For a certain segment of video game players (read: older ones), R.B.I. Baseball was THE baseball game. It was a product of the Nintendo age that never really strove for realism or flash as much as a sense of excitement. The controls were simple, the style of play intuitive, and most importantly it had real Major League Baseball players.
They may not have looked like real players, but back then all you really needed was a name to convince us, as gamers, that for a brief moment we could be Nolan Ryan, Ozzie Smith or Tony Gwynn.
The developers of R.B.I. Baseball 14 ($19.99; Rated E) remember those days, and have done the best possible job of updating the classic for a new generation.
The controls work exactly as you expect them to. A nine-inning game takes about 20 minutes. Fielding has been updated such that you only move one player at a time when attempting to catch a fly ball, but you can still throw a ball to an empty base if you pick the ball up with the player responsible for covering that base.
Most importantly, there are still real players with real stats, and now every single team in the league is represented, rather than just eight of the best.
What those players look like is also a vast improvement on the original game, in which every player had something like a David Ortiz frame and a Barry Bonds head. While this game is a long way from photorealism, there are different body types for different players, so even if the facial features are way off, you can rest assured that C.C. Sabathia has a different look to him than, say, Max Scherzer.
A quick baseball fix
Obviously, R.B.I. Baseball 14 has nothing on something like MLB 14: The Show as far as realism is concerned, and the latter is a far deeper, prettier and more feature-rich, game. Its also clear that those were not part of the goals of development. R.B.I. Baseball 14 is a game that you play while sitting next to a friend and reminiscing about the good old days. Its a game you play for a quick baseball fix rather than a hyper-real experience.
Its also the perfect baseball game for children. Where the difficulty of something like The Show can be intimidating, R.B.I. Baseball 14 is such a quick, simplified experience that anyone can play it and do just fine even a kid whos never played a baseball video game before. It can take weeks to get into the rhythm of a simulation-style baseball game, but it only takes minutes with R.B.I. Baseball 14.
Perhaps too simple
The simplicity does start to become a bit of a drag after a while, especially if youre playing by yourself. Even at 20 minutes a game, its hard to imagine someone determined enough to play through an entire 162-game season. There are abbreviated season lengths as well, which are much more realistic experiences, or you can just skip to the postseason, though none of this fixes the issue that after a while, the lack of variation in the gameplay turns the game into a job all too quickly.
That said, R.B.I. Baseball 14 is an intimate, social game at heart. You cant even play it online (yet) you need to be sitting next to your opponent. It is by no means the definitive baseball game, but it is a fine nostalgia trip that makes the game of baseball as simple as we tend to wish it was.
RBI Baseball 14 is now available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and iOS.
New this week: Child of Light (XOne) should offer a pleasant and not-so-deep RPG experience for next-gen console owners, while The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (releasing on everything except Xbox One) is your latest opportunity to swing through the streets of Manhattan as the title character himself.