Super Mega Baseball 3 Review: Future Hall of Famer
In a year without sports, a good sports sim is a valuable commodity, while a great sports sim is like striking gold. Super Mega Baseball 3 is pure gold.
While series veterans won't be surprised to read Metalhead Software's series shines for another year, the series has so far remained almost criminally under the radar.
Hopefully, 2020 is the year Super Mega Baseball becomes a household name because it's deserved it for so long. With SMB3, it's well on its way to another all-star campaign.
Super Mega Baseball 3 Review: Future Hall of Famer
If you're new to Super Mega Baseball, let me issue the same disclaimer I always do to newcomers: don't let the cartoonish style fool you. Though SMB has always carried with it a colorful version of baseball with oddly shaped athletes and the finish of a Pixar movie, its systems go so much deeper than the arcade game you may expect it to be.
This is a true baseball sim. Everything from pitching to batting to baserunning to fielding (okay, most of fielding, but I'll get to that) captures the sport's nuances.
Pitchers each have their own repertoires and they must manage them with smart pitch location while keeping baserunners in check and fending off fatigue. Batters have to find an eye for the strike zone and know when to make contact and when to swing for the fences. Baserunning is the best it's ever been thanks to a system that gives players direct control of when to get the jump on the pitch if they want to steal.
Collectively, the game carries a great sense of consequence. Leave a ball hanging over the plate and watch it soar over the stands, but perfect your locational pitching and you'll strike out the side. This same system of giving players control over their successes and failures elevates the game to its simulation status. This isn't a home run derby — this is nine-inning baseball.
Every strategy, from infield and outfield shifts to knowing how much to lead or when to intentionally walk — it all matters, and it's all made better with a mojo system that captures the moment, the potential clutch factor, of every pitch. In addition to that legacy system come new player roles that give your athletes more personality than their silly mustaches or absurd names. Now they have traits that can come and go based on performance, but help define who every player is.
Frustratingly, the series still doesn't allow for players to take total control of fly ball defense. Though higher difficulties will ask players to work in tandem with the AI, most players will see their fielders play fly balls totally on their own. This briefly takes control away, leaving players waiting for yet another game before they can maybe run the whole show.
Other than the fly ball annoyance, Super Mega Baseball 3 remains the best non-MLB baseball game on the market, and if you're a fan of customization, this may be your preferred diamond anyway. The suite is as impressively deep off the field as the real baseball know-how is on it.
There are several custom teams when you start the game and they each have their own personalities like defensive studs or power hitters. You can take over any of those teams across a variety of modes, but I've always had more fun customizing my teams. Here you have control over a large number of options, including team name, mascot, and jerseys. You can even customize the players' names, numbers, appearance, and gear.
Few details are spared, and though you'll be limited to a number of always-silly head shapes, it keeps the game's charm intact. I would like to see more create-a-player options for the women athletes, as the game once again offers only about half as many hairstyles if you are customizing woman characters.
Additionally, with such a deep suite, it hurts that there's still no way to share and import custom rosters. I love remaking my Backyard Sports team from the early aughts — and thankfully it doesn't take too long — but for the many people who would want to convert the game's fictional league into the MLB, they all have to do it alone.
Super Mega Baseball 3 is strong in every facet, though the strides it makes in on-the-field gameplay aren't as vast as they were between the debut game and its first sequel. Games largely play out the same as before, save for some touches like the aforementioned baserunning improvements and pitcher pick-offs to counter them. But where SMB3 stands out most isn't on the field, it's in the front office.
Super Mega Baseball's new Franchise mode introduces all the classic elements sports sim fans want in a baseball game, making it a somewhat overdue mode, but quite simply, Metalhead Software gets it right, so there's no sense in dwelling on its previous absence. In SMB3, it shines as the premiere mode for long-term players who aren't as interested in going online.
With Franchise, players can retire, improve, get worse, and acquire and lose traits all according to factors like their play and age. You'll have to contend with free agency and watch the waiver wire to ensure you've got the best possible roster every season.
Giving players plenty of ways to customize their season, league rules, and teams, Franchise is here for the Super Mega Baseball lifers, and it's glorious. If major sports games have passed you by as devs have uniformly set their sights on Ultimate Team modes, Franchise in SMB3 is the saving grace, the callback to a time when Franchise mode ruled the day.
If, instead, you're an online player, the returning Pennant Race PvP mode is now expanded with Custom Pennant Race, allowing players to customize how they play others online, like making games longer or shorter or allowing custom teams among other fun features.
On top of that, the full game will live alongside a free demo on all platforms that gives players a limited selection of teams to use in Pennant Race. This is used not only as a demo for potential buyers, but it's also designed to fill out the multiplayer lobbies for faster matchmaking. It's a smart move and possibly the first of its kind.
Super Mega Baseball 3 Review — The Bottom Line
- Two words: franchise mode
- Baserunning and stealing mechanics are improved with great effect
- More teams, players, and stadia make the deep series even deeper
- Serious sim gameplay juxtaposed with silly character models make for unending joy
- Still lacking in some areas for women created characters
- Still takes control from players for fielding fly balls
Reviewing this series has become a truly joyous task of mine over the years. I now expect greatness with each new game and Metalhead delivers every time. There's such a fun atmosphere to every game that can't be found in any other sports game today. The juxtaposition of cartoonish, bigheaded sluggers with diehard sim mechanics is a brilliant one, and it keeps getting better with every installment.
With more stadia to play in, more teams to choose from, some subtle visual enhancements, and welcome touches across the board all serving as side dishes to the fantastic new Franchise mode, Super Mega Baseball 3 is the baseball game sports fans deserve.
Don't let a lack of MLB licensing turn you away. This is a serious baseball sim in every way except for the silly naming conventions of its athletes (right, Nacho Crisp?) Though there are still mountains for this studio to climb, I'm confident it will scale them. With several years and three games under its belt, Metalhead Software's batting average is now firmly in Hall of Fame territory.
[Note: A copy of Super Mega Baseball 3 was provided by Metalhead Software Inc. for the purpose of this review.]