In the world of baseball games, there is one undisputed King of the Diamond. If you’re a baseball fan (on PlayStation platforms, anyway), you know it and love it. It’s MLB The Show. For years, this series sat atop the mound as the only game in town. Then, for some reason, MLB Advanced Media decided to partner with Behaviour Interactive in 2014 to resurrect the ancient R.B.I. Baseball series. Development was quickly handed over to HB Studios in 2015. The result was not pretty. R.B.I. Baseball 19 marks the second year development has been done in-house at MLBAM. After multiple disappointing years, is R.B.I. Baseball 19 finally the year things start to turn around for this arcade franchise?
More of the Same
It seems things haven’t really changed much with R.B.I. Baseball. The same is generally true for most sports games, as developers attempt to perfect what they’ve already released. Unfortunately for R.B.I. Baseball, the series has always needed to fix a lot of things that weren’t really working. What’s worse, none of it seems to have been addressed with the latest release.
It should be a giant red flag that the only trailer released for R.B.I. Baseball 19 prior to release was a semi-flashy montage of pitchers and batters battling it out and little else. Know what isn’t featured in this trailer? Any actual game footage. There’s a good reason for that: R.B.I. Baseball 19 looks like a PS2-era baseball sim, upscaled by the PS4. This may be a budget game, but that’s not an excuse for having what appears to be the same assets for a game for at least five years. Especially as those assets are in dire need of an upgrade.
This lack of polish extends well past the generic-looking character models and laughably simple crowd graphics. Animations are bland at best, and may make someone not even want to bother playing at worst. Multiple times each game, a player will get into position to catch a pop fly, then simply stand there as the ball seemingly falls on their head. The ball will disappear, only to reappear in the player’s hand, confirming that the batter is, in fact, out, and the baseball didn’t just ghost you on “live” television. Players regularly clip right through one another, and the jarring camera transition once the ball is put in motion can and will royally screw with the outfielders. There is also only one camera angle, which is zoomed out too far to be of help to anyone. Oddly, the angle seen in the 2015 entry was better.
Simple to Understand
Audio is an important aspect of any sports game. This is especially true for baseball, as there is a good chunk of downtime between the action. Sadly, things have remained as generic as ever in R.B.I. Baseball 19. There are no announcers, save for the obscure guy who says “play ball” at the start of each game and offers simple call-outs of home runs, grand slams, double plays, outs, and feedback during the Home Run Derby. There is no attempt to make it feel like you are watching a game on the television. Then again, R.B.I. Baseball has always been an arcade game as opposed to a baseball simulator. An uninspired-sounding crowd is ever-present, though its members cheer any time the ball is put into motion and modestly react to more exciting times such as a bases-loaded situation.
Control-wise, R.B.I. Baseball’s biggest positive is that it’s a simple game that anyone can get into. There are no pitch-guessing mechanics for the batter to contend with. You simply position your batter and swing if you think the ball could be hit. Timing determines how far the ball flies or if you whiff at nothing but air at a ball well outside the strike zone. That strike zone, incidentally, is about a mile wide. You can take that upcoming ball that is clearly inside the batter’s box, but invariably the game’s blind umpire will call a strike.
Naturally, you can take advantage of this during pitching, which is also a simple affair. Simply position the pitcher with the analog stick, and then press the cross button to pitch. Pressing the analog stick up will throw a slower, hilariously animate,d screwball-like change-up monstrosity that should obviously not be swung at. (A majority of the time, it ends up in the dirt anyway.) Pressing down will throw a fastball. Whichever pitch is decided upon, moving the analog stick left or right in-flight will change the direction of the pitch. It’s simple and right in line with traditional arcade baseball games.
There are a handful of game modes to choose from in R.B.I. Baseball 19: Exhibition, Franchise, Postseason, Home Run Derby, and Online. Exhibition is a single one or two-player match between any two teams of your choice. Franchise lets you choose a team and manage its players to see how many world series titles you can earn within a ten-season time frame. There are a couple of options for the Franchise mode, such as the likelihood of your trade offers to be accepted and realism of injuries encountered. Postseason takes you straight to the most exciting time of the season. Home Run Derby is as arcade-like as it gets, giving you four minutes to hit as many balls out of the park as you can manage. You can even earn an extra 30 seconds once per round if you hit two dingers at least 440 feet. Online is essentially an exhibition match against an online player or a friend if you invite them (or vice versa). There are no fantasy modes or even a basic career mode. It’s about as barebones as the rest of the franchise.
Technically speaking, R.B.I. Baseball 19 doesn’t appear to have any game-breaking bugs. As jittery and bland as the action is, the game works just fine. You can play lengthy games, run entire seasons, and even take the game online with relative ease. It does stutter a bit as innings end, but this occurs after the last play has already concluded.
Other than that, the only real slowdown experienced is in the Home Run Derby mode. If you play on an outside stadium and hit multiple home runs in a row, fireworks shoot off, and the smoke from the previous home run can cause the frame rate to dip a little. Also, since the assets are low in detail, the game does load pretty quickly. Stadiums are recognizable, if not completely faithful renditions.
At this point in the franchise’s life, you have to wonder what MLB Advanced Media is thinking with this yearly release schedule. If the game is selling enough copies to warrant decent profits, then why not take some of that money and funnel it towards production improvements? The whole effort at this point just screams cheap cash-in, but at an asking price of $29.99, it’s hard to call the price “budget-friendly” anymore.
R.B.I. Baseball 19 is once again a disappointment. The extremely low production values, lack of game modes, inconsistent animations, and uninspired gameplay result in one lackluster delivery. R.B.I. Baseball 19 would be a hard sell at $19.99, which incidentally is the same price you can currently nab the superior MLB The Show 18 for. But for the launch price of $29.99? Don’t even consider it.
R.B.I. Baseball 19 review code provided by the publisher. Version 1.01 reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.