Super Mega Baseball Review
Once upon a time, video game developers produced sports games that weren’t simulators. In fact, due to the lack of technology, even games that proposed to be “realistic” were hardly that. These days, though, in our ceaseless drive to make everything more authentic, it seems like the good ol’ arcade-style sports productions have disappeared. We still get a few (NBA Jam, for instance) but for the most part, the sims dominate. That’s why I was intrigued when I saw some really positive reviews for a game I’d never heard of: Super Mega Baseball.
And now I can’t stop playing it.
Beginning with the graphics, the game looks decent on PlayStation 4. It won’t compare to big-budget blockbusters but then again, such a title shouldn’t be compared to those games. For what it is, Metalhead’s super mega fun game has a charming, extremely likeable visage. Stadium design is especially good, and the character animations are another highlight. However, I was kind of hoping for a bit more flair and flash; arcade-style titles typically thrive on cracking special effects and SMB is a little light in that respect. Still, the lighting and detail is solid and the overall presentation is technically sound and visually appealing.
In regards to sound, I think I know why the developers call themselves “Metalhead Software.” The game’s audio is definitely metal-centric and even the gruff, borderline comical cries of the umpires are very…headbang-ery. Of course, gameplay takes center-stage throughout and being a metal fan is hardly a requirement. I’m just speaking of the obvious influences behind the sound. The audio effects are a little better than the graphical effects, in my estimation, as everything from the crowd noises to the crack of the bat enhances the experience. The balancing is a major plus, too, as the effects, voices, and music all blend together quite well.
Super Mega Baseball is accessible without being overly simplified, straightforward without being bland, and above all else, wildly entertaining. It’d be inaccurate to say there isn’t a learning curve – because there is – but instead of trying to master a bevy of intricate controls, you’re merely trying to master the timing of a few simple controls. And instead of sifting through dozens of menus and dealing with never-ending off-the-field maneuvers (training, trading, drafts, tweaking sliders, etc.), you spend the overwhelming majority of time playing. However, before I get to that, let me clarify:
One might assume there isn’t much to this game. Now, granted, I’d hoped for a bit more in the way of content; for instance, I wish we could create our own teams and players from scratch, or at least edit the existing teams. I also think the menu interface leaves a little something to be desired when hiring your staff, and I sometimes question the balancing. In other words, I think Mojo might be too big of a factor and I’ll explain in a moment. However, all this being said, this isn’t about stepping up to the plate and swinging for the fences. This isn’t about a couple of buttons and kiddie-like characters running around the field.
There’s a lot more going on here. Speaking of hiring staff, you can hire various professionals to give your team a boost; there are Coaches, Trainers, Gear Managers and Stylists, and they all come with three Modifiers that can be attached to your players. Those players have lots of relevant stats: There are stats for power, fielding, speed, and Mojo. Mojo is a player’s mental state, in a way. It works as momentum during the game, so if your player is performing well, his Mojo will rise; if he’s striking out at the plate, that Mojo will decrease. The higher your player’s Mojo entering a game, the better he’ll perform in pressure situations.
As I said, this can a tad drastic. If one team gets on a roll and really starts to pile up the Mojo, and the other team isn’t doing so hot, the game can get lopsided very quickly. For example, I lost one game 9-1 and won the very next game 15-1, and the difficulty was the same. It’s just that one team got the Mojo going early in each game. I think it dictates play too much, and the results should be based more on player stats. But as you can see, the game offers plenty: Beyond Mojo, there’s a nice pitch selection, regular and power pitches (and regular and power swings at the plate), and timing is essential for all of it.
It all comes together extremely well. The game design is excellent because you always feel like you’re in complete control. When you’re on defense and the opponent hits the ball, the screen switches around and that can be abrupt and disconcerting in some baseball games. You have little to no time to react, especially when there are nine controllable players in the field. Metalhead solves that issue by giving you a few seconds; after the ball is hit, the game slows way down and gives you a chance to get your bearings. This gives you the opportunity to plan; maybe you intend to dive or jump with the player the ball is heading toward, or maybe you’ll decide which base to throw to.
At the plate, the game rewards a good eye and exquisite timing. It also reacts very much as it should. Even though this isn’t a simulator, there’s a definite baseball brain here; swinging at a high pitch will invariably result in a pop-up, and I get the distinct impression that if the computer can fool you with a certain pitch, they’ll keep trying it until you lay off. In other words, while it’s tempting to swing at everything, it’s a far better idea to wait for the pitch you know you can rope. The pitches come in at an agreeable speed, too, although I think fastballs could be a touch faster. And when a pitcher starts to tire, his or her stats start to suffer, which is appropriate.
You can select from a short, medium, or long Season, and you can edit the appearance of your players. Then there’s the difficulty, which is signified by the “Ego” rating. The default is 15, which is Casual, but it goes all the way up to over 90, which is regarded as “Impossible.” As you build your team’s capabilities, you’ll want to up the Ego rating. Currently, I’m playing at around 28 or 29, the top end of Medium, and I’m thinking of starting a new season at 30 (Tougher). I did one short season, which is 16 games and at a 28 Ego, the League Championship (I went 15-1 during the regular season) was very close. Given the huge difficulty range, I’m guessing you can significantly increase your team’s overall ability.
Super Mega Baseball is one of the most enjoyable, satisfying games I’ve played in a long time. Sometimes, we get so caught up with the necessity for realism and authenticity, so as to show off the power of our fancy new hardware, that we forget a video game truism: A game doesn’t have to be realistic to be fun. In point of fact, some people who aren’t hardcore sports fanatics would prefer the less realistic. Hey, remember when everybody loved Blades of Steel, regardless of whether or not they were a hockey fan? There was a reason for that, and that reason is why I’d wholeheartedly recommend Metalhead’s SMB to just about anyone.
And don’t forget that you can play with up to four players! Always fun.
The Good: Quaint, technically solid graphics. Well-balanced and entertaining audio throughout. Excellent control on both sides of the ball. Great game design, from the stadiums to the core mechanics. Modifiers and customization greatly enhance the depth. Good fun for multiple players.
The Bad: Mojo might have too big of an impact. Not enough team customization options. Modifier/Staff menu interface is awkward.
The Ugly: “Ugly? Here? HA!”
1/12/2015 Ben Dutka