Sports games typically fall into two camps: simulation and arcade. Sims are more realistic and feature comprehensive details to replicate the sport, whereas arcade titles typically focus on delivering a fast and fun experience that anyone can enjoy. R.B.I. Baseball 17 falls into the arcade category with its quick games and simplified gameplay. And as an officially licensed MLB game, it also includes the proper roster of every Major League team. However, it lacks charisma and consequently feels like a watered down version of America’s favorite pastime.
Getting into a game is easy. You can either play an exhibition match, an entire season of up to 162 games, or just the postseason bracket. All 30 teams and their rosters are present, including an updated roster for 2017 that you can download upon booting up the game. Highlighting an individual player offers a crisp photo and details on his real-world stats and attributes. Unfortunately, none of that information translates well to the avatars on the field, all of whom look and play very similarly to each other. Nevertheless, their authentic likenesses are technically accounted for, and you are free to play with and bench whomever you’d like, although you can’t trade players around and construct your ultimate all-star team.
R.B.I. Baseball 17 takes an old-school approach to its gameplay, which is unsurprising given the series’ NES roots. Pitching and batting require only simple button presses; there are no meters or complicated controls to worry about, just timing. While pitching, I embraced that, throwing batters off with fastballs and curve balls. On the contrary, batting was sometimes frustrating, and there were times when I swung with perfect timing, yet the ball flew past under the bat. I eventually got better with practice, but any kind of indicator as to where I should aim to slug the ball could have helped.
Fielding is where the game fell apart for me. Fielders are clunky to control, which makes ground balls incredibly difficult to retrieve. It’s easier to catch a fly ball, provided you switch the default setting from following the exact location of the ball to instead tracking exactly where it will land. On the topic of settings, I would’ve found fielding completely unintuitive if I hadn’t altered the defaults. The “modern” control scheme helped improve my game immensely, mapping each face button to a base as opposed to tilting the stick while throwing. Turning on computer-assisted fielding also helped, but the A.I. occasionally cracked under pressure. I’ve had some CPU-controlled fielders move out of the way of a ball, forcing another player to slowly chase the runaway ball.
The arcade gameplay is basic, but that’s no excuse for R.B.I. Baseball 17’s poor presentation. The visuals resemble that of a Wii game and are lacking in graphical fidelity. While I don’t expect a hyper-realistic style like in MLB: The Show, I would have appreciated some attention to detail or at least a fun, eye-catching design to complement the game’s nature. Instead, the players share generic and uninspired builds, as if they were all made under a low-budget custom character creator. Based on their blank facial expressions, I’d assume they were bored. Though nobody is as drastically uninterested as the announcer, who instead of giving any proper play-by-play commentary, unenthusiastically mutters “Out,” “Safe,” and “Strike.” There isn’t any music aside from short organ snippets, typical of what you’d hear at actual baseball games.
R.B.I. Baseball 17’s simplicity got old pretty fast. With no options to spice up the regular season, even a minimum 52-game set drags over time. The Nintendo Switch’s specific draw is the ability to play quick games of baseball on-the-go. Utilizing tabletop mode and single Joy-Con multiplayer, sitting down with a friend and playing a fast round can be fun…for a while. The lack of depth on top of the lazy presentation ultimately makes the game feel a bit cheap. The biggest drawback by far is its lack of online multiplayer, a function that is currently available on the other platforms. If you don’t have anyone nearby to play with, prepare for bland games against the A.I.
Making matters worse, R.B.I. Baseball 17 crashed on me several times, ending abruptly midgame for no discernible reason and forcing me to restart, no matter how far along I was. I also experienced one soft crash, in which one fielder was endlessly running towards the edge of the screen, and my button inputs ceased to function. Needless to say, I wasn’t particularly compelled to keep playing just to experience more glitches.
R.B.I. Baseball 17 is a decent arcade sports game but doesn’t do anything particularly special to sell itself beyond its authentic rosters and MLB license. There is some fun to be had with scoring big plays or home runs, but that should be a given for this type of game. This one is only recommended for the biggest sports fanatics who are craving a baseball experience on Switch and can overlook its glaring drawbacks. While the simplistic gameplay promotes pick-up-and-play matches, the lack of online, faulty fielding, and bland presentation make it feel like a watered-down version of other sports titles. Add in the game-crashing glitches and R.B.I. Baseball 17 strikes out.
I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up with Nintendo since I was young. My passion for gaming led to one of the greatest moments of my life, my video game themed wedding!