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Nearly six years into the life of the App Store and we’re just now getting a realistic, licensed Major League Baseball simulation—but R.B.I. Baseball 14 doesn’t resemble the feature-crammed, richly complex affairs seen on home systems. Instead, it pulls both inspiration and its moniker from a popular ‘80s/‘90s console franchise, and grounds its gameplay in the simplicity of that era while modernizing only the visuals. The result is expectedly very accessible and easy to get into, but also skimps on a lot of things that make baseball video games enjoyable and worth playing more than a couple times.
R.B.I. Baseball 14 loops in all 30 of the modern major league teams, but only some of their players—the starting lineup, a couple of bench guys, and a few pitchers. Your interactions are similarly scaled down on the diamond. When batting, you’ll have only swing and bunt buttons, plus the ability to move your batter around the box; thus getting a clean hit is all about timing and positioning. Power, on the other hand, consistently eluded us during play—the A.I. opponents were smacking homers over the wall a lot more often than we ever did. On the mound, every pitcher has the same arsenal, unfortunately: a standard toss, a hard fastball, and a floating knuckleball of sorts. You can guide the ball a bit with the virtual stick, but there’s no noticeable distinction between players.
Which gets into the main issue with R.B.I. Baseball 14: It’s a serviceable barebones sim, but it lacks the flavor of the game. The players’ faces look close enough to the real thing, but don’t display any personality or unique mannerisms, and hurlers are essentially identical on the mound. Even the stadiums are barely differentiated, and you see almost nothing beyond the field itself—no views of the exterior or aerial shots. Wrigley Field has the right dimensions, but lacks ivy or bleachers; it’s just green walls and a splotchy mess of pixels beyond.
Fielding is challenging, baserunning is rigid and awkward, and the simplified overall approach means repetition takes hold quickly. But it’s the lack of modes that makes for a difficult long-term recommendation. The season mode is dry and offers no game simulation or even management options, otherwise you can take on single games or jump right into the postseason. Without deeper hooks, multiplayer of any sort, or even a little pomp to the presentation, R.B.I. Baseball 14 feels entirely predictable—which can make a 162-game season feel very long indeed.
The bottom line. R.B.I. Baseball 14 is fundamentally fair, but the too-streamlined approach and lack of common modes make for a foul lasting impression.
iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 6.0 or later
Decent pick-up-and-play mechanics. Players largely look the part.
Lack of depth or variety to gameplay, and there’s little uniqueness to players beyond looks. Monotonous, personality-free presentation. Lack of interesting play modes for the long haul, along with no multiplayer options.