Blinded by NEStalgia: Basewars
Baseball games are some of my favorites on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Bad News Baseball is my go-to game, but the R.B.I. series, Baseball Simulator 1.000, Baseball Stars, and a few others are still a lot of fun for me to play even to this day. When I had the chance to pick up Base Wars after doing some work at Stateline Video Games last week, I jumped at the chance because I had some fond memories of the game. A mixture of Atari‘s Cyberball atmosphere, basic baseball mechanics, and having for fight for outs on the bases combined to deliver a unique take on baseball at the time.
When I got home and played a game of Base Wars, though, I realized that I’d been blinded at least partially by nostalgia and a bit of my own hype for the game. It’s not a dreadful baseball game, but its flaws keep it from being in the company of some of the great games on the NES.
The idea of robots playing baseball was novel at the time that the game was released back in 1991. Cyberball had been in arcades for a couple of years and had robots playing a dangerous game of football in which they could explode if they were in possession of a “critical ball” and had not scored. Base Wars has robot carnage as well, but the main draw is that the basic rule of force outs is replaced by fights. If the robot on offense wins the fight, it is awarded the base it was advancing to. If the robot on defense wins the fight, an out is recorded.
These fights are spiced up by different kinds of weaponry that the robots can equip. Guns, swords, gloves, and other items can affect how a fight proceeds. Some weapons are more powerful than others, but they require hit points to wield and this can have an effect later on in a game if that robot gets into other fights. Not all fights end in a complete loss of hit points, but multiple fights can eat away at that total and, if all hit points go away, the robot explodes and is out for the game. While it seems like a good idea to try to take extra bases if your robot is a strong fighter, parameters such as the distance to the destination base play a role in how much damage each robot can withstand.
The fighting adds a unique quality to Base Wars, and a certain amount of strategy must be employed to manage a team well. How aggressive should your team be? Which weapons should you buy to arm your players with? If your team is down late in the game, do you risk going for that extra base even though that robot is low on hit points? These decisions and more make Base Wars more than a basic arcade-style baseball game, and this strategy element helps to make the game as memorable as it is.
The problem with Base Wars is one that some baseball games have had before and after this game’s release: The fielding is flawed.
For starters, the camera works against the pitching team once the ball is in play. It sometimes can’t keep up with a struck ball and it’s possible to lose sight of where it’s going. The speed of the ball also makes it more challenging than it should be to position a defensive player to be able to make a play on it. This leads to the second problem with the fielding, which has to do with the CPU-controlled fielders. Sometimes the computer handles auto-fielding like a charm, and it has to since players sometimes can’t see where the ball is headed once it leaves the bat. Other times, inexplicably, the computer-controlled fielder winds up out of position or completely misplays the ball. This is made worse at times when a human player tries to take control of the fielder. Defense, in general, is more of a crap shoot than it should be. This means that it’s finger-crossing time for the pitching team if a ball is put in play, and that’s kind of a shame.
Unfortunately, this really damages the enjoyment of the rest of the game. Hitting is fine, although there may be a few home runs too many at times. Pitching has an interesting delivery mechanic where holding the pitch button down adds speed to the pitch and makes it harder to hit. The pitcher/batter battle is as good as many other NES baseball games, and that’s a definite positive. Base Wars does have battery backup, so players can battle through a full season with multiple customization options. Considering that only a few NES baseball games have battery backup (Baseball Stars, Baseball Simulator 1.000), it’s a nice feature to have if you’re able to overlook the game’s flaws.
I know that I’m coming down hard on a game that’s over 20 years old. Baseball games have evolved a ton since Base Wars made its debut, and complaining about a Nintendo game hardly seems worth the effort. The point here is that I let myself get burned by nostalgia. I got Base Wars for what I selectively remembered about it, and now I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t hold out for a different baseball game instead. I’m sure that this won’t be the last time that I make this kind of mistake, but it’s interesting to look at from a player’s point of view. As a collector, Base Wars is a decent addition to my growing library of NES games… but, as a player, I don’t think I’ll be playing this game as much as I will other NES baseball games going forward.