The Nintendo Entertainment System has some memorable baseball games. R.B.I. Baseball, Bases Loaded, and Baseball Stars likely jump to mind when you think NES baseball games, but there’s one title that tends to sneak under the radar when talking about this subject: Bad News Baseball.
Bad News Baseball doesn’t have real baseball players like R.B.I. Baseball does. It doesn’t have the full season mode that Bases Loaded has. It doesn’t have a battery backup to save seasons and stats like Baseball Stars has. Despite missing these things, Bad News Baseball delivers as an accessible baseball experience that’s on the more casual side but still enjoyable for all ages. It’s just fun to play, and that’s the most important thing of all.
Batting, pitching, and fielding are very easy processes in Bad News Baseball. Batting is all about timing, as you swing with the A button. Stats come into play, such as batting average, home runs, and running speed. A batter with a poor average but a high home run count is dangerous at the plate with runners on base, while a batter with a high average and lower home run totals usually hits balls that find holes in the defense. Don’t discount running speed, either. Power hitters tend to be slow, so trying to stretch that single into a double could be a poor decision. Since there isn’t a designated hitter rule in this game, some tough choices may have to be made for the pitcher’s spot. Do you bat him and sacrifice a probable out he’s pitching well, or do you take him out for a pinch hitter and take your chances with the bullpen?
Pitching is also handled with the A button, and strategy is needed to change speeds and locations to keep hitters off balance. Prior to pressing the button to release the pitch, pressing the D-pad up or down will affect the pitch speed. Pressing up will slow the pitch down, while pressing down towards the plate will put some extra heat on the pitch. Once the A button is pressed, the D-pad can be used to select the pitch break. Will it break inside, outside, or perhaps bite downwards? It’s not a lot of depth, but pitching can be surprisingly effective if you take advantage of the changing speeds and breaks to confuse opponents. The one real problem with pitching in Bad News Baseball is that pitchers don’t have a ton of stamina, even though their stats may indicate otherwise. Within two or three innings, pitches lose their pop and bite, leading to advantages for the offense.
Pitching and hitting are fairly straightforward and responsive, but the fielding in Bad News Baseball fares a bit worse. For starters, fielders can be a bit slow and positioning for line drives to the outfield can be frustrating. Some line drives that look to be caught wind up just out of the reach of the fielder and go by, leading to extra bases or worse. There is an option to dive for line drives, but it’s not consistent in execution and sometimes doesn’t work at all. The other big problem is that cutoff men can get in the way of throws to bases, leading to extra time for runners to reach safely. These complaints aren’t meant to say that fielding is broken, because it’s not. It is flawed, however, and there will be at least a couple of defensive plays during each game that will make you wonder what happened.
Bad News Baseball can be played by one or two players. Playing solo charges the player with choosing one team and defeating all of the other teams in the game. Stats aren’t kept, but stamina for starting pitchers is tracked and it usually takes at least two games before depleted stamina recovers. This adds to the strategy element in the solo play mode in terms of determining how hard to work pitchers before going to the bullpen and considering whether to start an ace on short rest because the third or fourth starter is terrible. After defeating each team, a password screen is shown. Like many other NES games, the password consists of various characters, and copying even one character incorrectly can lead to lost progress. If you can run the gauntlet, a neat little victory cutscene airs, with a pretty cool guest star from another popular Tecmo game.
When it comes to visuals, Bad News Baseball isn’t going to blow anyone away. The pitcher-batter matchup screen has the most detail, with decent character models for the batters and less-detailed pitcher models, along with a rear view of the catcher. When the ball is hit into play the screen changes to a zoomed-out view of the field and the players become miniaturized, similar to R.B.I. Baseball in many respects. What sets this game apart from the others in terms of graphics are the cutscenes that are shown after certain events during games. Home runs are followed by one of a random series of cutscenes, ranging from dugout reactions to balls hit so hard that they’re out of this world. Close baserunning plays are also punctuated by cutscenes, and the end of each victory has a montage of team reactions. These cutscenes are fun to watch, especially the first few times you see them, and underscore the lightheartedness of the game’s atmosphere.
The music in Bad News Baseball is fair. Each team has its own background music, which plays during its half-inning at bat. A few of the themes are catchy for a short time, but nothing stands out. The team-specific changes are nice per game, but playing solo and hearing the same music over and over again for your team may get a bit grating before long. There is other incidental music that plays during setup and before and after each game, but it’s generally unremarkable. There is some digitized speech for certain calls in the game, but the rest of the sound is pretty standard stuff.
Despite its flaws, Bad News Baseball is my favorite NES baseball game. It’s easy to play, it’s still fun despite the lack of licensing and the long password system, and everything still holds up well today. Full games can be played in less than 20 minutes and two-player games can be the source of tight competition and maybe even a little bit of trash talk. When playing alone, comebacks are always possible and there’s maybe a bit too much of the longball– but that also makes it a bit more exciting to play. It’s a relatively easy game to find through online resellers and the price is reasonable.
If you haven’t given Bad News Baseball a turn at the NES yet, I recommend giving it a try. It might not have the bells and whistles, but it’s a solid game of baseball that just might surprise you… even if the umpire is a bunny rabbit.
(Credit for gameplay video goes to NESGuide.com, a site that does great work. Be sure to check them out!)
Tecmo Bowl Throwback is almost exactly what it sounds like. The game plays almost exactly like the popular Super Nintendo version of Tecmo Super Bowl and, despite the loss of the NFL and NFLPA licenses, it’s still as much fun to play today as it was back in the mid-1990s. It’s easy to pick up and play for players of any skill level, and simple controls make for less thinking and more action. There are a few issues here and there, and the game may resemble football as closely as some fans may like, but for 800 Microsoft Points (or $10), there’s a lot of fun to be had here.
If you’ve played Tecmo Bowl or Super Tecmo Bowl before, then you know exactly what you’re getting with Throwback. If not, it’s important to bear in mind that this isn’t a Madden clone. Tecmo Bowl has always been about arcade-style action first and simulation aspects second. The game uses only two buttons (and either the analog stick or the D-pad) and game quarters are only five (accelerated) minutes long. Each team has four running plays and four passing plays on offense; defensively, players try to guess what the play the offense is going to call by choosing it and defending against it. There are no hot routes, no audibles, no hit sticks, and no blocking schemes. Tecmo Bowl is football in a very simple sense. Purists may balk at some of the AI decision-making in solo play; the computer will sometimes call timeouts unnecessarily or players may run into defenders. If you pick certain teams, the game also becomes a bit of a cakewalk at times; my first Season game (playing as San Francisco) was a 51-7 decision despite my not having played Tecmo Bowl for years.
The most interesting feature of Tecmo Bowl Throwback is that it can be played two different ways. The 3D mode of play is new for the Xbox 360 and looks like a much cleaner version of the otherwise-poor Tecmo Super Bowl for the PlayStation. Players run smoothly and the framerate is consistent. There’s not a lot of detail for the players, but there wasn’t much detail in the original games, either. The 2D mode of play is the Super Nintendo version of the game exactly. The names and teams are different, but the visuals are the same. Throwback‘s play controls feel a bit different in each of these visual modes as well. The 2D game feels tighter and more responsive, while the 3D mode feels a bit slippery. Since you can switch between the two visual modes on the fly, you’re not tied down to one specific mode. The sound and music also differ between the 2D and 3D modes of play, as the 3D mode features new music tracks and slightly better sound effects. The 2D mode, as an emulation of the SNES game, keeps the same music and sound from Tecmo Super Bowl but the sound is less sharp. Some may believe that the visuals on the 2D side are lacking, and there can be some fluctuations in the framerate at times, but overall it’s the slightly better package.
Tecmo Bowl Throwback‘s single-player mode has options to play an Exhibition game, an All-Star game (similar to the Pro Bowl, with the best players in each conference playing on the same team, and a Season mode. The Season mode is the meat of the single-player experience as players pick a team and play through a full season, complete with playoffs, to try and become the Tecmo Bowl champion. Unlike the original NES Tecmo Bowl, progress is saved to the hard drive after each game, so you don’t have to write down passwords or try to play the whole season in one sitting. Season mode has some stat tracking, including team rankings and league leaders. Although the team names and players are missing, their stats and tendencies are present here– as long as you keep in the mind that the source material is pulled from 1993. San Francisco, for example, has a big-time passing attack with a quality quarterback and stellar wide receiver. We might know them as Young and Rice, but in Throwback, they’re Kirk and McGee. If you like human competition, Throwback has you covered with both local and online multiplayer options. Local multiplayer has a Season option so that you can battle it out for the championship with friends when they visit. I’ve had some trouble getting online games going so far, but both ranked and friendly games are available for play and leaderboards tout the best players for both solo seasons and online ranked play.
Until Nintendo and Tecmo work out a deal for a port of Tecmo Super Bowl on the Wii’s Virtual Console, Tecmo Bowl Throwback is a great way to relive the past and experience football in a different way. We’ve seen Madden games every year, but few football games since NFL Blitz have been geared towards more casual fans like Throwback is. $10 may be a little high for an update/re-release, but the game is feature-rich. Add online play (which really wasn’t available unless you had an XBAND modem) and Achievements to a still-addictive game and you’ve got a winner. Kudos to Tecmo for not trying to fix what wasn’t broken to begin with. Now if only they can erase bad memories of NBA Unrivaled and give us an update of Tecmo Super NBA Basketball or Bad News Baseball…
(Hey. A guy can wish, right?)