January’s Best New Game Pass Release Is This Goofy Baseball Game
Super Mega Baseball 4 is the antidote for anyone allergic to sportsball.
Somewhere in the uncanny valley, we decided games could be simulations. As our processing power and collective artistry crescendoed in the 21st century, the push for immersive reality was everywhere. Hyper-violent shooters and living open worlds were impressive but didn’t come close to embracing the detailed minutiae of sports games. Suddenly every major sport coalesced around the monolith of annualized, licensed franchises stuffed with stats and strategy. And while the market proved this to be the right call thanks to fervent support from sports fans, casuals were left without an option. The arcade feel of yesteryear was gone. Until now.
Super Mega Baseball 4 is the latest installment in Metalhead Studio’s franchise, and a standout title for the Game Pass lineup this month. One look and you can tell this isn’t a title that’s pouring precious resources into detailed renderings of infield grass, bending in the sun just so. It's cartoonish by design, a bubble gum trading card of a game that puts the focus on fast, easy fun.
If it isn’t obvious to you already, please understand this is not a licensed Major League Baseball game. If you’re looking for your hometown team you need to stick with MLB The Show. However, SMB4 did acquire licensing for some famous former players. You’ll see Hall of Famers like David Ortiz and Mike Schmidt alongside fictitious goofballs like Nacho Crisp.
While it may not be “official” baseball, it is still very much a baseball game. All it takes is a basic familiarity with the rules to get started. The mechanics are tailored to a pick-up-and-play mentality. A difficulty scale of 1-100, called the ego level, lets you find exactly the right spot no matter how much, or how little, you’ve played. Beginners playing on the low end of the scale will enjoy a hapless AI that plays some atrocious baseball. You will too, until you can get the hang of the controls. It doesn’t take long.
Mechanically, SMB4 plays like someone took a really fun baseball minigame (think Yakuza’s famous batting cages) and blew it out into a standalone title. Pitching requires a small amount of precision on each throw to ensure accuracy, which adds tremendous engagement. Once a pitch is thrown, players have a split second to move a small reticle into the target area. Hitting uses a similar system, except you’re reacting to the path of the pitch instead of guiding it.
It seems daunting at first, but only takes a few innings to pick up. SMB4 also paces its tutorials well, so valuable techniques aren’t lost in an info dump before your first pitch. There are basic controls for fielding that aren’t as easy to pick up simply because you don’t have the same reps. You’re guaranteed to throw pitches and have at-bats, but diving catches and double plays happen less often.
There are loads of game modes, as you’d expect. You can run a franchise or season for the long haul or hop in for quick exhibition games. My first season game was a 12-10 nailbiter that went extra innings. I also injured a pitcher because I hit a line drive into his crotch. 11/10.
Super Mega Baseball 4 offers the kind of thrilling arcade-style gameplay we don’t see much anymore. I had a blast on both sides of the ball, especially when goofy-ass original characters kept showing up. It’s so easy to assign backstory and personality to players with names like Hog Porker and Sloop Whoopity. You can customize players if you want a look that better fits a silly name, and the PC version (also available with Game Pass) has a host of accessibility features, too.
There’s a fair amount of depth and strategy lurking in the menus, but what makes SMB4 such a great game is that you don’t need to understand any of that to win. Good old-fashioned twitchy gameplay is enough to carry you long enough to get the hang of everything. It’s not a sports game for people who like sports, it’s a sports game for people who like games.