With the Major League Baseball season back in full swing this year, it’s good to see baseball video games back in action as well. The R.B.I. Baseball series has steadily improved over the last few years and this 2021 iteration of the game may be the best yet. Let’s see how they handled some of the feedback we had about last year’s game.
First of all, the team at MLBAM fixed one of the core issues I had with the 2020 edition: the ‘modern’ baserunning controls can now be combined with the ‘classic’ hitting style. Not only that, the developers really went all out with the customization options. Players have complete control of the difficulty using some new, contextual sliders. Instead of just Easy, Medium, and Hard, you can now tweak and tune the difficulty to exactly the way you want. The controls and camera angles for both pitching and batting are all highly customizable as well. In fact, it can actually be a bit daunting with all the options to find what works the best, but I was pleased with all of the freedom it gives the player.
As far as brand new features, the most requested feature is now available in the 2021 edition: play by play commentary from MLB Network’s Fran Charles. There are definitely some repeated lines of dialogue and some odd cadence here and there but, for the most part, it’s solid. I definitely prefer having the commentary available than not having it all. It goes a long way to making the experience of playing feel more authentic. Another new feature this year is the ability to create your own player. There are quite a few appearance customization options at your fingertips. However, this wasn’t the most interesting new feature to me since I actually enjoy playing as my favorite players. That being said, it’s still a welcome addition. Speaking of welcome additions, the missing online mode for the Switch version is now available! You may not always find an opponent the first time but when you do, it can be a fun time. I do wish it had a few more options like choosing the number of innings or having some sort of weekly ranking system but again, I’d rather have it available than not.
Visually, the game’s major new addition is the progressive time of day system. As you play games that get into the evening and night, the shadows will have the same impact on you as they would on actual Major League Baseball fields. It’s a subtle effect but nice to see those sunsets over the center field wall. The game is said to also feature Statcast data for pitch trajectories of pitchers. I’ll have to take their word on that as I didn’t notice anything dramatically different with the pitch animations. Other than that, there weren’t a whole lot of changes to the visual presentation. Players still get dirt on their jersey after a slide and there’s a good amount of detail to the player models although it’s not that much different from last year’s version.
Overall, R.B.I. Baseball 21 has a number of new features that bring it more in line with similar baseball games on the market. I enjoy my time with each new iteration but I do hope that the developers work on more fluid animations and overall ‘feel’ of the gameplay. It can be frustrating at times seeing players move strangely across the field or feeling like the ball is ‘magnetizing’ into a defender’s glove in an odd manner. Even though there’s the occasional stutter when loading between innings or frame rate issues in the home run replays, it has still come a long way since R.B.I. Baseball 17. I’ve got to give the developers credit for sticking with the series and always aiming to improve each year. If you’re looking for an MLB-licensed, arcade-focused baseball game, you won’t really find a better option on the Switch.
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