Videogame baseball doesn’t get much better than Super Mega Baseball. The first game proved that comical presentation can coexist perfectly with an deep, authentic simulation of the sport; the second game built on that with new online modes, greater team customisation, and plenty of fine-tuning to the core game. Now Super Mega Baseball 3 is here to raise the bar once again—there’s no better way to digitally play ball.
There’s plenty of new stuff in Super Mega Baseball 3, but before diving into that, let’s talk about the fundamental things that set this series apart. These haven’t changed drastically since previous outings—why fix what ain’t broke, and all that—but as welcome as the new bells and whistles are, it’s these core things that have been around since day one that really make Super Mega Baseball work.
It starts with the pitching interface. Most baseball games have you choosing a pitch type from a list by pressing the corresponding button, which relies on assumed knowledge about the sport—if you don’t know a slider from a curve, you’re on your own. By contrast, Super Mega Baseball, in all its iterations, has its pitches on a wheel menu, with the location of each pitch within that wheel giving a rough indication of its trajectory: fastballs are found at the top, curves at the bottom, and sliders and cutters to the sides.
A pitching target adds more context, showing how you’d expect the ball to break and where, accuracy depending, it’ll finally end up. It’s a simple thing, really, but it does so much to cut back on the need to be familiar terminology before you can start enjoying the game—even if you’ve never watched a baseball game in your life, Super Mega Baseball gives you the tools you need to understand what those different pitches actually do and the purpose they serve.
Similarly, where most baseball games get bogged down in abstract gauges to control speed and accuracy, Super Mega Baseball uses a simple, but very effective system in which you move a target reticle to aim your pitch, press a button, and then try to hold that target steady as your pitcher winds up. A standard pitch gives you more control at the cost of speed, while a power pitch adds a layer of timing to determine the speed of the release—with the risk of a pitch being wildly inaccurate if your timing is off.
For all the hype that comes with a home run, pitching is really at the heart of baseball. The duel between pitcher and batter, and the mind-games that come with that as each player tries to get a read on the other, is baseball at its most exciting. With its intuitive, deceptively simple pitching interface, Super Mega Baseball puts that duel in the spotlight in every match.
This is helped by an extremely helpful series of context-sensitive tutorials that give useful advice, as much about the strategy of baseball as the mechanics of Super Mega Baseball‘s simulation of the sport. When the game sees you pitching strike after strike, it’ll give you a quick lesson about deliberately throwing balls to try and get a batter to chase them. When it sees that you, as a batter, keep fouling balls off to the inside, it’ll give you a quick lesson about how the timing of your swing affects the trajectory of a hit. Super Mega Baseball 3 is full of these little coaching tips, and the work wonders for teaching new players how to actually play baseball—not just the rules, but the tactics that make the sport tick.
But it’s also a game that can appeal to the hardcore baseball fan, thanks to a simulation that is surprisingly authentic to the real thing. Despite its cartoony presentation, Super Mega Baseball 3 puts a lot of effort into realistic physics and smart, believable AI. Dial up the difficulty, and you’ve got a baseball sim that’s every bit as deep as a big-budget, licensed game, where the precision of your swing can be the difference between victory and defeat, and where even pitching against a CPU batter can feel like a genuine battle of wits.
The thing that keeps this all in check, and ensures Super Mega Baseball can be enjoyable for players of all skill levels, is the EGO system. Simply put, it’s a difficulty scale with 100 different levels, allowing for extremely incremental adjustments to the challenge. At the lowest levels, just about any swing of the bat will make good contact, batters are easily fooled when you’re pitching, and you can leave fielding pretty much entirely to the AI. At the highest level, winning a match is borderline impossible. Every other step on the EGO scale is a gradual step between these two extremes, and with EGO adjustment readily available at the press of a button at almost any time, frequently adjusting things to match your (hopefully) improving skills is easy and encouraged. You can even set different levels for different aspects of the game, if, say, you find your pitching not too shabby but your fielding woeful (that’s me).
Everything I’ve said so far is true of Super Mega Baseball as a series. Super Mega Baseball 3 fine tunes the little details, but the core of what makes the latest game work as well as it does is the same as what did the same for the original. Where Super Mega Baseball 3 does make some bigger strides forward is with its feature set.
Chief among these is Franchise Mode, something a lot of people have been wanting for a while. It’s a great way to settle in for the long game, and enjoy a sense of progress beyond just winning a game or a season. There’s a focus on investing the team’s funds to develop players and sign free agents, while also dealing with the roster management hurdles that come from players getting old and retiring or deciding to leave your team. It’s not as full-featured as the franchise modes seen in blockbuster sports games—there’s no draft or player trades, for example—but it’s still a very welcome addition. My one complaint is that you can only have a single Franchise Mode save active at a time (at least in the Switch version); if you want to start another franchise with a different team, you’ll need to either delete your current one or create a new Switch profile to play with.
Super Mega Baseball 3 also adds new base-stealing and pick-off mechanics, as well as wild pitches, giving you a lot more control of the baserunning game (and, on defence, efforts to stop stolen bases). In all honesty, these aren’t things I’ve really explored to their fullest—again, woeful baserunning, so I tend to leave that up to the AI—but they bring another layer of strategy to the overall game and help bring Super Mega Baseball 3 as close as possible to the real thing.
But Super Mega Baseball 3 isn’t the real thing; it’s still a game where one of the marquee teams is called the Sirloins, where players have caricaturish proportions and names like “Jackie Slam”, and where every little animation is exaggerated to great comic effect. As deep and complex as it can be, Super Mega Baseball 3 is still a game that looks for the sort of goofy charm more typically seen in arcade-style sports games, and the sense of fun and humour that comes with that.
It’s the best of both worlds, in other words—a wonderfully silly game in art style and presentation, but with an authentic emulation of a rather complex sport to go with it. Super Mega Baseball 3 may not have the lure of an MLB license, but baseball games don’t get much better than this.
Super Mega Baseball 3 is developed and published by Metalhead Software. It’s available now for Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.