MLB Advanced Media has decided it’s not wise to mess with a good thing.
When MLBAM announced in mid-January that the legendary baseball game from the late 1980s would return, it left open questions of whether the game would be a modern game with the same name, or if it would be an homage to what made the original game so beloved.
Now we know. It’s going to be a faithful recreation of the original.
There are advances to take advantage of the 25 years of technological developments. The graphics will be better. Now you can play with all 30 teams instead of four AL, four NL and two all-star teams of the 1988 version. But as the games developers describe it, anyone who played the original will be able to pick up new game and play it as if you were sitting in front of a NES system. Now you just don’t have to blow on your cartridge to try to make it work properly.
If you are in your late 30s or early 40s, you need no further explanation. But for those who are younger or older it’s worth explaining that the original RBI Baseball didn’t focus on being a perfect recreation of an actual game. Pitchers could start a pitch over the middle of the plate, curve it to miss to the outside, then curve it back to nick the black for a sneaky strike.
It may not have been an ideal representation of how a pitcher actually pitches, but it captured the spirit perfectly. In the early innings, a pitcher could mow through the lineup with a devastating 95-plus mph fastball. But do that and your pitcher tired quickly. By the fourth inning, you’d be left to try to out-think the hitter, spotting up a 60 mph fastball and working in and out. At the same time, hitters needed to adjust their position in the batters’ box more than Cal Ripken in the middle of a slump. With a 16-man roster (four pitchers, eight regulars and four backup position players), getting through nine innings required an all-hands-on-deck approach.
When the game is released in early April for PS3, XBox 360, iOS and Android devices (with PS4 and XBox One to follow soon) it will use a directional pad and two buttons. It will use the same top-down view of the original. Hitters don’t have to worry about being in the proper plane with their swing—just focus on hitting the ball squarely on the sweet spot of the bat.
“That entire era of sports games, the thing that was most successful was the ease of accessibility of the product,” said Jamie Lease, the MLBAM vice president of games. “The core essence of RBI Baseball is the pitcher-batter challenge. It’s a chess match on the field. You’re curving the ball and changing speeds. The batter is moving around the batters box to prepare for how the pitch might come in. It’s very much a chess match of very simple controls but complex thought. What we wanted was capture that essence of accessibility but with depth of play … This is not about pitching low and inside. This is ‘how do I get through this half-inning.’ ”
The inspiration of the original game carries over in many other ways as well. Each player will have the attributes (power, speed, hitting ability) of his real-life doppelganger, but defense and other aspects are simplified—want to play Paul Konerko at shortstop? It won’t hurt your defense.
Just like the original game, a pinch hitter gets a power boost in his first at-bat. In the original game, that meant that Mark McGwire and Tony Armas were almost unstoppable as pinch hitters. Expect to see Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz prove to be equally feared if he’s playing in a National League park.
The game will also be quick. Developers say you can play a full nine-inning game in under 20 minutes. They also promise that it will not require any micro-transactions in-game. Many games, especially those for tablets and phones, now require in-game purchases unless you are willing to sit out designed waiting periods. RBI Baseball will allow fans to play a full 162-game schedule in one sitting with no additional purchases required beyond the original app.
You can play a full 162-game schedule in the new version, but with four pitchers and an emphasis on accessible gameplay, don’t expect it to recreate the stats perfectly. There will also be team-based challenges—meet them and you will unlock a retro jersey you can wear in addition to the home, road and alternate uniforms that you get out of the box.
The simplified controls will make the game easily playable on phones and tablets. But there is one key aspect of the game that will be limited to the console versions. On phones and tablets, there is no multiplayer. Consoles will be the only way to face off against a friend. There is no online multiplayer on any of the versions.
Pricing has not been released yet. While an official release date has not been announced, Lease said that they are aiming for an early April release. Multiple gaming sites have said the game will roll out on April 10.