RBI Baseball is a series that began all the way back on the NES in 1988, but hasn’t touched a Nintendo console since Super RBI Baseball debuted on the SNES in ’95. Major League Baseball started up the RBI series again in 2014 to relatively meager fanfare. So, is RBI Baseball 2017 for the Switch a home run, or is it just another foul ball for the series? We’re going to find out.
RBI Baseball 17 is another of MLB’s attempts to make a successful baseball video game. All of the major baseball teams are included, as well as any and all home stadiums of those teams, so if there are particular players or teams that you fancy, there’s a good chance you may find them in this game. The venues are accurate enough to the real thing that it shouldn’t break immersion or cause problems for baseball fans. What may break immersion, however, are the janky animations, cardboard cutout crowds in the stands, and lack of significant visual feedback or guidance on how to actually play the game.
RBI Baseball 17’s controls are basically taught through a series of tool tips that may pop up the proper moment, or may not. The game basically assumes you already know how to play it, so a tool tip showing you what button to press to throw a ball to second won’t appear until after the runner is already on second base and maybe half a second before automatically switching back to batting mode (which removes the tool tip from the screen, so you might not have even been able to read it). This is an issue because the entire reason for the tool tips existing is to help ease new players into the game, and they don’t do that job properly because players will be pausing, viewing the controls, and breaking gameplay flow because the prompts just don’t show up in proper time fairly often.
That said, the controls are fairly simple once you learn when you need to press the buttons. You can adjust your pitcher or batter’s position by sliding back and forth, and modern controls allow you to press a single button to toss the ball to a specific base in fielding mode (though, be warned: If you switch control schemes in the middle of a game, they may not actually change). Outside of the controls, proper spacing and timing while batting is probably what takes the longest to comprehend, which is made a little worse by the fact that there’s no real feedback that can help the player improve.
There are only three modes to play in RBI Baseball 17: Exhibition one-off games, Seasons of games, and Postseason, which is around 20 games. There’s no franchise mode, trading, or most things you would see in other sports games of this era- you select a team, and your only real variations come in determining your team size (you can have a 25-person roster, or a 16 person roster). What you see is basically what you get with this baseball title, so if you like the customization and career building aspects of other sports games, that is woefully lacking in this game. There’s also no online play, which definitely hurts replayability by a significant margin, too.
Animations for many actions are afterthoughts, and as a result, the game seems somewhat lifeless. Repositioning your controller character merely has him simply slide around in still animation around the batter’s box or pitcher’s mound rather than the characters organically move. A batter being struck out doesn’t run out of camera shot, he suddenly de-spawns from wherever he was and the next batter appears the following second. The upside to this would be that the game is relatively fast paced as a result, but the downside is that the visuals seem barebones. RBI Baseball 17 is very much an arcade-style game in the visual effects category, rather than an immersive simulator sports game.
There’s very little audio feedback in this game. Hitting the ball with the bat will give a satisfying cracking sound, but outside of the occasional traditional baseball musical chords that pop every so often for a couple of seconds, there’s nothing but crowd cheering to audibly enjoy. A form of commentary would have been just what this game needed, as at current, all you will hear while playing are the umpire’s calls, brief music pieces, and the crowd’s cheers.
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As mentioned above, RBI Baseball 17 is arcade-like, and very light on frills and really only offers its main gameplay mechanics for its $30 price point. Fielding mechanics are limited, and while the game’s promotional materials stated a hefty, “1,000 MLB Players with detailed attributes,” the players are very interchangeable in terms of actually controlling them. Individual player stats are available to view in game, it just seems that those stats don’t have a tremendous impact on actually playing the game, for better or worse. Due to its meager offerings of modes and no online, RBI Baseball 17 is a game that could have very much benefited from a $14.99 price on Switch.
Overall, RBI Baseball 17 is a passable game for a gamer desperate for a sports title. At its price point, however, it’s extremely difficult to justify recommending this game to anyone who isn’t just starved for a baseball game, especially for what it offers. No online play, limited modes of play, no commentary makes the game tiring after short bursts of play due to constantly repeated audio feedback, requiring the player force themselves to learn the controls rather than the game teaching the player (due to poor batting feedback and tool tips that do not populate on time). There’s a host of issues, but beneath those issues, there’s a game that is at least not riddled with frustrating bugs (at least not that were seen for this review), but unless you’re a diehard sports fan in need of a baseball game this title may have struck out for you.