Just weeks ago, baseball was a source of very little entertainment for me. It was too slow-paced. There were too many games to keep up with. Plus, Cracker Jack toys are super lame. But that was all before I saw the light. That was before I knew the truth. That was before I played Super Mega Baseball.
Metalhead Software's Super Mega Baseball is, as the name implies, an arcade-style baseball game reminiscent of 8-bit classics such as Bases Loaded and RBI Baseball. However, what it brings to the table beyond mere nostalgia is a fantastic blend of easy-to-grasp mechanics, tight humor, and just enough depth to keep players interested beyond the first couple games. Metalhead's vision of what makes an arcade-style sports game fun is so concisely realized that, after an initial gameplay session, I found my co-op partners almost immediately asking when they could return to what they referred to only as “Baseball Town.”
The beauty of the game's mechanics is almost immediately recognizable in its approach to pitching and hitting. One button can be used to pitch, one button can be used to swing, and the joystick can be used to aim for both parties. While exclusively using the basic controls isn't necessarily advisable, it’s all one needs to start playing, which is exactly the kind of simplicity needed for a genre that lives and dies based on how quickly new players can be introduced. SMB truly shines, though, in its ability to transition players into the use of its deeper mechanics. The more complex variants are never required, but immediately give the impression that their mastery will give one an edge over his or her opponent. As an example, one of my co-op partners quickly took to the mechanic of “charging” a swing when batting and spent the remainder of our time with the game attempting to pull off a fully powered hit. Whether or not he actually accomplished this is, well, up to debate, but it’s emblematic of how well the game entices players into trying out its full range of options.
In this day and age, a developer's vision for game mechanics is usually accomplished to a competent degree, but it’s a bit rarer to see a game's style so completely and unfalteringly realized. SMB's style is (forgive me for being a bit flowery) an almost translucent window directly into the minds of the folks over at Metalhead. From the fully customizable (and near grotesque) character models to the ads that play on the stadium billboards, the game's stylistic choices work together so harmoniously that it's impossible to not at least appreciate the developer's dedication to their vision. This is abundantly clear when one considers the game's only source of voice-over, the umpire. Though he is hardly ever seen on-screen, his voice and inflection on every call give him a very easily identifiable persona. Moreover, each of his recordings are simple as to not become tiresome, yet I almost always found myself chuckling whenever I heard a new variant of his “time out” call as the game was being paused.