The joy of making pitchers cry in Super Mega Baseball

I like baseball, but I don’t really understand it. I know it’s good when a batter smacks it out of the park and bad if they get struck out. But I couldn’t tell you what RBI means, or what an ERA is, or what constitutes an ‘Error’, all of which are officially tallied throughout matches.

So Super Mega Baseball‘s pitch is just about perfect for someone like me. It strips the game back into its most fundamental components – pitching and batting – and makes them just deep enough to be addictive without bogging you down in any boring details.

Pitching, for example, is mechanically simple: you aim, click, and drag your mouse to the centre of the target circle as your character winds up. But mastering it is tough. There are nine different types of pitches with various spins and speeds, each of which has two variants – standard or powerful.

Mixing it up is crucial to making the batter miss, as is varying between pitches in the strike zone (the square area above home plate that will elicit a “Strike” call from the umpire) and ones outside that zone.

Trying to get batters to swing at these outside pitches, called ‘balls’, and leave the strikes alone is one of the central tensions in baseball, and it’s where Super Mega Baseball focuses its resources. Not on fielding or the player management, but in the simple act of one person throwing a ball and another person trying to hit it.

When batting, the game will guide your mouse towards roughly the right spot to hit the ball so that, if you time it right, you’re pretty much guaranteed to make some sort of contact. But there’s a lot of nuance.

First, you have the aforementioned battle of wits with the pitcher, which means you’re constantly second guessing whether that ball that looks dead centre is actually curling away from you out of reach. Then you have to consider where exactly you hit the ball: making contact low will send it flying high, increasing your chances of a home run but also of being caught in the outfield.

What makes Super Mega Baseball so delightful is how these relatively complex systems marry with an art style that can’t help but put a smile on your face. The players are walking caricatures with giant heads and curling moustaches who waddle around the pitch and make a “boing” noise whenever they jump.

When you strike out a batter they might bow their head and let the tears pour forth. It’s hard not to feel bad. They might also slam their bat to the ground, steam literally pouring from their ears as a small black cloud gathers above their head. The camera will then pan back to the pitcher, who may wave goodbye to them with a giant grin on his face. What a dick.

Everything is over the top, and hitting a home run is the perfect example. When you catch a ball just right sparks will fly from your bat and the ball will sail miles into the stand. The stadium will erupt in applause as fireworks clap overhead, and you’ll get a hawkeye tracer showing you the exact trajectory of the ball you just hit. Your character will joyously wrap around the bases, stopping for a high five before hopping on home plate as the on-looking pitcher shakes his head.

The contrast of these colourful cartoon visuals with the surprisingly deep systems is what keeps coming back to this game for one more inning. The sequel is out soon, and I’m super mega hyped to get my mitts on it. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, you should be too.

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10 Comments

  1. Eightball says:

    Reminds me of Backyard Baseball (no small praise).

    • level12boss says:

      Praise away! I’ve basically been waiting for a true follow-up to the Backyard Sports series for… 10 years? 15? Those games were ridiculously enjoyable no matter the age of the player. Easy to pick up, difficult to master, with just the right touch of shenanigans. Much like the same mix that makes the MarioKart series so great.

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    AutonomyLost says:

    I loathe baseball, but this game looks pretty fun.

  3. adelicatebalance says:

    This also happens to be the best baseball game on PC. I just wish the home run cheer wasn’t so repetitive. Overall though it is a surprisingly good baseball sim in a weirdly styled package. No online multiplayer though.

  4. Person of Interest says:

    It’s my most-played game since it appeared in a Humble Bundle. I think my favorite part is the Ego (difficulty) system, which I can fine-tune so that I’m winning maybe 4 out of 5 games. At higher difficulty levels, I have to watch the spin of the ball as it leaves the pitcher’s hand, and it feels great to sit on a tired pitcher’s hanging fastball and ding it over the fence. (I may have salivated a little, watching the middle-middle forkball in your final GIF!)

    I’m going to miss the bobblehead aesthetic in the upcoming sequel, but I trust that the developers will keep the game goofy in other ways.

  5. Jason Lefkowitz says:

    SMB does so many things right, but it also does one thing really really wrong. The game has two batting mechanisms, “contact swing” and “power swing,” and as your “ego” (e.g. difficulty level) increases it expects you to use contact swings less and less and power swings more and more. This creates the awkward situation where you spend your early hours with the game learning one way to bat, only to have that knowledge get less and less valuable as you play, while simultaneously taking time away from learning the batting style you need to learn to do well at higher difficulty levels. A better design would have the player build on what they’ve learned in the early game to master the late game, instead of forcing them to throw it away.

    As I said above, there’s many things to like about SMB, so it really pained me when I ran into this and started finding the game more frustrating than fun. It’s so close to being the perfect lightweight baseball game! Maybe the sequel will clean up the mechanics and deliver on that promise…

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      Can you bunt?

      [Edit] Or steal bases? Stealing bases was always my favourite bit in baseball.

    • Fiatil says:

      This does seem to be fairly common in baseball games I’ve played though. There tends to be a swing that guarantees contact but will basically never work (as in get the ball in play with at least a single) against a good pitcher, and a swing that allows for strikeouts but is where you will eventually need to move to in order to play at a higher level. I assume it’s because they want everyone to be able to play, but to allow for skill striation for those who want it.

  6. chezfromage says:

    In contrast, while you have at least a fundamental grasp of baseball rules and whatnot, there are a total of four people across the pond who can explain even one detail of the mysterious ritual ye call “cricket.”

    (Regardless, if Metalhead decided to create a Super Mega Cricket, I would happily dive right in!)

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