Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings Review (Xbox One)
Getting a competent baseball simulation game on the Xbox platform since EA scuttled the MVP series has been a challenge. Though a few developers have tried their hands at bringing the excitement of America's pastime to life on Microsoft's consoles, there haven't been very many success stories. With Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings, Metalhead Software is hoping to buck that trend, and become a true go-to baseball sim for fans thirsty for hardball on the Xbox One. The devs are successful in bringing quality baseball to the console for the most part, but Super Mega Baseball has a few shortcomings that keep it from becoming a truly standout experience.
For a few years now, Sony's MLB: The Show series has been the only... well... show in town for console owners. That's left the Xbox with little to offer its users that have a fondness for the sport that absolutely exemplifies summer, passion and patience. Fans will put up with a lot for an official license, as several sports games have proven over the years, but not having real MLB teams or players isn't a detriment for Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings. Though at first glance SMB might appear too cartoony and exaggerated to possibly be anything other than a silly arcade baseball game, that couldn't be farther from the truth. Super Mega Baseball is a tightly focused game, with a low barrier of entry and a generous amount of depth once you get invested.
As consoles have become more advanced, so have the sports games that call them home. Being required to recall a variety of button combinations and inputs to just get through the opening inning of a baseball game can be a chore for a newcomer. Metalhead's done a tremendous job streamlining everything you need to know and do in order to get you playing faster, get you learning the ins and outs easier, and to keep you playing. Most everything in SMB is accomplished with just a few presses of the A button, and it's because of this that you're able to pick up and play immediately without a lengthy tutorial or someone explaining which of the 12 buttons do what.
The downside to that simplicity is that none of the teams feel all that different from one another despite having varied statistics. Metalhead breaks each team down into a focused area, such as super pitchers or super hitters, with a few all-star candidates sprinkled around on every roster. Though there are indeed differences in every single player's base stats (contact, power, fielding, etc.), there's a lot of parity between teams, which robs them of any true personality. That kind of competitive balance makes for close games, but it's also a bit boring. The fact that every pitcher has access to every single pitch in the game, but merely has different proficiency in how well a pitch is thrown takes a bit of the edge off. There's no anticipation of fear in facing off against any single particular team or player, and that works against Super Mega Baseball.
There are only two modes (exhibition and season), though you can choose to play any game with up to four players. The multiplayer aspect consists of trading off batting and baserunning on offense, and pitching and fielding on defense, so it's not too investing. You might be better served just trading the controller every inning though, as the mix and match is a bit awkward. The difficulty can be extremely fine-tuned to your liking with the Ego system, which offers much more than just a casual, normal, or hard set of options. The difficulty spikes are much more manageable when you're in control down to the exact point versus a more generalized setting, and finding that sweet spot is incredibly easy to do since you can adjust on the fly between games.
The action on the field though is what really makes Super Mega Baseball a game worth playing, and if you're only looking for a true simulation experience, SMB delivers. The stylized presentation may throw you for a loop at first, but after just a few innings of play on any of the difficulty levels you set, you'll find SMB is as real as its contemporaries ever were between the poles. The battle between pitcher and hitter is just as strong and solid as it is in a game like The Show, though it is a little harder to differentiate balls and strikes with SMB's fixed camera. As it's positioned slightly to the left or right of the catcher's shoulder when batting, it can be tough to tell the height of a pitch in the strike zone. That leads to more than a few called strikes that end rallies.
Fielding is fairly easy, as most of the anticipation is handled by the computer. On higher Ego settings, you'll have to guide outfielders to the ball a little bit more, which can be a challenge. There are no landing zones presented, so you're basically running to a spot where you think the ball will land without any clue as to how close you will actually be to the actual landing spot. The computer does a good job of getting to the ball when tuned below 65 Ego, but players are a little slower to respond when you set it higher. There is also a dive/jump option for fielders too, which will help you corral those hot grounders through the infield... provided your players are adept enough. If you find that certain players aren't responding quickly enough to your liking, you can always sub them out or upgrade them.
During a season, you can earn upgrades for your roster through coaches or equipment, as well as leveling up players the more you play and the better you perform. Only certain players will be able to use certain upgrades, which come with stat boosts for any number of attributes like pitch velocity or hit power, to name a few. There are also some boosts that will give a player increased Mojo, which is Super Mega Baseball's performance tracking stat. If a player is performing well, they'll have good Mojo, and thus a slight bump in their attributes. The same works inversely if a player isn't doing so hot. This affects not just the day-to-day ratings, but the inning-to-inning performance as well. It's a small touch that adds a bit more realism, though it can get out of hand in either direction if you're not carefully monitoring a player over the course of a few games.
If someone took everything that was so enjoyable about classic 8- and 16-bit era baseball games and filtered it through a modern lens, you'd have Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings. It's an enjoyable baseball sim experience, but one that lacks personality even with the ability to customize the roster to your heart's content. There isn't much to offer beyond the two gameplay modes, but there's still a lot to do even with just a season and exhibition to play around in. What SMB lacks in presentation depth, it more than makes up for in gameplay. Those Xbox owners starved of realistic baseball action will find plenty to like about Super Mega Baseball, and that's doubly true of even more casual baseball fans just looking for a fun new game to try out.
This review is based on a downloaded copy of Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings provided by the publisher for Xbox One.