Every sports game review ends up as being, at least to a slight extent, a review of the sport itself being simulated. It’s hard to sell even the best soccer video game to someone who just doesn’t like soccer. So full disclosure; I wasn’t expecting to particularly enjoy myself with Super Mega Baseball, an electronic simulation of a sport that has always managed to rank pretty low on the personal appeal scale, probably languishing somewhere between lacrosse and korfball. Imagine my pleasant surprise, then, to look up and find myself having rather a lot of fun with it.
Super Mega Baseball eschews official licensing and endless tables of statistics for a more cheery, casual and irreverent approach to the game. Lantern-jawed (and hobo-bearded and mulleted, should you so desire) cartoon men and women step up to bat for teams such as the Wideloads and Beewolves, each bearing a bat the size of a small tree. The game encourages you to get straight into the action early, and it’s learn by doing time.
Batting is down to aiming your swing with the left stick, waiting to see where the pitch is coming in and then hitting different buttons for a “contact” (regular) strike, power swing (harder to time, but with greater possible distance rewards), or bunt. Or, of course, allowing the ball to pass through to the catcher, a skill that becomes more important as you learn to play.
It takes a little while to get the timing down, but with a bit of practice, you’ll soon be making regular hits, and even aiming under or over the ball to go for a flatter strike or home run glory. Batting never becomes too easy though, and a clean strike over the fence is always a cause for genuine exuberance. Stealing bases and managing runners is also simply managed with the shoulder buttons.
As the pitcher, the player must first select their pitch type – those unfamiliar with baseball terminology such as “forkball’ or “four-seam fastball” will be pleased to know that these terms are assigned to the relevant ball-movement direction on the stick – then take their time to target their pitch. As with batting, different pitch selection buttons allow for the safer, more accurate approach, or the riskier death-or-glory option.
With this selected, a second reticle appears as the pitcher winds up, and the player has a second or two to steer it towards the target they have just set – the closer to the centre of target, the more accurate the pitch. Accuracy is no guarantee of success, however; throw the same pitch too many times, and the batter may get wise and spank it out of the ball park, so it’s best to try and vary things up (and ideally sucker the batter into swinging at rubbish).
Fielders will catch and retrieve automatically (although they become less independent in this regard at higher difficulty levels) but need a prompt to dive or jump, and the player is given the crucial task of deciding where to throw – get this wrong in the heat of the moment, and there’s no-one to blame but yourself.
Couch co-op has the bright idea of putting the pitching in the hands of one player and the fielding in the hands of the other, which can lead to some abuse-based hilarity as your team-mate rifles a throw to first base just as the opposition runner strolls over home plate.
This essentially is the game, and the mechanics are done well enough to make things fun. Hitting a home run, striking out a batter with bases loaded, or pulling off a double play in the field should all be extremely satisfying in a baseball game, and they are here. And there’s a bit of depth beyond the cartoony veneer too, for those that want it.
Each player can be affected in games by pressure situations, which is visually cued by them sweating like a garden sprinkler, and also by their fluctuating “mojo” rating. There are also options to bring in pinch hitters and sub out tired pitchers, and across a league season you can dip into a bit of management by keeping your players supplied with outside-the-square buffs like “legal representation” and “reality show appearances”.
The only real let-downs are a few missing bits of polish in other areas. The presentation is really only serviceable, and although you can customise the appearance of your team of sluggers, it’s hard to imagine anyone bothering. Also, a practice mode of some sort wouldn’t go amiss, and online multiplayer is nowhere to be found (although local is fun).
But it’s hard to get too upset at Super Mega Baseball for a lack of features when that’s a part of its approach to making baseball enough of an arcade-style blast that even a naysayer like me enjoys playing it. Swing away, Merrill. Swing away.