If you're a baseball fan of a certain age, you screamed with joy when Major League Baseball announced in January plans to reboot the beloved "R.B.I. Baseball" video game franchise. Those of us who grow up in the late 1980s, when baseball video games were aplenty, wanted details. Immediately.
They didn't come. In fact, we hadn't learned anything new about the modern version of "R.B.I. Baseball" — until now.
Big League Stew got a briefing this week from the folks at Major League Baseball Advanced Media about their plans to bring "R.B.I. Baseball" back to video gamers. They called the updated version "the best of now with the feeling of old."
"Fans will find the game to be very true to the roots of the brand, and the genre of games in that generation," says Jamie Leece, the VP of gaming for MLBAM. "I think we nailed it. I think you will too."
These screenshots are your first peek at what the game looks like (perhaps not as cartoony as you thought or hoped), and the following tidbits are what MLBAM is making official at this time, though more info is sure to spill out in the next few weeks:
• At launch, the console version of the game will be available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, with mobile versions available for iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, plus Android smartphones and tablets. It will be available for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One "shortly after launch."
• There's no firm release date set yet, but "R.B.I. Baseball 14" should be out by "early April."
• There won't be a physical game. It'll just be a direct download that you pay for once — none of those "micro-transactions" that mobile games have become so fond of using. The price of the game, however, has not been set yet.
• All 30 teams will be available to use, with 480 MLB players featured in the game. Player attributes were created using MLBAM's extensive statistical database.
• There are three game modes: Season (you can play a shortened season if you wish), postseason only and exhibition. There's no online play, only "local" users can play against each other, as was the case when the original "R.B.I. Baseball" was released in 1988. There's no head-to-head mode on mobile versions.
• Each team has a specific challenge in season mode that will unlock a special throwback jersey upon completion. The Dodgers, for instance, can wear a Brooklyn Dodgers jersey. Challenges differ by team, but they are things like hitting a pinch-hit grand slam or hitting three homers in a game.
Talking to Leece, he makes it pretty clear one of the most important things about "R.B.I. Baseball 14" is its accessibility. It's the type of game in which you can do everything you need to with two buttons, in which you can play nine innings in 20 minutes and in which novice players will have figured out how to play by the second inning.
They don't make baseball games like they used to — the concentration is on life-like games these days, particularly in sports. Baseball has that, in Sony's "MLB: The Show" series, which is full of options and realism. What baseball gaming doesn't really have anymore is something anyone can pick up and play. In that sense, "R.B.I. Baseball" aims to be a throwback, Leece says.
"I think that's an itch that hasn't been scratched in a while," he says. "There's hasn't been anything like this in a long time."
The new "R.B.I." will, of course, pull in 1980s video gamers. And like those baseball games did in the '80s, it will also give young fans another entry point into the sport. For example: Leece's 5-year-old son has been playing "R.B.I." recently. He plays video games regularly, but this is the first sports game he's played.
Satisfying both of those consumers won't be easy. Some people will never allow themselves to like a remake as much as the beloved original. Further, kids of this generation aren't particularly prone to enjoying '80s nostalgia. It's a good thing baseball has multi-generational appeal.
"There are people out there who would want by a pixel-by-pixel recreation of a game from that era, and there are people who want something that has more control and has more than eight teams," Leece says. "If you take a step back and just play the game, what we're seeing and hearing is: 'You're taking me back,' 'It feels like the old games,' 'It's so much fun.'
"The reality is, people who play the product feel very at home."
That's a good sign. But ultimately baseball-game lovers and "R.B.I." fanatics will decide whether this new version does the original justice. Knowing baseball fans, we'll hear their opinions loud and clear soon enough.
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