RBI Baseball 21 Review
I knew my trip through RBI Baseball 21 was going to be rough from the second the tutorial started.
Despite downloading the most “up-to-date” rosters, after choosing the Cleveland Indians as my favorite team, Francisco Lindor stepped up to the plate in his Tribe uniform. On the video screen, his trademark smile was sitting under his New York Mets hat.
Then things went downhill.
When sitting still, RBI Baseball 21 presents a pretty picture. I like the ballpark environments. The players look fine — nothing super realistic, but that’s also not the point of this game. But in-motion is where the game falls apart. Which is pretty rough since, you know, it’s a game that is meant to be played.
Whenever the game is in motion, there are frequent frame breaks. I’m typically not sensitive to frame rate drops, but it’s extremely noticeable in the moment-to-moment gameplay. During the said tutorial, I got stuck unable to advance during the baserunning portion. The assignment was to tag up just the runner on 3rd base, which I did; but there was still a runner on 2nd base and the game just never advanced.
Also? Every time I boot the game up, I get the opportunity to choose my favorite team and go through the tutorial.
Okay, so once I got into the game and put Lindor on his correct team (sadly), I hopped into the Home Run Derby. It’s the most mindless home run derby I’ve ever played. Using Jose Ramirez, I blasted 20-plus homers in each 3-minute round. Every home run featured multiple fireworks, more frame drops, and a severe lack of accomplishment.
Next, I checked out the created player capabilities. It harkens back to old-school gaming when you had only various templates to choose from, with no real customizability.
The other game modes include Exhibition, Postseason, and Franchise. Exhibition is what it sounds like; for the postseason, you choose a team to enter as a wild card and try to make a run to the World Series; and in franchise, you take a team of your choosing and have 10 years to win as many championships as possible.
I chose the Indians, and went into free agency to see who I might be able to replace Lindor with. I found a list of legends and picked up Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau. There’s no salary cap in the game so you can do as you please. You could also set trades to always be accepted.
During my first set of at-bats, I drew a walk, and then Jose Ramirez came to bat. The pitch came in perfectly, and I smacked the power hit button and sent it to the warning track in left field…only for the fielder to make a miraculous catch while standing 3 feet away from the ball.
While pitching, Shane Bieber’s slider behaves a heckuva lot like a sinker. The Tiger batter swung and – visually – hit the top of the ball, only for it to soar out of the stadium. The camerawork made me dizzy as the batter teleported around the field. Loading between innings takes too long, even on the Series X. My Dragon Quest 11 saves boot up faster than inning changes in RBI Baseball.
As an aside — the pitching actually feels pretty good. You tilt your thumbstick in a direction to choose a pitch, then aim it and hold down the pitch button to power it up. As your pitcher loses stamina, the pitch window gets wider; or if he’s really confident with certain pitches, the window is narrower. It’s a great, simple pitching mechanic that also has a good amount of depth.
Offseason is laughably bare. You’re told whether any of your players have retired. Then you’re presented with a “free agents” list that, I assume, denotes incoming rookies. I tried to choose one of them but accidentally advanced through the offseason. There is no “presentation” or direction to speak of.
Here’s the thing: RBI Baseball is supposed to be a throwback to arcade-y baseball games from 25 years ago. It’s got the MLB license, and is nominally a baseball game: There are pitchers and catchers; 9 players on each side; a ball is hit and runs are scored. It’s supposed to be pure fun, without getting into the hardcore sim aspect of a game like The Show.
The problem is that RBI Baseball 21 is possibly the worst baseball video game I’ve ever played. I love baseball. Some of my earliest, best gaming memories revolve around Bases Loaded and Hardball on the NES. Triple Play 97 was the first game I played on the PS1; and I spent the entire summer of 2002 playing High Heat Baseball while listening to the Les Miserables soundtrack (no, I don’t know why). I loved EA’s NCAA baseball game; the 2K series before it was crap; The Show series, as it remains the best sports game annually; Power Pros was an amazing series; The Bigs; Super Mega Baseball.
Long story short: I know baseball video games. And, while I don’t play as religiously as I did in the past, I can tell you when a game is worth playing. RBI Baseball 21 has no redeeming merits, aside from its pitching mechanics and the fact that it’s a licensed MLB game on systems where other MLB games aren’t available. Thankfully, that’s changing this year when The Show comes to Xbox; and hopefully, that game makes its way to Switch in the near future.
Save your money. Wait for The Show to come out this year, or pick up Super Mega Baseball 3. If you absolutely have to play a Major League Baseball game and have no other options? At least wait for it to hit the bargain bin.
Review was written by GamesReviews contributor Seth Roy from a code provided by the publisher. Played on Xbox Series X.