Review: Super Mega Baseball 4 (Nintendo Switch)

I'd rather play cricket.

9 mins read

What is it with sports video games and card-based modes being the focus? I do understand that sports and cards go together fine. I used to collect basketball cards myself. But I always thought the appeal in those was the tangible collectability (and potential value) of them. Apparently, there’s something deeper about it, because every sports game developer is now putting “collectible” card features into their work, even though there’s nothing tangible or potentially valuable about them. Super Mega Baseball 4, now owned by EA, has cards. That’s its big step up from SMB 3. The game itself, meanwhile, is a step back from its predecessor.

I’m not inclined to guess what creative influence EA exerted in the development of Super Mega Baseball 4. However, the first and most immediately noticeable thing about this new game, the first published by a publisher famous for tearing the soul out of things, is how little soul it has. Super Mega Baseball 3 was whimsically colourful and popping with bright, silly humour. It was very much in the same vein as NBA Jam, just for an even better sport.

Super Mega Baseball 4 seems dour and dry by comparison. The character portraits are so much more serious. The character models and animation slicker but also less amusing. The fields themselves retain the general verve of their predecessor, but it’s hard to shake the impression that, subtly, the developers have tried to draw your attention away from the more outlandish elements in the backgrounds.

Super Mega Baseball 4 Review 1

Perhaps most significantly of all, there are real players in the game this time. A lot of them – 200 or so. While the developers didn’t have access to the MLB license, they brought an impressive number of “legends” into the game, and, sure, seeing Babe Ruth saunter up to the plate is momentarily amusing. But the developers don’t have nearly enough fun with these legends, and they play nothing like their famed counterparts. Babe Ruth isn’t nearly as scary to pitch at as a guy with a 0.342 batting average should be, so it seems like a cynical play at pure licensing here: get some famous faces on the screenshots, make extra money.

The card system further undermines the arcade-y credibility of Super Mega Baseball 4. As the big new feature brought in to justify the upgrade from the predecessor, the push to play with the cards is significant. Basically what you do is build a team out of randomly dealt sets of eight cards. You pick one player from what’s on offer, and then the AI picks theirs. Then you’ll get a second hand of eight dealt, with slightly lower overall stats, and you’ll repeat the process over and over again. After 22 rounds, you’ll have your team.

In a more serious simulation, this would be a perfectly standard and expected feature. In Super Mega Baseball, though, it really doesn’t add much to the experience. I barely even noticed which characters I was adding to my roster. I simply looked at where I had gaps and then picked the corresponding card with the highest rating score available. It was an entirely sterile process that did little more than add to the time it took to get into the actual gameplay.

Super Mega Baseball 4 Review 2

On the field, the action’s quite enjoyable, and little has been done to change the foundations from previous Super Mega Baseball iterations. The pace is still snappy, with pitchers rolling their arm at a speed that makes them seem like those pitching machines in batting cages. Swinging the bat in response still feels great, and the crack as the ball is hit cleanly for a home run is viscerally satisfying.

There’s a degree of automation in Super Mega Baseball 4, and that does help sell the arcade sports experience. The batter’s targeting circle will start moving to the line of the pitch by itself, for example. However, the higher the difficulty, the less it will move and the more you need to take control of the swing yourself. Similarly, fielding is completely automated on the lowest difficulty setting. As your little players sprint down the ball, they will be able to catch it themselves. On the higher difficulty settings, they’ll start to amble in the correct direction a little, but you’re going to need to take over control if you want to be there in time for a catch.

That difficulty, represented by an “Ego slider” that you can adjust from 0 to 100, is by far the best feature in Super Mega Baseball. It lets you start out by playing with a lot of assistance, and then slowly wean you off it as your skills become better. I much prefer this to the MLB The Show solution, which gave you plenty of control options, but they all play the same regardless of difficulty. With MLB The Show, you’d inevitably be in for some frustrating times when the learning curve has more to do with the mechanics and accuracy than the AI.

Super Mega Baseball 4 Review 3

Speaking of AI, things have improved this time, and it’s most noticeable when pitching. There’s a greater sense of cat-and-mouse with the AI, and you’re definitely encouraged to throw outside the box now, in the hope that you’ll draw them into an ill-advised swing. The AI does still become a little arbitrary in how it “learns” your pitching style and over the course of the game starts to “predict” it better (just make sure you throw a different pitch to each corner of the box on each different count and you’ll remain completely unpredictable to the AI), and on all difficulty levels it does seem to become magically better at connecting with pitches when it’s behind. However, there is some clear and positive improvements there that will help the game retain single-player users for longer.

Meanwhile, of course Super Mega Baseball 4 remains a hoot in multiplayer. It’s a fundamentally well-balanced and accessible take on the sport that everyone can enjoy.

Overall Super Mega Baseball 4 is immensely disappointing and an unworthy successor to its predecessor. SMB 3 was a genuinely fun and clean playing arcade baseball game, and never needed to be more than that. Now, though, it seems like the series is being positioned as a viable alternative to the MLB license. The new game modes, efforts to bring real-world names into the fold, and aesthetic shifts all seem to be designed to pivot Super Mega Baseball to become something to take more seriously and commit more time to. You know, like MLB The Show. Unfortunately, these new additions are directly at odds with arcade good times and now, thanks to the influence of EA in all likelihood, we’ve been dumped with a series experiencing an identity crisis.

Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

  • When you mentioned card-based mechanics I had visions of a FIFA Ultimate Team-style scenario with endless microtransactions and loot boxes… perhaps that’s what they’re gearing up for, either in an update to this, or a fifth installment.

    • I am really 1000000000000000000% certain that this is exactly what will happen. Enjoy this last gasp with Super Mega Baseball, folks. It’s only going south from here.

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