One of the great things about the Nintendo Wii is its Virtual Console feature. It’s possible to download emulations of games from classic gaming platforms from the Commodore 64 on up to the Nintendo 64. For this inaugural Retro Game on the Brain entry, it’s time to talk Baseball.
Baseball was one of the first games available for the Nintendo Entertainment System, and it’s an extremely simple baseball game. There are only six teams to choose from, and there are no stats, substitutions, or different gameplay modes. While gamers today may scoff at such a bare-bones version of baseball, it can be argued that the gameplay core of this game was the inspiration for later NES baseball titles, such as Namco’s R.B.I. Baseball and Tecmo’s Bad News Baseball. Of course, these later titles added more features, such as Major League Baseball licenses, stats, and some sort of seasonal play; however, if you look at the pitcher vs. batter representation in Baseball and compare it to the later games, you’ll see a striking resemblance.
Baseball‘s appeal lies in its simplicity. The gameplay here is by no means perfect, but it manages to deliver a fun and fast-paced experience that literally anyone can get into. There aren’t any batting cursors here; instead, players can adjust where the batter stands in the batter’s box and then time swings to get decent conact with a pitch. There aren’t any pitching icons here, either; push up on the D-pad to throw a changeup, left or right to add a curve to a pitch, or push down to deliver the heat. Stats don’t play a role here, either. Instead, the game revolves around skill and a bit of luck. You don’t know who is pitching or who is batting, so it doesn’t matter if your pitcher is up to bat… he can still crank a pitch out of the park if the timing of the swing and placement of the batter are just right. When you hit a home run in Baseball, it’s a satisfying experience because it’s a result that is driven solely by the controlling player instead of being based on relevant stat bonuses or penalties.
Perhaps Baseball’s biggest gameplay blunder lies in the computer-controlled fielding that’s not quite consistent. At least once during a game– and usually more than that– fielders will misplay batted balls rather badly. Grounders sneak past infielders, outfielders misjudge fly balls and sometimes get stuck while in pursuit of a base hit, and these instances will usually drive you crazy. It’s possible that these misplays are meant to keep games close or to simulate rallies and changes of momentum in a game, but that’s rather doubtful. A direct side effect of this problem is that players should not expect many– if any– shutouts. In fact, Baseball games usually end with some pretty high run totals. One other minor gameplay gripe is that computer-controlled pitchers have a strong tendency to attempt too many pickoff moves. Come on… how many throws to first are you gonna make before throwing the next pitch? Eight?
An interesting factoid about Baseball is that it’s actually a coin-op conversion of a Nintendo arcade game called Vs. Baseball. Vs. Baseball actually rewarded or penalized players based on events that occurred during the course of a game and affected how long they could play before another token or quarter was needed. When a player inserted a coin or token and started the game, there was a Points display on the screen that would gradually count backwards towards zero. The points would increase every time the player-controlled team scored runs and would decrease quicker if the opposing team team plated runs. If the points ran out, the player would have to spring for another credit. For obvious reasons, the Points aspect of the game never made it to the home version of the game, for obvious reasons. Aside from omitting the Points system, though, the home version of Baseball was a very close rendition of the arcade game.
There were plenty of baseball games for the NES that followed this game. Jaleco’s Bases Loaded series was notable, plus LJN (aka Acclaim) published a Major League Baseball game of its own. Konami’s Base Wars allowed robots to play baseball, seeming to draw inspiration from Atari’s robotic football arcade game, Cyberball. SNK went on to publish Baseball Stars (which later spawned a sequel), along with a Little League Baseball game. These are just a few of the notable NES baseball titles; unfortunately, Baseball and Bases Loaded are the only two of these games available on the Virtual Console so far.
If you’re a fan of retro baseball games like I am, then I do encourage you to give Baseball a second look. For just $5 and 17 blocks of space on your Wii, you can take a trip back in time to see how other baseball games were influenced. It’s not a perfect game, it’s not a feature-laden game, but it is a solid version of baseball that’s actually a lot of fun and tests your skills rather than how numbers influence your performance.
Look for a new Retro Game on the Brain soon… but for now: Play ball!
It’s been a little while since I updated, I know. I’ve been battling a rather nasty bug lately and had to have my dog put down this past weekend. Murphy’s Law, indeed.
There are things going on behind the blog that are positive, though. Let me share a little bit with you, in quickie format:
- After more than 6 months away from writing, it looks like I’m going to be back in the biz shortly. I have at least one gig lined up, and another is possible. I’ll be working to set a realistic but fair schedule to fit in gaming, writing, and a social life. It’s going to take some adjustment, but I am looking forward to the challenge.
- Speaking of gaming, I’ve been doing quite a bit of that during my sick time. I just picked up Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 for the Xbox 360 and it’s sucked me in, just like last year’s game did on the PS3. There are a few issues with this year’s game, such as a gross overcalculation for adverse weather conditions, an overly-difficult new putting system, and some questionable presentation choices… but, at its core, Tiger 10 not only brings most of what made Tiger 09 so great– but new additions like Live Tournaments and the new Tournament Challenge mode make this year’s game another tough one to put down. How much so? I downloaded Map Pack 2 for Call of Duty: World at War this morning, but never got around to trying it because I was so into my golf game.
- I’m still quite Twitter-active. While I don’t always have the time to write a full-bodied blog entry, it’s extremely easy to write 140 characters at a time. Most of my tweets are gaming-centric, but not all. Check out my Twitter feed to see what I mean.
- Lastly, thanks to Twitter, I have a new weekly feature that I’ll be bringing to Consoleation starting very shortly. Consoleation Retro Game on the Brain will tackle one game per week, talking about it and why it has such an effect on me. Some will be obvious choices, but other ones may turn you on to some titles that you may not remember or possibly glossed over. I’m hoping that this new feature will spark some comments and conversation.
So… while I’m convalescing, there is some good news for both myself and for Consoleation. I hope that you’ll enjoy the new content!