(This review was originally posted back in early 2005. But now that R.B.I. Baseball ’14 is about to launch, I thought I would repost this review.)
Here’s the thing: I have never really liked sports video games. My philosophy is that if I’m going to participate in a sport, I will go outside to play it. There are only a select few sports games that I will actually play, and the vast majority of them are on the NES. The original Ice Hockey, Blades of Steel, and Tecmo Bowl (all NES) are some of the only sports games I actually enjoy; and all because of their simple, and yet compelling gameplay. However, being a non-sports game fan, I still cannot look away at the magnificent splendor that is R.B.I. Baseball. This baseball game is nearing 20 years of age but it is, without question, the best baseball title ever made, and I highly doubt any other baseball game of the future will ever surpass it.
Despite the fact of currently living in the day of near photo realistic games, I freely give the title of Best Baseball Game to R.B.I Baseball. This game’s total controlled pitching and fielding was way ahead of its time. Sure, the characters are a little chunky and the graphics are basic, but this is why the game is so much fun. Physically, the game itself stands out on a different cartridge than all the other Nintendo games because Tengen did not have a license from Nintendo. After fighting the legalities with Nintendo, Tengen released this game on their own strange black cartridge along with other classic NES games such as Gauntlet and Super Sprint.
With a pitching interface that works surprisingly well, and fielding that makes perfect sense, R.B.I’s control scheme fits like a glove (no pun intended). The pitching is exactly how it should be. Pitchers cannot throw a magical crazy curve nor can they throw the ball ridiculously fast. Everything stays in proportion. Pitchers can, however, throw sliding curve balls, change-ups (slow balls), and speed up their pitches all with real-time control of the D-pad. Yes, admittedly, pitchers grow tired a little sooner than they should, but this keeps each game fresh by forcing players to use their bullpens efficiently.
Fielding is a wonder because you control just about every player onscreen simultaneously. If the player was forced to switch players during a fly ball, they might not select the player they want or the game might not move fast enough. The characters might seem like they move a little slowly, but it is all part of the balance of the game. Unlike other popular baseball games such as Baseball Stars by SNK, R.B.I.’s camera is more overhead and displays most of the field. This makes pop ups easier to catch, along with the pop fly shadow system. Not only will the shadow of the ball correspond with its location, the ?bllleeeeooooo!’ sound effect will tell the player when the ball is closer to the ground. The graphics and sound effects are simple as can be, but they still hold an important factor in this game. The game even supports subtle details like the umpires performing the different poses of a baseball game such as Out, Safe, and Fair.
One of the most memorable moments about this game are the unforgettable two colored, faceless sprites. Every character looks exactly the same except for a color swapped palette according to team colors. The tubby, base running characters may seem slow, but it remains in perfect ratio to the outfield. For example, if you hit a fly into short center, you will get a base hit – you won’t be thrown out or get a double. The game does not cheat by short-changing players or by granting bonus bases.
The game’s musical track only consists of two musical scores, a handful of sound effects, and a slight jingle when the game is over. The audio content of this game may not be of high content, but it makes up for it with quality. When no one is on base, a friendly tune will retain the pace of the game. However, when a man is on base, the music changes to a faster paced, worry-type theme music. Again, this helps create the mood of the game by generating a sense of nervousness.
The only downfall is that the game only supports about half the major league real-life teams, and there is no save feature. Playing one full ?season’ is nearly impossible because the game does not even have a password function. But with the addictive gameplay, shutting off the system will be difficult. Also, the game really shines in two-player vs. mode. Playing against a friend is better than challenging the weaker A.I. system. If both players debate on which team is the best, then Watch mode is always an option. Much like Temco Bowl’s Coach Mode, the two teams will square off with very little influence from the player. Each player picks which team they want to win, and the computer plays out a game. This feature was created to make the player feel like they are watching a ball game on television, but since the gameplay is so fun and solid, players will want to play instead of just watching.
If the superb gameplay was not enough, R.B.I Baseball goes above and beyond by being the first baseball game to support real-life players and corresponding stats. Playing this game will make you remember the baseball greats of the past. Sadly, though, not all of the teams made it into the game, but players will still have a blast pitching as Nolan Ryan and batting as Wally Joyner.
One game of R.B.I. will hook any player – guaranteed. This game just goes to show that great graphics are not necessary in order to make a great game. Today’s games are marred by low scores if a game does not have a high enough polygon count in their character models. They suffer similarly if they lack varying environments, or don’t have high quantity and quality in their musical scores. However, R.B.I. does not have high-resolution graphics, only one stadium is playable, and a paltry two musical tunes are placed within the game, but the gameplay is spot on. Gameplay is what separates good games from all the rest. R.B.I. may have spawned numerous sequels that added more features, clearer character models, and more teams, but the first R.B.I. is what started it all. And, to top it all off, Nintendo did not even want this game on their system, but Tengen knew they had a hit on their hands.
So I say, dig out that old NES sitting in your closet and make a trip to a garage sale or your local game store and find a copy of R.B.I deep in the bargain bin. Gamers will appreciate the game’s good taste, sports fans or not.