A beer and a dog. The smell of freshly cut grass. The sound of a ball hitting a bat. Rubber and yarn, covered in leather, with 108 stiches, holding it all together. America’s pastime. These are just a few things that baseball brings to mind to its most loving fans. There’s a beauty to the sport and an art to being great at it. The best baseball video games recreate that beauty and they can do it in a variety of ways. Whether it’s a realistic simulation like MLB The Show 16 or a statistic-driven fantasy like Out of the Park Baseball 17, great baseball games are expected year in and year out, just like the game itself. While those titles feel like big league stars, R.B.I Baseball 16 feels like the minor leaguer who may see a game or two late in the season, but will never amount to full-fledged stardom.
R.B.I Baseball is a historic franchise. It was the first game of its kind to be licensed by the MLBPA and was able to use player names before it was the norm. Fans of the old games adored those titles and they made simulated baseball a reality in the 90s. In 2014 the series returned to consoles and it felt like nothing more than a cash grab by the MLB. Unfortunately, the same could be said for R.B.I Baseball 16 despite having two more years of experience to draw from.
Harking back to the 90s titles, R.B.I Baseball 16 tries to endear its audience with “oldschool” mechanics. These include using a single button and direction to throw different pitches, the ability to move your pitcher left or right on the mound like a stationary mannequin, and moving your batter around the box like a floating ghost. These mechanics, along with the fielding mechanics, were necessary in the 90s due to technical limitations, the same can not be said in 2016. These strange hallmarks of the series that R.B.I Baseball 16 decided to bring forward yet again don’t make sense in this era of great sports titles. Instead of feeling like a nostalgia trip or a new, fresh title, the game feels like it’s stuck between two eras and doesn’t know which to call home.
R.B.I Baseball 16 is a competent baseball game. That much is true. Every pitcher can throw the same types of pitches, just like the original games, and those pitches are determined by a directional button and the pitching button pressed together. The pitcher’s stats determine the velocity or movement of the pitch so not every pitcher will throw 97 MPH which is nice. Likewise, hitters can determine where the ball goes if they hit it by pressing a directional button at the same time. I found the most success by just swinging without a direction. In fact, I found it easier to just press the swing button with decent timing and let whatever happened happen. That’s kind of my experience playing R.B.I Baseball 16 in a nutshell, press a button and see what happens.
I don’t mean to sound dismissive of the game but it is a very competent and simple game. Where other games have tons of features and modes, R.B.I Baseball 16 keeps it very straightforward and simple. Unfortunately, games that do that well, the minimalist approach that is, do the simple thing they do very, very well. Take Rocket League for example. The game only has a couple of modes but the gameplay is so precise and beloved that modes don’t matter. R.B.I Baseball 16 doesn’t have that going for it. The modes are simple and easy to get into but I found myself bored after a handful of games, there’s just no oomph to the gameplay.
R.B.I Baseball 16’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t differentiate itself in any meaningful way. It takes the game of baseball, slaps a mediocre coat of paint on it, and serves the game up to players without anything special or meaningful. For those looking for a fun, arcade-like baseball experience I recommend going with Super Mega Baseball, and if you want a more simulated option check out MLB The Show 16 or Out of the Park Baseball 17. There just isn’t enough within R.B.I Baseball 16 to recommend buying it unless you’re an absolute diehard fan that needs to own every game in the series.