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David Ortiz predicts a home run by pointing to the outfield stands at Fenway Park in Super Mega baseball 4 Image: Metalhead Software/Electronic Arts

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Super Mega Baseball 4 is a towering monument to the joy of the sport

Metalhead Software conveys the excitement that TV often can’t

It’s difficult to envision if you didn’t live through it, but there used to be options for baseball video games on every major platform. There have been hundreds, plural, of baseball video games, which will sound like nonsense to anyone who has only lived in the era of MLB: The Show. It’s true, though! This is the way we used to live. With options, and more often than not, without MLB’s full, licensed approval.

There were MLB licensed games, of course, but also those licensed by only the MLB Players Association, and titles where the license was just with one real player, like Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball. There were also completely fictional rosters, as in SNK’s Baseball Stars or Jaleco’s Bases Loaded. There was even a baseball game without any humans at all — they had been replaced by robots in Konami’s Cyber Stadium Series—Base Wars. We had series like RBI Baseball, Hardball, World Series Baseball, All-Star Baseball, Triple Play… There was even a game called Relief Pitcher where you could play exclusively as a reliever. We had realistic sims, arcade-leaning games, and plenty in between. Options!

We’re unlikely to ever go back to that era: Game development is more expensive now than in the ’80s and ’90s, and The Show, like Madden with football or FIFA with soccer, owns the space in no small part because of the head start it has on anyone else. The rise of Super Mega Baseball has ensured that there is at least one other worthwhile entry arriving across modern platforms, though, and it has two things going for it: It doesn’t have to deal with the slog of annualization that can cause a popular franchise to stagnate, and it’s just an immediate, obvious blast to play.

Super Mega Baseball’s developer, Metalhead Software (and now publisher, EA) doesn’t have to worry about releasing a game every year to help secure a licensing deal with MLB and the MLBPA. It’s got its own players, its own teams, its own stadiums. Metalhead has spent the better part of a decade building on the original 2014 Super Mega Baseball, refining, tightening, and evolving the mechanics, while also adding new ways to play: Super Mega Baseball 3’s Franchise Mode and its Online Leagues, to name a couple. Super Mega Baseball 4 has built even more on those sturdy foundations, giving you more to do in between games and seasons — on both the goofy and serious sides — and the result is another excellent baseball game that’s worth trying even if you’ve never played the previous entries, or any other baseball game, either.

Hammer Longballo begins his base run after hitting a homer in Super Mega Baseball 4 Image: Metalhead Software/Electronic Arts

For the uninitiated, Super Mega Baseball is something of a mix between Backyard Baseball and Power Pros, with a blend of tight, highly refined mechanics and a cartoonish, tongue-in-cheek humor powering it all — the addition of Legends to the fourth entry brings added weight to those past Backyard Baseball comps. Baseball is not as much of a dour sport as the American representation of it sometimes suggests. The World Baseball Classic, for instance, shows that the international game is about a whole lot more than showing up to be solemn and polite. Baseball is fun! And Super Mega Baseball 4 revels in this, with said fun showing up in its every pillar. The goofy player and team names, the memorable, earnest (and big-headed) way everyone is drawn, the sheer number of mustaches you’ll see, the excitement of the crowd, that baseball in this league isn’t just a men’s game but includes women on equal footing, too — it’s all just so fun. Actual, real-life baseball can be this fun, too, both to watch and to play, and it’s wonderful that there’s a video game series, with a fantastic new iteration, to remind us.

Super Mega Baseball 4 possesses the joy and energy — not energy as in vitality, though it doesn’t lack for that, either — you associate with minor league baseball, only with the kind of skill and talent you associate with the big leagues. Despite how arcade-y it can often be, Super Mega Baseball 4 also exudes sim-like appreciation for the minutiae of the sport. The difficulty slider allows you to fine-tune the experience, giving you more or less reaction time at the plate, on the mound, and in the field, while also dictating how often opposing batters make you pay for mistakes. If you don’t know what a mistake pitch is, Super Mega Baseball 4 can teach you in short order.

You can feel the computer opponents learning from your behaviors and adjusting to them, as well. You can fool hitters or have your pitches anticipated, and it’s not random, but a believable reaction. The third time through the order penalty — a real phenomenon denoting the dangerously familiar third time hitters are seeing a pitcher in a given game — rears its head here if you don’t switch out your pitchers or know how to adjust to the batters’ adjustments. The higher your difficulty, the less likely you are to get away with leaving a pitch up in the zone. But at the same time, knowing when to fire a rocket up and in will cause hitters to chase even when they should know better — just like in real baseball. Everything might look and sound like a caricature, but Super Mega Baseball 4 is the real deal when it comes to representing the symphony of little details, and their huge consequences, that make up the sport.

SUP FOUR EYES jk here’s the real alt text: A pitcher named Patterson, in a green and yellow uniform, prepares to throw out a pitch in Super Mega Baseball 4 Image: Metalhead Software/Electronic Arts

If anything, Super Mega Baseball 4 is even realer than the realistic The Show, in large part because these players, 200 newly introduced Legends like David Ortiz aside, aren’t real, leaving you so much more room to project and fill in the blanks. The characters feel alive because of the way their moods and their health levels change over the course of a game, series, week, whatever, and how that, in turn, makes them more or less likely to accurately throw a wicked pitch on the corner, or to drive a ball on the outside of the plate with authority, and so on. Each of them can bring you on something of a personal journey through their struggles and triumphs, and the path that leads from one to the other makes the whole experience that much more enjoyable.

Not only did the struggling player put you in the lead with that two-run homer, but it came after a couple of games of hitting everything on the screws with nothing to show for it. And since you were there for all of those moments and watched them go from “Locked In” to “Neutral” to “Tense,” to the point where they maybe even needed a day off to try to get right, that dinger counts for more than it shows on the scoreboard. You can feel the weight they’ve been carrying slide right off as they watch the ball clear the fence, or see a breaking ball catch the inside corner and freeze a batter, and it’ll only further connect you to the player and the game. All of this from the same game whose cover is graced by both Ortiz and someone named “Hammer Longballo.” Super Mega Baseball 4 is replete with goofy energy, and baseball is the perfect sport for it, even if it doesn’t always come across on TV or in the most “realistic” video games. And like every previous iteration in the series, this is the best digital version of the sport you could hope to play.

Super Mega Baseball 4 was released on June 2 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Electronic Arts. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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