A while back I reviewed RBI Baseball 17 and thought it was a crappy way to bring the series to Switch. However, the folks at the MLB seemed to think so as well; they openly expressed their disappointment with the way the series was being handled. For the first time, a new installment was being created by the MLB themselves rather than outsourced to some other developer. The resulting RBI Baseball 18 sounded interesting if only because they explicitly said they would try and improve on the series formula.
Fast forward to March 2018 – the game was released on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One to below-average reception and the Nintendo Switch version remained MIA. The Switch version wouldn’t come out for another three months (and even then, we only have a digital version so far). My optimism waned given the past couple of events surrounding the game but I was still willing to see how they were able to make this one better than before. Now that RBI Baseball 18 is finally sitting on my Switch, how do I feel about it? Well…
The game kicks off with a stylistic video montage of various players (not taken from gameplay) which is actually a pretty cool addition; it really pumps me up for what’s to come. And what follows is a drastic menu overhaul that looks about as premium as what you would see in AAA sports franchises. There was clearly a lot more effort put into RBI Baseball 18‘s presentation than the aggressively bland layouts of 17.
So how far does this extend to when you’re on the field? Well, it does look cleaner than before. The players have more defined features in their models to make them stand out from each other, fields have more polish and details previously not present. In fact, the people in the audience are made with actual 3D models instead of Nintendo 64-style 2D cardboard cutouts this time! Perhaps the best part is the framerate. It still isn’t 60 FPS, but it is nevertheless bumped up slightly for a smoother experience. However, there are still some rough cracks carried over from previous games, like graphical pop-ins and abrupt cuts when the player is called Out. I can also hardly tell if the audience reacts to the game at all.
The sound effects and announcer voice clips are mostly carried over from the previous games. Thankfully, there is one big portion of the audio that’s been improved on: The music! A batch of licensed songs have been tossed into the production, and they do a good job at breathing life into the otherwise standard sound design. From “Say Yes” to “Testify”, there is a nice variety of music to listen to on the menu. I do kind of miss that cute little jingle from 17 in between times where players change sides though.
Here’s where the package starts to really falter. RBI Baseball 18 carries over the gameplay engine of the previous installments. As unsurprising as it is, the fact that there’s a new development team led me to believe that there would be a much bigger overhaul of the mechanics. Instead, I’m going through the same dodgy batting elements. It seems the MLB are really just using the established engine to build off of it rather than begin from scratch. The CPU is very slightly easier to take on, and pitching still works fine enough (but not without quirky fieldrunning AI). Yet, it still feels like I’m fighting the gameplay more often than I am enjoying it.
Easily the worst part about RBI Baseball 18 is that, just like the last game, online multiplayer is suspiciously absent. I could have sworn they announced that this would be the one to feature it for Switch! They delayed this particular version for three whole months and it still doesn’t have it. You get to download roster updates like before but the notification for it sounded like it was required if I wanted to play online. Yet there’s nothing of the sort. There is a new Home Run Derby mode,but this mini-game is weakened by the fact that home runs could hardly ever be hit in this game. If anything, it doubles down on what makes the batting such a big problem.
The overall quality of the product makes me question if they really did try their hardest to make RBI Baseball 18 a decent game. For a true overhaul to happen for the better it would take more than a year and require more than touching up the presentation. With that said, it may be best for this franchise to be put to bed for a little while. It could use that rest to reflect on its position as a hand-me-down baseball game for people that don’t have access to MLB: The Show.
Review copy provided by MLB