I don't know how to write a video game review, I told Rob. How do you not know how to do a video game review? Rob responded. Just write what you like and didn't like. The point, game, set and match goes to Rob. So I'm here today to tell you Playstation gamers* out there that Super Mega Baseball is worth every cent of its $20 asking price. Forgive me if I don't quite know how to do that.
* Sorry if you're on an XBox. It's a Playstation only game right now.
A week before Christmas SB Nation's sister site, Polygon, published its pick for sports game of the year. I like sports. I like video games. A month ago I got myself a Playstation 4 at last after eying a return to gaming since the new generation of consoles came out a year earlier. I expected maybe the latest edition of Madden would win. Or ... maybe something else. Imagine my surprise when Super Mega Baseball was named the winner.
Owen Good wrote in his original review of the game:
In Super Mega Baseball, everyone plays. Everyone gets to enjoy the most rollicking, challenging and inspired video game depiction of the National Pastime that I've seen. No other sports video game of 2014 approached its subject with this much imagination, and the fun it offers can be personal and affirming for all.
We've had a tense and very angry year in video gaming on the subjects of race, gender, diversity and inclusion, and sports, one of the biggest selling and most-played video game genres, showed no leadership in any of it. Then Super Mega Baseball stepped up, in the bottom of the 12th month, and hit a bat-flip walk-off home run.
Sight unseen, I decided to buy it.
Honestly I haven't paid much attention to sports video games this year and I didn't really spend a lot of time playing them on my past consoles either. I am an older gentleman now, after all, lost in a nostalgia that everything was better in my childhood. Like sports video games. NHL '94. Now that was a game. Tecmo Super Bowl? Don't give me your Madden talk. And let me tell you about the baseball games. It wasn't just the iconic, original RBI Baseball. It was a game like Baseball Simulator 1.000. Or Basewars. Oh, I loved Basewars. Robots playing baseball? What could be better, short of robot umpires calling the games we watch today? The games since then? I found it hard to get into them. The graphics are great. The simulation is top notch. They're even a little fun. But nothing I played gave me that giddy feeling of my youth.
Super Mega Baseball is arcade baseball. Super Mega Baseball is a baseball simulation. Somehow it is both. The stats are all there. The twitchy fingers are there as you try to get your timing down just right at the plate is there. The feeling you get when you set up a batter and then freeze him with a well-timed, well-placed changeup for the third out with bases loaded is there, too. As you up the difficulty (an interesting 0-100 "ego" meter that gradually adjusts how much the game assists, and later fights against, you) runs become a premium and you have to think carefully whether to go from first to third on a single, whether to call for a hit and run, or whether your pitcher has run out of gas and needs help. Yet you can play a full nine-inning game in 20 minutes. I played another game tonight just to time it. Twenty-two minutes from first pitch to last, a 6-2 victory for the Moonstars. So the mechanics are there. This is a game that is just flat-out fun to play without being a button-masher. The stats are deep and you can keep track of a bunch of them, both in-season and throughout your career.
But it's not just the what that puts this game over the top, it's the who. And the where. The amount of thought put into everything from playful-yet-realistic ballparks to team names that sound like something a local minor league team might adopt to the somewhat descriptive player names and avatars who populate the game. Hurley Bender, for instance. He's a junk-baller who sits atop the Beewolves' rotation. Or Rip Dingers, who not coincidentally rips dingers for the Moose. Or Joanna Heater of the Blowfish. Every team name and logo cracks you up. Every player -- men and women alike, playing the same teams as if it were no big deal -- has a unique look and seemingly a story to tell if you just asked them.
And maybe that story-telling part is the best part of a game that is so great in so many ways. Owen and were chatting on Sunday after I thanked him for writing about the game. What team do you use, we'd ask. Who's your best player? Who's your favorite player? We'd start talking about our seasons. I told him how happy I was when my leadoff batter finally got a hit in the third game of the season. I was just feeling bad for the little guy. And I thought, how many games make you want to tell stories, who make you feel something for the characters? The best surely do. But do sports games? Well, no. Yet here we were, two grown men, talking about the games we played and how we connected with our players.
I could go on. The game is deep. I could tell you about the hot/cold mojo system, the player progression that allows you to upgrade your characters as you level up. I could mention up to four players can play at once but not online. I could criticize a bit, telling you the mojo system calculations seem a bit off at times and that I'm never sure if I'm just really bad at fielding or if the fielding in the game just isn't as smooth as the pitching and hitting. But I'm not sure how much any of that matters.
Super Mega Baseball is a game I really enjoy spending time in and one that I expect to spend a lot more time in during the days and months (and maybe even years) to come. This rookie developer, Metalhead (out of Canada) got nearly everything right, right from the start. I give it my highest recommendation.