RBI Baseball 21 | Review | Switch - TheFamicast.com: Japan-based Nintendo Podcasts, Videos & Reviews!


Sunday, March 21, 2021

RBI Baseball 21 | Review | Switch

by Danny Bivens

Is 2021 the year RBI goes over the top?
RBI Baseball is the only licensed MLB game on the Nintendo Switch (at the time of writing) for the 2021 season. The series has been panned by critics over the years, but I honestly think that RBI 20 really pushed things over the edge in a good way. The new gameplay mechanics for pitching and hitting felt great, and while fielding really needed some work, the overall experience was better than ever. RBI Baseball 21 on the Switch is looking to improve upon some of the gameplay and presentation elements brought in from last year and also bring in some additional improvements along the way. But (pardon the pun here) is this a strikeout, home run or something in between?

Gameplay - Pitching
By and large, things remain mostly unchanged from RBI 20, and I see that as a good thing. You first choose your pitch with the joystick, press B to confirm, choose the location and then fire away. The cursor this year is a bit different from last year, but things haven’t changed much. There’s still the confidence meter that comes into play depending on how well you’ve been playing, which I thought was cool. The default camera is also a little bit more zoomed in to give you a closer look at the action as well. If you played RBI 20, you’ll know what to expect. If you’ve been away from the series for while or this is your first time playing the game, the handy tutorial in the game will fill you in on the basics. 

Gameplay - Fielding
Things really haven’t changed too much here. Collision detection between the ball and on field players seems to have gotten a little bit better here, but it’s still not perfect. For example, in previous RBI titles, even if a ball appeared to bounce over your players head, they would still somehow miraculously be able to make a stop. That’s not the ALWAYS the case here, and it took me a little while to get used to that. There still are cases where fielders look like they wouldn’t have a chance in hell at nabbing a ball and yet, they do. Your mileage may vary here. 

Gameplay - Batting
The batting system in RBI 20 was met with mixed results. To hit the ball in that game, you would hold the B button, which would then charge up your swing, and then release it when you thought you could make contact with the ball. Things have changed quite a bit in RBI 21. Now there are three kinds of swings that are assigned to three different buttons - B for a normal swing, Y for a power swing and X for a contact swing. I think the first two are pretty easy to understand. However, the contact swing (X) is meant to be used when you think it might be difficult to hit a pitch that might be somewhat out of the strike zone. With this swing, it is more likely that you’ll hit the ball BUT your power will be decreased a significant amount. I do still find myself swinging at almost everything as I did with RBI 20, but the different swing types seems to keep things a little bit more balanced. It takes some getting used to, but I think this is a positive change for the series. Just to note, you CAN play in the “Classic” mode to make the game more like an old school baseball game (on offense or defense) if you choose. 

Modes & Online Play
Things remain largely unchanged with RBI 21 in terms of modes. You have Exhibition, Franchise, Postseason and Home Run Derby modes to try out. While the Xbox and PlayStation versions of RBI have seen online play over the years, RBI 21 marks the first time the feature is available on Nintendo’s platform. I was excited to try it out..but I ran into some issues with the game crashing issues. There was a problem when it came to initiating a roster update (which was needed for online play). I deleted the game and then re-downloaded it only to find that didn’t fix the problem. So, I went on to delete my save data, which included a few hours worth of franchise games that I played. And boy oh boy, I wish I would have just threw in the towel on online before I did that. 
While I did manage to find an online match against “Joshua,” the game was incredibly jumpy and filled with bugs. I was playing with the new control method, but it seemed like my opponent was playing with the Classic set up. It turned things into a weird messy mix of the two styles where I had almost no control over where my pitches would hit. Batting seemed mostly fine for me in the short time that I played before my opponent left. If you’re getting this game looking forward to online, temper your expectations. Unless there are some MAJOR fixes here, the mode is almost unplayable. 

Play-by-Play Commentary
This year, MLB AM decided to implement play-by-play commentary featuring MLB Network’s Fran Charles. I was super excited that this feature was finally being implemented into the game. Over the years, the PA announcer calling strikes, balls, etc., was really grating and kept the series from the level of realism that it was evolving into. While I am happy that it’s included in this game, the commentary is a bit limited and at times choppy. What do I mean by that? Well, for the record, I will say that implementing commentary into a sports video game sounds pretty damn difficult. Things have to be dynamic based on what is happening in real time and you have to make sure you have the right nuance and simply quite a bit of recorded voice work to fill in the gaps. Things here sometimes sound a bit unnatural and can be repetitive. Sound levels are also a little bit all over the place here, too. Again, I am happy that commentary is finally here, and given the dedication that the RBI team has had over the years improving their games, I think that things will only get better over time. As it stands right now, it’s there. 
Outside of the commentary, the other elements of the game of baseball are perfectly fine. You have appropriate crowd reactions, the on the field effects (crack of the bat, etc.) also sound perfectly fine. There is also a pretty robust soundtrack here that plays in between innings and on the main menu. 

For the first time ever, the RBI series is offering the ability to create your own character. You can access this from the main menu under Manage Rosters and then Create Player. You can also do this in Franchise Mode as well under Front Office. On top of the basics, you can choose a wide variety of hairstyles, facial hair, gear and more. Of course, you can also set the attributes and the position you for your player. There’s no limit here, so you can make your player as good or realistic as you like. It’s nice to have this option and I’m sure some people will get some enjoyment out of seeing themselves on the field. 

Progressive Time of Day
One of the big new features this year, Progressive Time of Day, does just what it says. I haven’t quite pinpointed EXACTLY how the timing of this feature works, but every few innings you will see the changes take place with shadows shifting on the field, stadium lights turning on and the sky turning from day, to dusk and then to the darkness of night. Just to be clear, this doesn’t appear to be happening in real time and honestly, it doesn’t have to. It’s a cool feature that works well and adds some more realism to the series. 

Graphics and performance here don’t seem to be all the much different from RBI 20 on the Switch. I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing either. While I do think the developers have pretty much reached their limit of what they can push out of their engine on Nintendo’s platform, some nice fixes and adjustments have been made. The game runs smoother overall, and weird bugs, like some severe jerky, jittery scenes after hitting home runs have been smoothed out. There are still issues with shimmering shadows and some of the textures being a little bit blurry. The textures are something you won’t notice unless you get an up close look at the players. Thanks to the new camera angles, you can get some different looks that you haven’t see before in the series. While I thought it was cool to see these, I kind of wish there was a free camera that could be used to check out replays or to just line up some nice shots of your players making some great plays. 
The menus and overall user interface haven’t really seen any huge changes and I’m fine with that. The transition screens did get a bit of an upgrade and they seem to run smoother than what was found in previous Switch versions of RBI. 

Several important changes were made in RBI 21 to make it more of a complete game. Things like the progressive time of day and the commentary help bring an even higher level of realism in a friendly arcade-like package. At the same time, the commentary could use some work, the engine is kind of starting to show its age and fielding could use an upgrade. Even with all of that said, RBI 21 is a decent, yet somewhat flawed baseball experience. The majority of the time, things are perfectly fine, however, the glitches and bugs will likely stick out in your mind more than the good times.

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