Games: Super Mega Baseball 4 hits a cartoonish home run

Super Mega Baseball 4 (Multi)

By: EA

"I NEVER realised how boring this game is without beer" was Homer Simpson's take on America's favourite pastime, and it's fair to say most on these shores would agree.

Baseball bats in Northern Ireland are essentially the loyalist version of the hurley, more likely to strike kneecaps than balls, while aside from flailing my arms around on Wii Sports, it's the one sport I've never actually sampled in videogame form. So, it was with a deep breath that I let EA take me out to the ballgame – and wouldn't you know, it's a home run.

Despite doing the rounds for nearly a decade, the confidently-titled Super Mega Baseball series has never featured real players. But, with the studio now owned by the Super Mega Rich EA, fourth time around boasts a roster of over 200 legends – though the only players I know played for the Springfield Nuclear Plant softball team before falling foul of nine misfortunes.

Like the game's fictitious stars, all are cartoonishly rendered, with the kind of swollen heads that suggest they were quaffing Mr Burns' gigantism-inducing nerve tonic. Yet while everything may look like a caricature, Super Mega Baseball 4 plays a mean game.

Taking a casual, arcade-style approach to the sport, there's plenty here for newcomers to enjoy, with the fundamentals of pitching and hitting a simple case of timing or aiming a cursor. Even stealing bases is a fun mini-game in its own right.

A difficulty slider known as 'Ego' can be set between 0-99, and on lower levels even baseball virgins will be cranking them out of the park. But for those who want a bit more mustard on the mound, a blend of tight mechanics reveals sim levels of detail that take SMB4 to the big leagues.

Deep customisation options for players and teams cover even logos and the jingles played when you sock a home run, while a wealth of modes cover exhibitions, pennant races, full seasons, shuffle drafts and online leagues that support cross-play between all platforms.

Franchise Mode is your typical career, where budding managers take a rag-tag group through multiple seasons, signing and trading players while being mindful of team chemistry and morale.

With EA's wallet pushing its superb technical chops and a raft of licensed players – even though most have retired or, erm, expired – Super Mega Baseball mixes cartoon charm with virtual diamond action for a field of dreams that's well worth a swing, even if you don't know your Astros from your elbow. Batter up!