Ranking the Baseball Games of the NES: Part 1

February 19, 2016 | Comments (4) | by Adam Blank

From 1985 to 1993 there were a total of 20 baseball-themed games for the Nintendo Entertainment System released in the U.S.  And since the NES was my console of choice at the time when my love of baseball was growing (and 20 is a nice even number), what better way to look back on this simpler time than to rank and critique these games based on more than a quarter century of cynicism and life experience?

Welcome to Part 1 of a 4 week segment.  (To see part 2, Click here)

A couple things to note:

This is just the opinion of some guy in his mid 30's playing these games by himself on a pretty fucking sweet emulator with an awesome controller.  I'm sure that even the worst of these games was a lot of fun when you were 9 and played against your best friend. My rankings are based solely on my opinions while playing against the computer as an adult; therefore they are 100% correct.  

Also, I included the chronological order of games to give a sense of place in the history of the 7+ years that baseball games were made for the NES.  It almost certainly isn't 100% correct.  If the internet says one game came out sometime in 1988 and a different game came out in July of 1988, I usually just guessed at which came first.  

So here they are, the five WORST baseball games for the NES...

Released in October 1991 (17th of 20 NES Baseball Games)

LJN is notorious for churning out shitty video games tied to various licensing agreements. Roger Clemens' MVP Baseball is not an exception. This is towards the end of the NES's life (the SNES had been released a couple of months earlier), so the graphics are about as good as you'll find on the system.  The pitchers' throwing motions are the best of any NES baseball game.

But nice graphics can't fix a game that's fundamentally broken.  The controls in this game are simply abysmal.  First of all, it’s one of those “over-the-pitcher’s-shoulder-view-while-fielding" games (like the Bases Loaded games). Personally, I fucking hate that.  Any time a ball is hit, fielding becomes a nightmare.  First base is to the left and third is to the right.  You think you’re throwing home and you throw a bullet to second base.

But that can be overcome with a bit of practice.  What can’t be so easily overcome is natural instinct.  A bouncing ball approaches your second baseman’s left hand-side! You slide to glove it, but to no avail!  It trickles through to the outfield.  The camera shifts to the Center Fielder, who has been running to his left because he, for some unknown reason, gets positioned along with your 2nd baseman.  He’s running the wrong way to field it, and there’s not a goddamned thing you can hope to do about it!  The runner tries to take extra bases but you’ll throw him out at third...except you throw to first base instead.  Damn it!

That’s not even the worst of it.  Batting is somehow even worse than fielding.  To make contact with a fastball (which the computer throws about 80% of the time), you have to start swinging BEFORE the ball leaves the pitcher. For some reason this game has a built-in delay for hitters.  Press the swing button, wait a half a second, and then you swing.  Obviously the computer is not affected by any sort of delay while batting...because it beat me 35-2.
This guy should have swung about 10 seconds ago.

There's no 10+ run mercy rule in this game, so you have to either play the entire game or (more likely) slam your controller into your console, breaking one or the other.  While a lot of the baseball games made for the NES are bad, this is the only one that comes close to being unplayable.

One thing of note: This is the only NES game I've played that invoked the Infield Fly Rule. Those fuckers at LJN can't figure out how to get the bat to swing when you push a button but they managed to program the infield fly rule into a baseball game. Great job, assholes.

Released in October 1985 (1st of 20 NES Baseball Games)

One of the original 17 "black box" titles available for the U.S. launch of the NES, Baseball is obviously the first NES baseball game and the least sophisticated.

There are no stats.  No batting averages, no home runs stats or ERA.  You don’t even know which player is batting because you aren’t given player names or even positions.  This means that there’s no strategy. You simply get a pattern down correctly and do the same thing over and over again until you win.  I guess that’s technically a strategy, but that's some serious OCD shit right there.  This also means that every player is essentially the same.  Did you manage to get a runner on first?  He runs at the same speed as everyone.  Is your pitcher batting with 2 outs and the bases loaded in a tie game?  Sure, why not? You can't tell anyway. He’s the same as everyone else. NES Communist Baseball should have come in a red box.

Смерть Америке
Fielding and baserunning are both terrible.  Although it’s nearly impossible to tell if the outfielder will catch my pop fly, I’d be willing to send my runner on first...if I could figure out how.  There must be a way to move baserunners because the computer keeps trying to pick me off! With only two buttons and a directional pad, you'd think I could figure this shit out.

Outfielders tend to automatically throw to the next base.  For instance, if you’re fielding and there’s a guy on first, and the batter gets a hit to right field, you should (conceivably) be able to throw the runner out at second, but the idiot fielder tends to throw to 3rd by default.  

The sounds and music feel like they were lifted from the Atari 2600 and the graphics are gruesome in their simplicity.  But this game isn’t unplayable. Some unfortunate baseball game had to be the first for the system and, luckily, most subsequent games improved on this mess.  But, if you owned an NES at the time it launched in the States, you’d have to wait over two years for the next baseball game...

Released sometime in 1988 (2nd of 20 NES Baseball Games)

...And that shitty game would be R.B.I. Baseball. Clunky design and sluggish fielding destroy what might have been an otherwise mediocre game.

This game was licensed by the MLB Players Association, but not by MLB themselves. So while players' names and stats are used, team names and logos are not. Still, I doubt any kid cared. After all, you could finally play as your favorite team...as long as they won their division in 1986 or 1987. The playable teams are the cities in which these teams are found: The Mets, The Astros, The Red Sox, The Angels, The Twins, The Tigers, The Giants, and The Cardinals. Two All-Star Teams from each league were also included to soften the disappointment of any baseball-loving kid who just wanted to be Andre Dawson for a minute to get his mind off mommy and daddy screaming at each other just outside his bedroom door...

The controls are a mess.  A routine pop-up will start to trail back as if a gale force wind suddenly took hold of it and pushed it about 40 feet behind where you were expecting to field it.  Then your fat glacier of a player takes all day to retrieve it. Don't worry, baserunners move about as quickly as molasses on a witch's tit.
No, the lack of vowels didn't ring in a new era of Welsh-themed baseball games.
Oh.  This fucking fielding.  A fair ball made it to the right field corner.  Fair ball in foul territory.  No problem, I’ll just pick it up and...CHUCK IT INTO THE STANDS WITH NO WAY TO RECOVER IT.  I guess I was too close to the wall? There’s nothing that can be done. Everybody scores. What fun.

The only cool thing is that players' abilities sort of reflect their real-life stats or abilities. Some were (slightly) faster, some hit better and some could pitch harder. Also, this and other games in the R.B.I. Baseball series seem to be the only games that score inside-the-park home runs as actual home runs.

This game might be earliest NES baseball game with a “Watch” option.  I've yet to meet a person who has admitted to putting a video game on "watch" mode and hunkered down for an entire game. But, like WarGames from a few years earlier, perhaps the only way to win is not to play.

Released in January 1990 (7th of 20 NES Baseball Games)

I've already bitched about how I’ve never been a fan of the over-the-pitcher’s-shoulder-view in baseball games, but Bases Loaded 2 made it even worse.  Depending on where the ball is hit, all fielding views are either from the first base or third base side. Not only does this mean you have to do the reverse of your normal fielding to properly throw to bases, but you have to know which direction the camera will shift in order to field it properly.  This is like some shit NASA would use to test your dexterity for the space program.
And the computer fucking CHEATS.  There are a lot of NES baseball games where you, as the human, can take an extra base because the computer is programmed to try to hold the lead runner. But this is the first and only game I’ve seen where the computer cheats the player out of a base.  For example: The computer had a runner on 2nd.  Computer singles to right.  Runner on 2nd advances to 3rd.  My throw to 3rd is late.

Now the computer's guy on first tries to to take second.  I throw to second, and the runner retreats, but the guy on 3rd tries for home.  Fuck him! I throw home.  Runner on 3rd retreats, but runner on 1st tries for second again. I try to throw him out and the same SHIT HAPPENS forever until you just give up and let the runner have second. This is some advanced Prisoner's Dilemma-type game theory shit at work here.

So yeah, the fucking game cheats, the weird divided fielding view is awful and the Bases Loaded series is really fucking overrated.
Bases Loaded II: Now with 66% more foul territory!

Released in April 1988 (3rd of 20 NES Baseball Games)

The first LJN baseball game ever made but the second on this list. This time, Major League Baseball endorsed the game (hence the title), but the Players Association didn't. That means you can play as your favorite team, but players are only identified by their number, position, or stats.

Aside from a Regular Game, Major League Baseball offers an All-Star Game and a World Series mode. You can turn the DH rule on or off.

The All-Star Game lets you hand-select your roster from one league.  This means you can finally play as Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg (or their non-union Mexican equivalents) and stack them against an opponent, who is doing the same shit with the roster in the other league.  It's a cool idea and the first that lets you assemble your dream team, as long as your dream team happens to be entirely composed of players with good stats in the 1987 season.

The physics in this game are different from almost every other baseball game. Generally, a hit ball will travel in a straight line until it hits a fielder or a wall.  In this game, a ground ball smoked past the short stop will often die in the outfield grass. But that's ok, your left fielder is coming in to...over run it. Most games provide a chunky "thwarp" type of sound to indicate that a fielder has obtained the ball. This game provides a barely audible tinny sound, so you’re never quite sure if your guy got the ball or overran it, so it’s easy to make errors. It's a shame because fielders actually move fluidly.
Who doesn't remember good ol' #28's epic .265 season?

Hitting is pretty damn awful. You can only move up & down in the batter’s box.  And you need to scoot all the way down, as it is the only way to hit a 100mph fastball, which the computer throws constantly.  

It's a shame that the awesome All-Star selection feature was wasted on such a turd of a game. A couple of minor tweaks and this could have placed much higher.

Tune in next Friday, where I highlight the five games that were slightly better than these but not good enough to crack the Top 10.


Jake the Terrible Cubs Fan @ 8:19 AM, February 19, 2016

I concur on RBI Baseball. That game is garbage and people need to stop holding it in such high esteem.

Governor X @ 10:45 AM, February 19, 2016

Roger Clemens MVP Baseball had all those classic names like McFred and Langmark.

The Braves fans on there do their idiotic war cry though, so I concur with ranking it last.

Shooter Muldoon @ 3:59 PM, February 19, 2016

As a kid, I thought it was Jacelo (prounounced "JACK-a-low" Baseball. That is the least interesting fact about me.

Ronald L. Holmes @ 9:13 PM, February 20, 2016
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