It’s been a long damn time since I dared venture outside of the baseball bubble otherwise known as MLB The Show. I mean, why would you ever want to? It’s the gaming comfort food that never disappoints, no matter how many times you step up to the plate. Plus, when the only other annual option is the disaster-bacle known as R.B.I. Baseball, it is fairly easy to understand why. So imagine my shock to learn that not only is there another baseball game releasing this spring, but that it also had the potential to be legitimately good! Despite sounding like a fictitious game title from an Onion article, Super Mega Baseball 2 ends up making a solid first impression and only improves with time.
A Long Drive
Remember the good old days when baseball games never bothered licensing player likenesses or team names? When I was a kid I couldn’t have given two shits whether I was leading off with Mark McGwire or Bobson Dugnutt (seriously, that’s the name of an actual player in EA Sports’ Fighting Baseball). All that mattered was stepping into the batters’ box with a player who could knock the cover off of the ball and make my siblings look silly in the process. Super Mega Baseball 2 falls into the similar retro rut of forgoing any professional athletes, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, if it had been released during my childhood, it would have absolutely been in the summer sport rotation.
For the more casual baseball fan, Super Mega Baseball 2 is the perfect distillation of the sport. The only necessary baggage is a basic understanding of the rules. On-screen tutorials pretty much handle the rest. As long as players are willing to pour over several awkwardly worded mechanics descriptions, they will be equipped to swing for the fences.
There are several different layers to the control schemes, which provide plenty of depth for those willing to invest the time. Mastering the enhanced pitching controls will grant the ability to augment pitch speeds and achieve higher accuracy. On the other side of the diamond, batters also have a similar baseline set of controls that are simple and welcoming for newcomers. The whole “press X to swing” approach is more than enough to be competitive versus most adversaries. However, if you’re interested in learning how to mix in different swing strengths and using the bat’s position to direct a hit in a desired direction, then start practicing. A little extra time in the batting cage can go a long way!
Thinking Outside the Diamond
It only takes one look at the art style to instantly understand that it’s targeting young, non-discerning gamers. Character models look like the bastard lovechild of MLB Slugfest and a randy herd of Funko Pops. No, you haven’t accidentally enabled “Big Head Mode.” This is how players look all the time. The presentation couldn’t be further from the pristine production values of The Show, but that is kind of the point. At its core, the game is adorably dysmorphic and doesn’t take itself seriously enough to care.
The interesting player models are just one small piece of Super Mega Baseball 2’s shamelessly arcade-inspired presentation. Everything from the exaggerated animations to the multicolored streamers flying behind every long ball continuously drive this point home. A perfect example of its unnecessary flair in action was a simple line drive that, at least in other MLB releases, would have been a low-flying single up the middle. Instead of the more subdued presentation that I have grown accustomed to, my batter pelted a zinger off the pitcher’s face so hard that his children needed to be evaluated for concussions. I’m not entirely sure I didn’t kill the poor guy, because he was immediately forced to come out of the game. Amusing touches like that may be trivial in the big picture, but it goes a long way towards adding a little more color to an already vibrant gameplay experience.
Laugh out loud moments and oddly amusing character behaviors shined even more brilliantly when there are other spectators on the couch. My visiting friends would never be able to sit through an entire game of The Show without glazing over. However, something about the overall presentation of Super Mega Baseball 2 enthralled them to no end. Better yet, because the mechanics were so straightforward to learn, I was able to hand off the controller to my couch-bound compatriots and they immediately jumped right in. This was the kind of communal baseball experience that I hadn’t experienced since the SNES era.
One other seemingly trivial inclusion that personally caught me off guard were unisex rosters. Each team prominently features a both male and female character models that, aside from the obvious physical differences, have little to no bearing on the gameplay whatsoever. For context, after nearly an entire mini-season in the books, three of my four best hitters were actually members of the fairer sex. The fact that literally no extra attention is paid to women on the diamond speaks volumes for how far things have come in sporting titles. And while I don’t expect to see ladies hitting the mound in any of the MLB games anytime soon, this specific game’s design lends itself well to continuing the fight for gender equality across all forms of media.
Caught in a Pickle
Another form of equality that was prominent throughout and definitely nowhere near as welcome was the consistently terrible base running controls. Advancing individual players were assigned to one set of buttons while others controlled advancing of all players at once. Lord help the poor soul that tries to turn around mid-way between bases, because attempting to parse the proper key combinations (especially in the scenario where there was more than one runner) felt like trying to perform calculus computations on an abacus. It was both unnecessarily complex and confusing as hell to figure out for the first time. On the bright side, the AI was too dumb to complete a pickle rundown correctly. So I guess it all balances out in the end, right?
If there was one other area that could use improvement it was the sound design. Ballparks lack even the most basic ambiance that goes along with a day at the diamond. Elements as minute as someone shilling peanuts or heckling an umpire would have gone a long way towards pulling things together even further. Hell, even the far more common sound effects like the crack of the bat, a ball popping in the catcher’s mitt, or the amplified “shush” of a player sliding into home were all drastically lacking in both quality and emphasis.
On the surface, Super Mega Baseball 2 looks like a pretty face that lacks the substance necessary to have any sort of staying power. On closer examination, however, the depth of the mechanics provide a far more gratifying gameplay than would be expected. Slap an amusing layer of over-the-top animations on top of a roster of cartoonishly disarming characters, and the result is glorious throwback to the yesteryear of sports gaming. Being a filthy casual has never been so appealing.
Super Mega Baseball 2 review code provided by publisher. Version 1.0 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.