Rookie of the Year
In the last couple console generations, arcade-style sports games had a major decline in production. Besides Wii Sports, fans now favor the hardcore sports simulators with their realistic graphics, television-like presentation and true-to-life gameplay. Cartoony sports games are seen now as bush league.
This wasn’t always the case. There used to be lots of love for games like Tecmo Super Bowl and Super Baseball 2020. I have fond memories playing NBA Street and Blades of Steel and thought those game experiences were past their prime.
Metalhead Software, creators of Super Mega Baseball, are like a rookie that comes out of nowhere but makes a big impact in the league. This is their first game, and they strike a great balance between the craziness of Super Baseball 2020, and the hardcore sport sims that dominate today’s market. They have made one of the most fun and accessible sports games of this young console generation.
When SMB starts, it instantly encourages you to just begin a game because it is the easiest way to get the hang of it, and that’s the truth. SMB gets the two most important mechanics of baseball, batting and pitching, just about right.
There are three types of swings when batting. A contact swing is the easiest to pull off, while the power swing is harder to achieve but the reward is greater. Lastly, there is bunting. A different button corresponds to each unique swing. Before the pitch reaches the plate, you can move your cursor to where you wish to hit the ball but, depending on the pitch type, anything could happen. The only thing that took a while to get used to is that the contact swing instantly swings when the button is pressed whereas during a power swing you hold the button to charge the swing, then when the button is released the player swings.
Pitching has a similar mechanic to batting. There are eight types of pitches to choose from. Within those eight options you can use a power pitch or a normal pitch. A power pitch sacrifices accuracy for velocity whereas a normal has an easier time hitting the target. When pitching there is a compass-shaped icon the player attempts to position into the target. The target’s location depends on the pitch type, and where you position the ball at the beginning of the throw. In the higher difficulties I saw very little upside to using anything but the power swings and power pitches.
The fielding mechanics are, for the most part, simple. The four face buttons on PlayStation controllers make a perfect baseball diamond design where circle is first base, triangle is second, square is third, and X is home. The player simply presses the button corresponding to the base they want to throw it to. One gameplay feature I found unintuitive was the base-running. There were times when my players would keep running and I did not want them to. Base-stealing, relay throws, and jumping and diving are also possible. The amount a player has to move their fielders is set by the difficulty level.
Ego is the name of SMB’s difficulty rating. It ranges from 0 (very easy) to 99 (impossible). Your rating can be changed easily whenever you want to provide a continual challenge. The higher your ego rating the more XP you can gain. When playing multiplayer matches each person can set a unique ego rating related to his or her skill level. This way new players and experienced veterans are all on an equal playing field. It’s a great game to have people over to play. Unfortunately there is no online play, just local multiplayer for up to four people.
There are two modes in SMB: Exhibition and Season. Exhibition is a quick pick-up and play mode where up to four people can game locally. In the season mode you pick one of the twelve fictional teams and play a single season consisting of 16. 32, or 48 games. Co-op seasons are also possible. Throughout the season staff members become available to hire that alter traits of your players. This area has a surprising level of depth. Say you fire a coach to make way for a new better one, there is a possibility other staff members will leave or you might not attract as many employees in the future.
Twenty-seven statistical categories are recorded during a seasons such as: at-bats, hits, home runs, batting average, and strikeout percentage are recorded during the season. After the season is over there is a four-team playoff where the champion is crowned. I just wish the championship was presented in a more exciting way. It is just like any other season game. Also it would be nice to carry over my team with their stats and upgrades from last season into a second season but it’s not possible. You have to start a brand new season each time. This is disappointing because the bond you have with fictional team is remarkable.
The bond you make with your players is in part due to the game’s humor. Names like Norton Pickle, Lacky Luster, and Keg Gutterson paired with ridiculous player animations kept me smiling. It’s easy to make up your own little stories about the players. I knew that if the bases were loaded and my favorite team, the Blowfish, were batting I wanted Harry Backman out there to get a grand slam, or how Henry Hamster is the league’s biggest choke-artist. Each character possesses different strengths like power, fielding, arm strength, contact, and speed. Pitchers have different traits like velocity, accuracy, and junk (how much you can manipulate pitches). Every player holds a different level of mojo. Mojo is how well they perform during intense situations. You can even customize your players, changing their appearance and name.
Metalhead Software achieve this player connection without having to pull anything from reality. There are no real life logos, players, or cities, just fun and accessibility. It’s similar to the way I felt about my team in Backyard Baseball but It’s like the kids from Backyard Baseball grew up and made it to the big-time.
The Verdict: 8.7 out of 10
Super Mega Baseball finds a perfect middle-ground between cartoony arcade-style sports games of the past and hardcore sports sims of the present. It has a few flaws like lack of production, whether it be variety in the stadiums, or presentation during the playoffs. Many gamers may be turned off by the lack of online play, but like silly sport games of old, it’s a great game to have people over to play. The controls are easy to learn but hard to master, and the bond you build with your team is uncompromised. The best part of all is the surprising amount of depth, though it doesn’t punish people who just want a simple baseball game. You get as much as you put in
For more information about what this score means, check out our official review scale.
Nathan Reid is an Associate Writer at MONG who is slowly making his way up to ego 99.