Don’t pay too much mind to the freakish aesthetics of Super Mega Baseball 3’s fictional stars: this cartoony sports sequel has all the trappings of a true simulation, but it’s all packed up in an alarmingly accessible wrapper. It means that practically anyone can step up to the plate and knock out a Home Run or three, but there’s more than enough depth to keep baseball fans in the bullpen once the initial novelty wears thin.
The highlight addition to this, er, edition is the new multi-season Franchise mode, which sees you balancing your salary cap and developing players in order to build a virtual dynasty of your own. The management aspects are more straightforward than what you’ll find in MLB The Show 20 but are no less pleasing, tasking you with balancing a salary cap and investing in player development in order to build the ultimate team.
There’s no trading here, so you’re mainly required to work with a pool of free agents, releasing players from your roster who you feel are overpaid in favour of picking up some gems that you can train. After each match, you’ll gain access to surplus funds, which you can then invest into your team. For example, you can put your fielders on a high protein diet, which could improve their throwing arm – but may also reduce their running speed.
The first two games only let you play through a single season. Franchise allows you to take the team of your choice — including ones you’ve created or customized — through multiple seasons. It’s not as deep as the franchise modes in simulation sports titles like NBA 2K or Madden, but that’s for the best. Instead, its simplified design fits the ethos of Super Mega Baseball: building a connection between you and your players.
I love a good steak, so the aforementioned Sirloins were my team of choice in the previous games. But they’re always described as “extreme power hitters.” I thought I’d be better off with a more balanced roster in the franchise mode, so I switched my allegiance to the Sawteeth. Thus began my love affair with players like Jon Ronero, the power-hitting shortstop with the same beefy physique as the game developer he’s named after; DP Turner, his double-play partner at second base; and Slash Trips, the speedy center fielder who ranked near the top of the league in multiple hitting categories during my franchise’s first year. (If only the mode tracked stats from season to season.)
These days, many fans of pro sports have resigned themselves to rooting for laundry — that is, they have favorite teams instead of athletes, because players move around all the time. The Super Mega Baseball games are instead personality-driven, with players who are characters as much as they’re virtual athletes. Over the course of my franchise play-through, I became invested in not just the Sawteeth as a team, but in the individual members of its roster, whose skills naturally progress or regress depending on their age. I ended up agonizing over every personnel decision.
The title has a genuinely amusing sense of humour, and it’s these little stories surrounding player development which add character to what are effectively statistics sliders. Traits add further personality, meaning your starting pitcher may fade when down in the count, while your star batter may buckle when put under pressure. As with the previous game, you can adjust the difficulty dynamically, allowing you to find just the right level of challenge for you.
Everything can be customised, too. Whether it’s rosters, logos, uniforms, teams, leagues – you name it, you can fiddle with it. There’s a default array of teams for you to take to the field, but if you want to build a squad inspired by your extended family – well, you can do that, too. We’re not particularly enamoured with the caricature aesthetics, though it’s neat that you can have a mix of men and women on the same team. Stadiums are detailed, though loading times can be long.
The online pennant race mode returns with optional cross-console play, although we weren’t able to find many matches while playing in a pre-release environment. Still, we were able to appreciate the under-the-hood improvements to the overall gameplay, with base stealing requiring much more precise timing than ever before, and power swings and pitches adding an additional layer of depth to battles at the plate.
Super Mega Baseball 3 is a refinement done right. The series’ accessible action remains easy to pick up and play, but teensy tweaks to systems such as base stealing add immeasurable depth to the overall experience. It’s the multi-season Franchise mode that’s the real star of the show here, though, adding just enough economical depth to keep you engaged in the storyline of your squad, while still ensuring that you spend more time out on the field than in spreadsheets.