It feels like ages since an Xbox console has received a great baseball game. The MLB 2K series was mediocre for years before retiring its number, and the mobile-quality R.B.I. Baseball games aren't exactly doing anything to impress on home consoles that are capable of much more. If you think back to The Bigs 2 on Xbox 360 and EA's MVP Baseball series on the original Xbox, you'll have an idea of when Xbox owners were last treated to a proper virtual version of America's favorite pastime – so yes, it's been a while. But now there's Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings, an arcade-style baseball game from independent developer Metalhead Software. Anyone looking for a hardcore simulation won't find it here, but that doesn't mean Super Mega Baseball doesn't mix depth with accessibility for a thoroughly rousing time at the ballpark.
Super Mega Baseball is the kind of game where steam rushes from a batter's ears when he or she strikes out. It's the kind of game where players have names like Nacho Crisp and Rip Dingers. And it's the kind of game where the title screen contains a blatant reference to the Major League film series. There are no licensed teams or ballparks, no overly-chatty announcers, and no instant replays standing in the way of gameplay. This is straight-to-the-point, homerun-friendly baseball that's welcoming to gamers of all experience levels. With a silly tone and a cartoony appearance, Super Mega Baseball immediately gives the impression that it's concerned with being fun, and within minutes of booting it up, it fully delivers on that expectation.
Fortunately, it's no slouch in the gameplay department either. Stepping up to the plate or mound and getting to business will mostly be second nature to anyone that has played a baseball game in the last twenty years. In fact, outside of a couple fielding actions, we knew our way around the controller before going through the tutorial. If this were another genre, that kind of familiarity might be considered a weakness, but that's not the case here. Baseball is a complex sport, and with so many commands that need to be memorized, it makes sense to default to the industry standard. You know what they say: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. When this familiarity is mixed with Super Mega Baseball's arcade-y gameplay, the result is a game that's involving and reliable enough on a mechanical level that it will even appeal to players that typically take the sport seriously.
Finding the balance between accessibility and depth is never easy when it comes to sports games, as the chances are one type of player is going to feel left out or alienated, but Super Mega Baseball gets it as right as can be. With a difficulty meter that scales from 0 to 99, and with batting and fielding mechanics that shift from assisted to manual at the touch of the left analog stick, it's never been easier to find that sweet spot that caters to your needs. If there's one aspect of the game that requires patience and practice, though, it's learning to deliver commands to individual baserunners. Metalhead has done a smart job implementing the control scheme, which requires selecting the desired baserunner with the right stick and setting the target base with the D-pad, but that doesn't mean this layer won't throw the casual players for a loop at first.
With batting that's exceptionally enjoyable thanks to how intuitive it is to discern the location of an incoming pitch, it's disappointing that there's no sign of a Home Run Derby mode. There are only two modes on the table, actually, and they are Exhibition and Season. Each of these can be played in local multiplayer: Exhibition is open to four players while Season is limited to two. While there are no surprises to be found in Exhibition mode, Season is a different story. It's here that Super Mega Baseball is at its deepest, featuring a leveling system and a staff management system that provides modifiers to enhance the talents of individual players. We only noticed a minor improvement in team performance based on these modifiers, but regardless, they offer just the right amount of customization to cause you to feel invested in your team's success without being too overwhelmed by options. There's also a create-a-character option for those that like to control the appearance of their team, and it's a fine inclusion, if a bit too limited.
Presentation is the one area where Super Mega Baseball unfortunately hits a few foul balls. The overall aesthetic is generally pleasing, from the animated ballparks, the comical team names and logos, and the goofy personalities of the players on the field. But the menus and some of the on-screen information doesn't always give the impression it received the right amount of attention. Furthermore, the audio has its ups and downs as well. Considering there's no music or commentary during gameplay, the lack of engaging sound can make what's otherwise such a lively game feel a touch lifeless. This also causes the obnoxious voices of the umpires, who often sound like they're trying to imitate Christian Bale's Batman growl, even more noticeable and, well, obnoxious. Thankfully none of these complaints are significant enough to ruin a game of baseball, they just occasionally distract from it.
When the mechanics are as honed in as they are in Super Mega Baseball, it's hard to be bothered by a couple of errors on the scoreboard. The only notable complaint we can muster up when it comes to gameplay is that the outfielders sometimes travel as if they're trudging through mud, but that seems to be more of an issue when they're left to automatically chase down the ball. Otherwise, everything feels as it should. With such a brisk pace and a lot of action, it's hard to put the controller down. Super Mega Baseball is inspired by the days before sports games became too focused on technical aspects and realism, and it's a breath of fresh air.
Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings is a fitting way to round out the baseball season and a great excuse to invite friends over for some local multiplayer action. While another mode and online functionality would've made this package an absolute grand slam, the core gameplay is so addictive and well-executed that it's hard to think of it as anything less than a home run. That means, Super Mega Baseball is the best baseball game available on Xbox One. We know it doesn't take much to gain that title with the only competition being the R.B.I. Baseball series, but this indie heavy-hitter has truly earned it.