music on the radio anymore;” “they don’t make cartoons like they used to.” Those are the kinds of phrases you find yourself saying as you get older. Then, you turn on Nick at Nite (stylized “Nick@Nite” these days to make you feel older) to watch an old episode of “Full House” and you ask yourself “did I really like this show?” Nostalgia creates fond memories—and that’s the concept behind RBI Baseball 14.
It’s easy to remember how great RBI Baseball was in its prime but it doesn’t hold up in the feature-rich world of modern gaming, and MLBAM failed to modernize RBI Baseball 14. The game has options for exhibition, season and post-season. However, there is little incentive for playing anything other than an exhibition game.
Season and post-season modes are little more than a string of unrelated exhibition games; the game does not keep stats and gamers can’t make trades to improve the makeup of their roster. In fact, roster moves are not necessary as players are all built one in the same. Player ratings are thrown out for the sake of simplicity, giving pitchers the same probability of hitting a home run as first basemen.
There is not even a full 25-man roster; each team has four pitchers and a few backup position players, which can be disappointing when discovering your favorite player is not actually in the game. Starting pitchers start to get tired around the fifth inning, making Zack Greinke one heck of a reliever.
Back to the Future
For better and for worse, playing RBI Baseball 14 is a trip back to the early 90s. Veteran players will instantly recognize familiar overhead views, right down to the boxed-in corners showing runners taking their lead off the base. Deciphering who that runner actually is a decidedly more difficult task.
Obviously, there have been major technological advancements to home consoles since Super RBI Baseball released for the Super NES in 1995. However, RBI Baseball 14 chooses to ignore that fact, instead opting for graphics that are only slightly better than the 19-year-old last installment of the franchise.
Players are generically recreated, with only numbers on their backs to distinguish them apart. Character models for larger players such as Arizona Diamondback’s slugger Paul Goldschmidt are exactly the same as smaller speedsters like Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Dee Gordon.
Leaders of the Old School
Despite its flaws–and there are many of them–RBI Baseball 14 successfully captures the spirit of old school baseball games. The game’s simplicity promotes accessibility. There are no complicated systems to learn or menus to navigate. Simply turn on the game and have fun.
Using the same two-button system as its predecessors, RBI Baseball 14 is easy to jump into even for novices. Pitching is as simple as pressing the A button and using the analog stick to change the ball’s trajectory. The A button is all that’s necessary for hitting as well, although bunts can be dropped down with the B button.
Taking a purist approach, the game lacks online multiplayer, instead encouraging players to gather with friends just like the old days. It is in those moments with friends that RBI Baseball 14 is at its best. Players won’t need to set lineups or warm up pitchers; the spotlight is focused solely on the game, and this is when the nostalgia factor kicks in.
The fundamental problem with RBI Baseball is not its lack of realism or stripped-down options; it is a game nobody asked for. Hardcore baseball fans were hoping for a realistic baseball sim a la MLB The Show on Xbox consoles while casual gamers can turn to more fleshed out baseball games on the App Store and Google Play.
RBI Baseball 14 doesn’t feel like a comeback story. Instead, it is the aging great you’ve rooted on for his entire career holding on for one last season; you relish the moments when he succeeds but those moments are few and far between. RBI Baseball may have come from a simpler time, but RBI Baseball 14 proves it was not a better time for gaming.