To put it bluntly: Xbox owning gamers have been shit out of luck when it comes to America’s Pastime. The MLB 2K franchise, which was already in decline, was shelved back in 2013. Major League Baseball tried to pick up the slack themselves, but all that has resulted in is the dire R.B.I. Baseball revival. Meanwhile, over in PlayStation land, MLB: The Show continues to be a top-tier representation of the sport, and last year saw the debut of Super Mega Baseball. Now, with baseball over half-way through, Metalhead Software has brought Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings to the Xbox One.
The first thing you’ll notice upon booting up Super Mega Baseball is that the title is not licensed by Major League Baseball. So, rather than getting to play as the Los Angeles Angels and Mike Trout, you instead have the Blowfish and Keg Gutterson. I’d say that is actually a pretty fair trade-off, all things considered. Admittedly, as someone who enjoys playing as my team (New York Yankees), with my players, I was a little wary of the knock-off team approach.
While not having the MLB license is a bummer, Metalhead Software was able to make up for it with not only the teams, but also the individual players. Each of the pre-made teams has their own style of play. For example, one team may be great at contact hitting, while another doesn’t hit as often, but when they do, it’s for power. The lack of real life athletes also opens the door for the title to have some fun when it comes to the members of each team. Rather than the generic young male, you can build a team of geriatric African Americans, Latino women and grizzled meatheads. It’s all very goofy, but I couldn’t help but be charmed by it.
Despite the over the top presentation of the title, it would be a bad idea to sleep on the gameplay of Super Mega Baseball. Sure, it may have the old school look and feel of the classic sports games many of us grew up on, but unlike the R.B.I. Baseball series, which tried a similar approach, the gameplay here is a more evolved take on the simplistic stylings of old.
I’ve always been more of a pitching fan, so I was looking forward to seeing how Metalhead Software approached the position. Instead of relying on Pulse Pitching or a timing meter, like in MLB: The Show, Super Mega Baseball chooses to go with a deceptively complex approach. It seems easy enough, as after you select your desired pitch (every pitcher has access to the same pitches), you guide a reticule over towards your chosen location. The closer you are to the target, the better the pitch.
It’s only after you begin to play around with not only each individual pitch type, but how hard you throw said pitch, do you realize how deep the system is. You can use your power pitches to go after players, but you are more susceptible to screwing up due to increased difficulty in timing. On the other hand, you could choose a softer approach, but you’re less likely to dominate a batter. It’s still a simple system to learn, but the more time you spend on the game, the more you’ll realize there’s more to it than you originally thought.
Since I’m more of a pitcher, I’m admittedly slightly biased against batting. That’s not to say I hate it necessarily, but more that I’m annoyed that I’m typically terrible at it. I do have to say, though, the simplistic approach to hitting here was fun enough to win even me over. Similar to pitching, all you have to do is aim your targeting reticule over where you think the pitch is going. Once you think you have it in your sights, you can choose to regularly swing at it, or attempt a power swing. A basic swing is easier to make contact with, but lacks pop. A power swing, on the other hand, can be hard to time, but when used correctly, can result in a towering blast.
The pitcher/hitter duel is the heart of the sport, and Metalhead Software appropriately realized that. So, rather than having each battle feel the exact same way, they created the Mojo system to change things up. Similar to a confidence meter, Mojo will alter a players performance based on the situation and prior performance. Having a rough night and in a tough jam? Your players performance will become erratic, with pitchers serving more meatballs and batters less likely to produce contact. It’s an interesting take on the pressure of the sport, and one I thought greatly added to the overall experience.
If there’s one facet of the sport where the title is a little lacking, it’s when it comes to fielding. Catching pop-ups and tagging runners out is simple enough, it’s when you have to dive or jump for a ball where things are a little stiff. After a ball is hit, you have a few seconds to decide whether or not you’ll need to dive after it. Even with the added time, though, I often saw my players diving too late to catch balls that should have easily been caught. Maybe I just suck at this aspect of the game, but I’d like to think that after several games of trying, I would be able to snare at least one.
As a digital-only, budget release, it’s not a total surprise that Super Mega Baseball is a little light on the modes. You really only have two options: Exhibition and Season, which is basically a series of exhibition games. Players can choose to play either 16, 32, or 48 game seasons, and playoffs are included at the conclusion of each one. While the season mode may lack the options of the other baseball game franchises out there, it does have a few tricks up its sleeve. Players can choose to hire an assortment of different coaches, trainers, and gear providers to help boost specific players performances. The fact that the game keeps track of specific stats for each player was also a pleasant surprise.
One of the more baffling things about the title, though, is the lack of online multiplayer. At this point in the console generation, I don’t understand how a developer could choose to not include online play in some fashion. I don’t need the full season experience or anything, just let me play single games online against my friends. The only reason I can think that Metalhead Software chose not to include online play is that the lag could severely impact the gameplay. Even if that was the case, it would have been nice to just have the option.
Much like the surging Houston Astros, Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings came out of nowhere and shocked this baseball loving gamer to the core. Even without the MLB license, the gripping, but simplistic gameplay proved to be a more enjoyable experience than even the mighty MLB: The Show provided this season. It’s not a perfect representation of America’s Pastime, but Metalhead Software showed that you don’t need to provide a realistic depiction of the sport in order to produce high-quality entertainment.
This review was based on the Xbox One version of the title, which we were provided with.
While it may lack the MLB license, Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings provides an MVP-caliber experience thanks to its satisfyingly sound gameplay and charming presentation.