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R.B.I. 21 Review: It’s a Mess

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The new installment of the R.B.I. franchise on the Nintendo Switch is such a baffling collection of diving pitchers, physics-defying outfielders and bizarre roster decisions, it feels like a prank

R.B.I 20 was a refreshingly simple and welcome distraction to the past year (gulp!) and all of its strangeness. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means. But it scratched the baseball itch, even changing season options once the MLB settled on its 60-game schedule in order to make quarantine a little more tolerable for the outside world. I played a full (shortened) season and postseason with the White Sox and loved every second of it.

R.B.I. 21 is apparently uncomfortable with all the attention 2020 has gotten and wants to make sure that 2021 is just as miserable a year for us all — if not more so.

It’s a mind-boggling mess of a game that had my jaw dropping almost every inning. This game felt like a prank. And, with the insanely talented Tim Anderson on the cover, a personal attack, even. To take something that was so joyous and ruin it, it almost makes you believe the lead programmer is none other than Jerry Reinsdorf himself.

Here’s the breakdown of R.B.I. 21, its take on the 2021 White Sox, and its many, many, many missteps.

Pitching

As I started my season, I opted to use what the game believes will be the roster on Opening Day. R.B.I 21 set my rotation as Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease, and Carlos Rodón. No major surprises there. In fact, I like the positive thinking. Michael Kopech Reynaldo López, and Garrett Crochet all appear in the bullpen. This being Opening Day on the road against the Anaheim Angels, our ace Giolito was on the hill.

Pitching was probably the only area of the game to improve from last year’s game. There were some additions to make pitcher fatigue and pitch selection more important and strategic. However, despite how only throwing 62 pitches with Giolito en route to a 7-1 victory, he was almost completely gassed after seven innings. Giolito finished giving up three hits, one earned run, and no walks or strikeouts. His fastball averaged 97 mph while throwing at full power and focus, to 94 mph when thrown with the least power and focus. The changeup was as you’d suspect ... lethal.

After, Giolito, I got a solid inning out of Aaron Bummer (this edition has him throwing some reallllllly nasty stuff) and despite a six-run lead, I brought in Liam Hendriks to finish it off. His first three pitches were all sent to the warning track, but Luis Robert miraculously came down will all three.

While the pitching format is a minor improvement from R.B.I. 20, there is no great innovation happening here. It’s easy. A little too easy. I see a Cy Young in Dylan Cease’s very near future.

Hitting & Baserunning

Hitting has seemingly been simplified to an almost dimwitted level. There are now three different types of swings: contact, normal, and power. I have no clue why anyone would hit with anything but power, but I tried all three swings throughout the game. Shockingly, I hit two of my three home runs hitting with a “contact swing” and only one with a “power swing.” I finished the game with 14 hits and seven runs, and I struck out seven times. (In true White Sox fashion, I didn’t talk a walk.) The big hitter of the day was Yoán Moncada, who snagged three hits, two of them home runs. Eloy Jiménez knocked the other homer.

Strangely, all three home runs were hit to right field, and landed in the front row of the stands directly to the left of the foul pole. All three of the home runs also came from a batter batting right-handed. It’s safe to say I made some history with three straight opposite field homers landing in the same seat.

R.B.I. 21 had the Sox Opening Day lineup as: Anderson, Adam Eaton, Yasmani Grandal, José Abreu, Jimenez (LF), Moncada, Robert, Adam Engel (DH), and Nick Madrigal. Weird. And it should be noted that Zack Collins and Jonathan Lucroy were on the bench, but Andrew Vaughn was not. Danny Mendick, Leury García, and Luis González (um?) were the other reserves.

Nothing too notable about the Sox on offense. It was a solid showing, with only Eaton and Engel going hitless. In terms of baserunning, the speed of the players is way, way, way off. Everyone is painfully slow — except Luis Robert, who is twice as fast as someone who is twice as fast as Usain Bolt. All four singles to right field were contested with a throw to first base. All four plays were very close. Ridiculous.

Fielding

This is where everything went haywire. It has been years since I have seen this kind of glitchiness from a major title.

On the first defensive play of the game, Jiménez ran straight through the left-field wall. I realize that Eloy is known to land in a seating net or two, but completely run through a wall and vanishing seems like a stretch. Later in the inning, Adam Eaton ran toward the “landing target” of a fly ball and despite coming a good 20 feet short, caught the ball standing up. In another instance, Robert snagged a 112 mph liner while diving in the complete opposite direction of the ball.

Infielders seem to grab ground balls out of thin air. They make frozen rope throws without turning their bodies and squaring up to the throw. In fact, they look straight at the catcher while throwing to first. That is a dangerous game, my friends. Both Giolito and Bummer made catches after a full-extension dive directly backwards to grab the hard grounder that had gone right by them. Oh, and the fielders will charge for a soft ground ball, but only so much. After a few steps, they stop and let the ball trickle slowly to their feet, allowing the runner an infield hit.

The real White Sox have made great improvements in the field lately, but you would never know it by the outright nonsense brought to us by R.B.I. 21.

New Features

One of the “big” changes that the game touted was a more realistic version of weather and sunlight. This was a maaaaaajor league swing-and-miss. The sky over Anaheim looked like the opening credits of The Simpsons, but in a post-apocalyptic world. As a Southern California local, I admit I have seen some stunning skies, but I ain’t seen nothin’ like that.

Another “big” change was with the commentating. This stuff was just shameful. Absurdly repetitive — often you hear the exact same recorded sentence three times in a row. They often called a ball “out-of-play,” just for it to be caught in fair territory. They added in the use of player names while commentating, too. Cool, right? Well, it would be, if they didn’t randomly inject a robot voice saying the player’s name into a sentence spoken by one of the commentators. This is real 1999 computer game stuff.


R.B.I. is an embarrassing sequel to a franchise that had just last year recovered from a previous embarrassing release the year before. R.B.I. 21 is the Zack Collins to R.B.I. 20’s Yasmani Grandal. And we should be bat-flippin’ furious that they stamp our stud, Tim Anderson, on the cover.