Super Mega Baseball
In a baseball world dominated by MLB The Show, Super Mega Baseball is nearly a revelation by default. It’s everything Sony’s lumbering but wonderful sim is not: quirky, colorful, and most importantly approachable. It channels the best aspects of the game with aplomb, minus all the additional filler. Its ambitions are modest, merely desiring to put 18 ballplayers (women included!) on a diamond and give you the sort of baseball experience you’ve been craving since Bo Jackson was splitting bats over his freakishly impressive thighs.
“Super Mega Baseball is everything Sony’s lumbering but wonderful sim is not”Without the hindrance of MLB licensing, Super Mega Baseball‘s league is comprised of 12 fictitious teams and dozens of original, wacky players. The Beewolves, the Crocodons, the Herbivores and more, each team has a great logo, a team specialty and more than a dozen cleverly named misfits. And thanks to those seemingly minor details each team in its roster has a definitive personality. One of the great but largely forgotten things about professional baseball, and subsequently video games based on it, is the nearly endless list of zany characters we’ve watched and rooted for in real life: Closers with obnoxious beards, rookie phenoms that live on $40 a month in a trailer and 155 pound runts that throw 95 miles per hour. So yes, Super Mega Baseball‘s portrayal of the game is populated with a long list of worn baseball caricatures, yet it still finds a way to honor the game’s colorful, bizarre history more than any of its contemporaries.
With great teams and amusing players it’s disappointing the title’s character design and animation isn’t nearly as excellent as the rest of the experience winds up being. With priceless, aspiring baseball immortals such as left fielder Muffin Studwick (my doubles machine), it’s a missed opportunity that more of the game’s unique personality isn’t illustrated via memorable animations. Ballplayers are appropriately cartoonish, proportioned like twigs or lumberjacks, but the overarching style feels unfinished and awkward. Exacerbating the issue is the relatively small variety of stances and body types, making it difficult to customize a player that truly stands out from the default roster.
Another issue that hurts some of Super Mega Baseball‘s personality is the huge repertoire of pitches available to each and every hurler. On the one hand giving each pitcher nine offerings allows each individual player to dictate who that pitcher is through their own pitch selection, but on the other, it makes everyone feel like a generalist. Great pitchers are known for their signature pitch: Mo had the cutter and Pedro had the change up. Here, everyone can throw a little bit of everything, which means you’ll get to experiment with every type of offering the game has, but it’s easy to forget who you’ve got on the mound. Each pitcher’s stats, including velocity and ‘junk’, may nudge a pitcher toward a specific type of offering.
“Accurate pitches miraculously yield called strikes and missed swings”As far as pitching itself goes Super Mega Baseball has an incredibly simple to learn, hard to master system. Pitches are selected, a general velocity (hard/soft) assigned and a short window is given to effectively hit your spots. Accurate pitches miraculously yield called strikes and missed swings, even when a pitch is well-located out of the strike zone. However, missing your spots can quickly lead to trouble. Strikes in the middle of the zone will be routinely squared up, and if you’re lucky it’s merely a hard out. If not, maybe it’s a base hit or maybe a towering home run.
Despite its cartoonish appearance the batter/pitcher showdown feels appropriately tense and real. The AI scales beautifully thanks to the game’s Ego system, revealing a baseball game where you can actually work out a walk or fool a hitter with a hook in a fastball count. Every pitch is important. Balls and strikes, hits and outs, it’s the sometimes agonizing moment-to-moment drama that makes baseball what it is, and it hasn’t been this fun (virtually) in a very long time.
Ultimately, that’s why Super Mega Baseball succeeds. It doesn’t sweat the superfluous stuff. It has great teams, good difficulty scaling, approachable gameplay and a phenomenally addictive rendition of pitching and hitting. It does little else, which may disappoint stat heads and aspiring digital franchise owners, but it rounds the bases and then promptly heads for the showers. It does what any great baseball game needs to do, arcade or simulation, and it does it with the confidence of a long time vet.