R.B.I Baseball 19 is not the video game that baseball fans want or need. The overall state of baseball video games is in a strange place. Sony's PlayStation exclusive MLB: The Show with its glossy presentation and deep mechanics is considered the world champion of baseball games. As such almost no other developer wants or has been able to complete with the juggernaut. R.B.I Baseball 19, developed and published by Major League Baseball itself, is the only other competition. The latest entry in The Show series has yet to be released but it's already clear that R.B.I Baseball 19 won't steal is crown.
R.B.I. Baseball 19 is easiest to describe as a bunt of a baseball video game. It accomplishes something albeit minor and does contain a few merits. Yet it's very, even impossibly, hard to get excited about it. As a complete package R.B.I is extremely disappointing. There's an attempt to make a simple but fun arcade baseball game but for everything that R.B.I does right it takes several steps back.
Though the modern era of R.B.I. Baseball began in 2015, the series began back in late 1980s on Atari and NES. The early R.B.I. Baseball titles were straightforward and entertaining but very much of their era when it came to complexity and mechanics. There wasn't much to them but hitting and pitching the ball. Nearly 30 years later not much has changed with R.B.I Baseball besides maybe the graphics. R.B.I. Baseball is a very much of a game of the past with simple controls, few game modes and almost none of the bell and whistles you'd expect from a modern sports game.
R.B.I. Baseball 19 has three modes, franchise, exhibition (with local and online multiplayer) and a home run derby. On their own the limited selection of modes is not a huge detraction. These three are the bread and butter of most baseball video games after all. Also to R.B.I. Baseball 19's credit the few modes to choose from made the game very easy to jump in. There's not a ton of micromanagement in the menu or layered stat comparisons needed to get into an R.B.I. Baseball game and be successful. This pick-and-play style is gratifying especially since R.B.I. Baseball 19 is on Nintendo Switch and a 45 minute game is a terrific time waster.
The issue with R.B.I Baseball is nearly everything surrounding those three basic modes. The most glaring issue is the presentation. R.B.I Baseball looks passable enough and on Nintendo Switch the graphics are even impressive. The character models are detailed or at the very least appear somewhat lifelike from the fixed faraway camera angle of R.B.I.. The illusion drops when the game is in motion. Animations range from stiff to nonexistent. When adjusting players in the batting box they just hover above the ground and in the field everyone has a choppy gait. There's no commentary track, just the bare minimum of umpire calls and the only fanfare a home run receives is a strange slideshow. It's dull for a sport that is already (unfairly) considered to be boring.
The truly damaging aspect of R.B.I Baseball 19 though are the game's controls. The more noticeable issue is the pitching which R.B.I Baseball 19 provides just two buttons for - one for fast pitches and the other for slow. The only way to aim a pitch is to curve the joystick in the direction you want the ball to go while the pitcher's wind-up animation is running. It does work, curving the joystick down and left will result in an inside pitch but it never feels nearly as precise or satisfying as every other baseball game where the exact location of the pitch can be chosen.
Batting suffers from a similar imprecision. Only two buttons can be pressed, one for a regular swing and the other, a bunt. There's no power swing or joystick direction in batting. That means the power and distance of a hit is all based on timing. The only difference between a home run and grounder is when the bat makes contact and that's very tricky to get a hold of at first in the game. It can be soon overcome and eventually every pitch will go into deep outer field. This is exciting for the moment but it quickly grows stale and batting eventually feels just as uninteresting as pitching.
Thankfully, fielding doesn't have the same issues. It does illuminate the strange animation but otherwise controls just fine. Players usually do exactly what you want them do in the field. However since the bulk of most baseball games are the pitching and batting this is rather hollow comfort.
R.B.I Baseball 19 isn't a total failure and compared to the previous downright disastrous and buggy iterations of R.B.I. Baseball in the past, the latest release is an improvement. There's still a lot of work that needs to be done to make R.B.I Baseball 19 into the arcade baseball experience it aspires to become; like fine-tuning the controls and animations. For non-PlayStation 4 owners R.B.I Baseball 19 is the only option for a Major League Baseball game and it will definitely scratches that itch. On Nintendo Switch it's particularly welcome as baseball games are made for handheld gaming. Still, R.B.I. Baseball 19 should and needs to be much, much better even for a budget baseball title.
R.B.I. Baseball 19 is available now for $29.99 for Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Screen Rant was provided a Nintendo Switch copy for review.