SPORTS – METALHEAD SOFTWARE – 2014 – $19.99
For an indie studio entering the sports genre has to be a steep undertaking. Imagine going up against larger studios like EA Sports with league endorsements, official teams, massive player rosters, product placement, and scores of flashy transitions to big name sports commentators. Metalhead Software dared to scale these seemingly impossible standards with Super Mega Baseball and managed to show its audience exactly what is wrong with the AAA take on sports gaming.
At first glance SMB is a colorful and cartoonish game focused around the great American pastime but to dismiss it at face value would be a mistake. Behind the caricatures of major league players and poppy stadiums is a clever take on what makes baseball great, the pitcher vs. batter tension. When you find yourself on the pitcher’s mound the pressure is on you to select and place your throws, hopefully, outside the batter’s reach. There’s nothing new to this aspect but the way it goes about it is ingenious. Using the right thumb-stick you choose your pitch; slide a 4-seam fast ball across the plate or buzz the batter with a hard cutting curve-ball, the choice is yours. After you’ve selected your pitch you press the A button to wind up a standard pitch allowing you to guide the crosshair into the target more easily for a faster and more accurate pitch. If you’re feeling adventurous, though, hold the X button down for a more powerful, but harder to guide throw. In the first innings after you take the mound it’s easy to glide the pitches over the plate and exactly where you want, as your stamina and mojo (more on that later) start to burn away things get harder and harder.
On the batting and fielding side things continue to deviate from the overly simple controls of most AAA adaptations of baseball. A similar interface as pitching is available to the batter; A to give it a good whack and X to swing for the bleachers. The animations are spot on as well. As your batter swings you can see him or her reach for outside pitches or swing high for ones sailing at head level. Hit detection feels excellent too, aim too far under a pitch and watch it sail to the infield as a pop fly or top it and watch it ground out. The sense of control is excellent and changes from hitter to hitter based on accuracy, power, and speed.
As well as changing up the controls for pitching and hitting they add a new layer to sports games, “mojo”. As the game progresses and your players begin scoring or tagging out players they gain mojo. This increase adds a slight buff to stats and how much A.I. assistance you receive for each at bat. Get struck out, send a fly ball out that is easily fielded, or walk a batter and your mojo drops giving you an uphill battle to fight against as the game progresses. At first glance this may seem like a difficult barrier to fight however the difficulty settings can be adjusted as to how much affect this has on your players allowing you to learn the game easily and incorporate this aspect if desired. If you’re swinging hot or pitching well, though, it really lends to the feeling of demoralizing the opposing team that is really satisfying.
If I haven’t made it clear yet the gameplay is satisfying and engaging but without a robust season mode it all falls flat. Luckily Super Mega Baseball has you covered there as well! Although the team roster is small there is enough variety in the teams to allow for some great back and forth battles that allow the player to fill in some of the themes and rivalries that are common in the big leagues. The season mode allows you to track very easily the successes and failures of your opposing teams allowing you to size up the competition as you go into match-ups. It’s this storybuilding that makes SMB feel like a complete product that can stack up against the AAA competitors.
Now, SMB is not without its flaws. First, and most obvious, is the fielding. There is a little bit of a disconnect from the controls and how you want them to behave. In general the A.I. takes over and does a good job grabbing pop-flys and waiting for your instruction on which base to throw to but when you choose to manually take over and control the players things can get a little dicey. When a line drive goes over your head within reach it can get a little frustrating especially if it means giving up a base or a run. In general, though, there’s a bit of a learning curve and once you learn the nuances you can work around it. The staff management aspect as well is a bit clunky and adds only a little advantage to your players. Hopefully these issues will be solved in the future.
All the benefits and the overall charm of the game really gets me excited for the next game, Super Mega Baseball 2, which is planned for Spring of 2018. Its updated style and, hopefully, controls should solve any woes I have with the current adaptation however minor they may be. I will, for sure, be getting this game day one since I’ve had so much fun with this iteration. As of the latest press release they’re also boasting more robust team, player, and league customization which will really help to round out the already robust package.
Super Mega Baseball is available on XBox One, PS4, and Steam. If you’re a baseball fan or have been looking for a sports game that is engaging, lighthearted, and shows off exactly why the big developers have been getting it wrong SMB is more than worth your while.