As the genre has progressed through the generations, sports video games have become increasingly complicated as they add more wrinkles to their team management tools and more depth to their on-the-field action. Super Mega Baseball 4 harkens back to the sports games of the mid-90s, bringing streamlined gameplay and astounding levels of customization while introducing novel concepts. But though the throwback approach is sound in many ways, it does come with some concessions.
Stepping onto the field in Super Mega Baseball 4 is a welcoming affair. I love the arcade-style approach gameplay takes. Through rock-solid mechanics, you can blast through a game in short order, all while feeling like you had a huge impact on every play. Metalhead Studio has done a great job of making it so scoring a strikeout from the rubber feels as good as sending a ball soaring into the bleachers from the batter’s box. However, fielding leaves some to be desired, as diving feels imprecise, and I sometimes struggled to predict where to position my outfielder.
Batters and fielders automatically lock onto the ball, while pitching and throwing is determined by quick minigames. Though it grew on me over the tens of games I played through, I always wished I could change the pitching game, which requires you to line up a moving reticule with your target.
Each of these can be tuned by changing your “Ego,” which essentially makes up your difficulty sliders, but I’m disappointed that none of these can be further changed. In fact, that’s one of my chief complaints about the otherwise solid Super Mega Baseball 4: The options are so barebones that they essentially only allow you to tune the audio and visuals of the game, but not the gameplay itself. If you want a different camera angle or to alter the control schemes, you’re completely out of luck.
Conversely, when it comes to team management, Super Mega Baseball 4 shines perhaps brighter than any other sports game to date. With hundreds of fictional players and real legends, the game already features a respectable roster even without the MLB license. However, I wanted to pay homage to the ‘90s era of baseball from which this game draws inspiration, and Super Mega Baseball 4 enabled me to do more than I even wanted, allowing me to customize every player’s looks, gear, animations, music, and abilities, plus the uniforms and logo of my team.
I poured time into creating my own squad full of some of the stars not in the game, and when I was finished, the time investment was well worth it as I had a team full of my favorite players from the era in which I most obsessed over the sport, which I could then take into every mode. The customization options in Super Mega Baseball 4 are nothing short of remarkable, and if you’re like me and took your virtual tee-ball swings in games like Triple Play Gold Edition or Tony La Russa Baseball 2, you will absolutely adore the roster control options of this game.
You can take any team into one-off games, single seasons, bracket-style tournaments, online leagues, or my personal favorite mode: Franchise. I adore the new Shuffle Draft system, which deals you eight cards from players still available on the draft board. After you choose your player for that round, the remaining seven cards are returned to the deck, the other teams go through the process, and you’re dealt eight more cards until the rosters are full. This provides an enthralling deckbuilding twist on the traditional draft conventions of sports games. On a couple of occasions, I did a Shuffle Draft for no reason other than to see what kind of team I could come up with.
While in Franchise mode, you’re presented with managerial decisions after each game. These range from which player gets the last pair of socks to who to blame for a bad loss. Though they sometimes become tedious, these decisions affect player loyalty, which comes into play in the offseason when it’s time to re-sign them. Free agency plays a big role, as contracts only last one year, and I appreciate the ability to make simple one-to-one decisions on a position basis each offseason. However, I’m disappointed by the lack of trading available. Even in older baseball video games, trading is one of my favorite activities to do in long-form modes, so its absence is a letdown.
Despite some disappointing options and feature exclusions, Super Mega Baseball 4 is a strong alternative to the annualized sim-facing MLB game from Sony. Fans of retro-style arcade baseball games will find a lot to love, and roster customization enthusiasts have their new gold standard.