This is part 4 of a 4 week series ranking the Baseball Games of the NES. Click here for Part 1, here for Part 2 and here for Part 3.
As always, these are the opinions of some guy in his mid 30's playing these games by himself on an emulator. My rankings are based solely on my opinions while playing against the computer as an adult who hasn't consumed nearly enough vodka; and are, therefore, flawless.
Also, I've included the chronological order of games to give a sense of history of the 7+ years that baseball games were made for the NES. Unlike my rankings, 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 best NES baseball games...
#5. Legends of the Diamond
Released May 1992 (18 of 20 NES baseball games)
A competent game is bolstered by an amazing gimmick. While other games were trying to get contemporary players' names or official teams and stats, Legends of the Diamond did what none of the 17 games before it did: It gave you the chance to play as the all-time greats of the game.
Players can choose between 30 legendary players. Highlights include: Ty Cobb, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Roberto Clemente, Ernie Banks, Babe Ruth, Harmon Killebrew and Hank Aaron. The stats are more or less based on the career stats of each player. The concept of this game was everything I could have asked for in an NES game, but I never played it as a kid. This game was late to the party and I already had a Genesis or Super Nintendo at the time.
|Pictured: History of the Game|
Of all the NES games that used real players, this is the only NES game I can think of that accurately represented their skin tones. Banks and Clemente and other players of color are dark-skinned. Considering they apparently only used 6 colors total in this game, that's fairly impressive. Can your precious RBI Baseball claim to have done this?
You can choose between an old stadium (better for hitters) or a new (pitcher-friendly) stadium. This is one of the few games where the different stadiums actually play differently, and it's a nice touch. I'm still not entirely sure why they show women and weather conditions, unless they chickened out of some Seven Year Itch theme at the last moment, but whatever.
There's a few peculiarities with this game that add to the charm. A little wiener dog sometimes retrieves foul balls. Roberto Clemente might yell at you if he doesn't like they way you pitch to him. And, sometimes, when you hit a batter, it ignites a bench-clearing brawl. That doesn't happen enough on the NES.
The biggest drawback to this game is the wacky AI. The computer's pitchers don't seem to want to throw strikes. Outfielders move at lightning speed and execute perfect throws. Yet infielders often throw to bases that aren't being covered. It's sloppy and takes away from the quality of the game.
Supposedly, this game features the Baseball Stars game engine, but it isn't an SNK game and feels different enough that I'm not sure I believe that. Still, it's pretty close. And the graphics & color scheme look similar, although this looks like Baseball Stars played through a sepia tone filter.
As awesome as it is to be able to choose a team from 30 legendary players, there are only 30 total players and therefore the replay value is limited. I'm not exactly sure what "beating the game" is like, but I assume it's sort of a letdown.
#4. Little League Baseball: Championship Series
Released July 1990 (11 of 20 NES baseball games)
Like Baseball Stars 2, this game runs on the same engine as the original Baseball Stars. Unlike the other two SNK games, Little League Baseball: Championship Series doesn't have a battery pack. Instead we're stuck with a password system and no ability to create your own team, which is a colossal waste of potential.
Because this game uses Little League rules, a game lasts only 6 innings. I'm glad they kept it real, but it would have been nice to have a 9 inning option, especially since I was mounting an epic comeback when the game abruptly ended.
Despite using the same game engine, this one is a bit more cartoony in the graphics department than Baseball Stars or Baseball Stars 2. I get why they made the players into weird oversized muppet-looking fuckers, but they dumbed it down too much. Instead of actual stats, we're given a Skill Ranking of 1-5 for each player, with 5 being the best. That's certainly simple, but it doesn't tell me shit. Does that mean that my batter with a 5 ranking is good at everything, or is he just a good hitter? Is he fast? How's his fielding? An arbitrary point scale is no way to do baseball. Stick to actual stats, stupid game!
|You're fat as hell for a Skill 5 Player, Aaron|
After a home run is hit, the delegation of fans made up of the results of Nazi selective breeding start celebrating and you're subjected to some bouncing tween cheerleader tits. To obtain this picture, I am now on countless government watchlists:
Little League Baseball: Championship Series is a great game hampered by the lack of customization and actual stats. With a plethora of domestic and international teams with their own strengths and weaknesses, the amazing SNK controls, and a fun take on the sport, this game is one of the best and deepest NES baseball games ever made. Like my own little league career, it was close to greatness, but it just didn't try hard enough to overcome its flaws. Still, it's a fun game with a ton of charm.
#3. Bad News Baseball
Released June 1990 (10 of 20 NES baseball games)
I remember playing Bad News Baseball as a kid. I fucking hated this game. I'm not sure if it was the retina-shattering pastel colors or the toddler-esque cartoony game-play (complete with bunny umpires), or the unstoppable obnoxious music, but I could not stand this game.
How wrong stupid fucking 10 year old me was.
This game is pure fun. The controls are easy, the fielding decent, the hitting a joy. It plays like RBI Baseball if RBI Baseball was good or responsive or fun. And it's quirky as fuck.
|It seriously looks like the Easter Bunny fucked RBI Baseball|
Rabbit umpires, Home Run cut-scenes that aren't the same exact thing over and over and often feature a cameo from Tecmo Wrestling's Rex Beat for some reason. Awesome cut-scenes on close plays. Decent voice work for the NES. Base runners who drop like they were hit with an anvil when they get thrown out...This is the most Japan-y of the 20 baseball games on the NES, which makes sense, since it's a pretty straight-forward port of the Japanese game Gekitō!! Stadium.
|Whatcha gonna do when Bad News Baseball|
runs all over you, brother?
This game isn't with its flaws. Errors are all too common. Fielders drop routine fly balls. Your first baseman will drop a ball thrown to him about a fifth of the time. Sometimes outfielders overthrow the catcher and everyone will score because your second baseman is the only person able to retrieve the ball. And home runs are remarkably easy to hit for both the player and the computer.
There's no season mode. After a win or loss, you receive a password and keep playing (with your previous starting pitcher's fatigue factoring in) until you defeat every other team. Then you "win" the game. A bit anti-climatic.
|If you need to climax...|
#2. Baseball Simulator 1.000
Released March 1990 (8 of 20 NES baseball games)
If you play as the standard teams, Baseball Simulator 1.000 is a pretty good baseball game with some nice 8-bit graphics and decent fielding mechanics. You can choose between a dome, grass, harbor, town, outer space or completely dead grass brown stadium (which is, no joke, apparently set in Russia). It's fun, but nothing really sets it apart from other games. Then there is Ultra mode...
The Ultra Teams take a good game and make it awesome. Ultra Teams have ultra moves. A pitcher can throw a Phantom Ball which disappears as it approaches home plate, or a Snake Ball which curves multiple times before reaching the batter, or 8 other unique pitches.
Batters can use things like the Missile Hit, which sends any fielder in the ball's path all the way to the outfield wall before leaving them temporarily stunned, or an Earthquake Hit that causes tremors (which briefly stun the defenders) if the ball hits the ground. Even fielders have Ultra moves, which can make a player jump extra high to snag that home run, or the ability to throw the ball at twice the normal speed to throw out runners.
|Aurora Borealis? At this time of year? |
At this time of day? In this part of the country?
Localized entirely within the pitcher's mound?
Best yet, you can create your own Ultra Team. You can name your players and distribute Ultra points (and select their moves) and save it via the game's battery. It's a clunky interface that leaves a lot to be desired, but making your own team of fireball-throwing, cyclone-hitting bad-asses is an awesome feeling. And playing in outer space never gets old.
|Freedom! Horrible, horrible freedom!|
#1. Baseball Stars
Released July 1989 (6 of 20 NES baseball games)
I was secretly rooting against Baseball Stars. I had hoped that some dark horse would emerge from the 19 other baseball games that could dethrone this game. But this is the best NES baseball game, and one of the greatest baseball games on any system.
Based on game-play alone, Baseball Stars might have cracked the Top 5 NES baseball games. Fielders move fluidly and can dive, jump and climb the walls to snag home runs. Base running is easy; even with multiple runners on base, it feels like you're in control of each one. Batting is simple and intuitive. The controls on this game are fantastic (as are the other games which feature the same game engine...all of which made the top 10).
The pre-made teams are mostly interesting. You have the powerhouse American Dreams, featuring knock-offs of legendary players (Babe, Hank, Pete, Lefty, Dizzy, etc). There's the Ghastly Monsters, a team (de)composed of guys named Zombie, Mummy, Freddy, Jason, Medusa and Alien, The Lovely Ladies (an all-female team, which pay out the most money when you beat them), The World Powers (featuring a hodgepodge of Wilbur, Orville, Plato, Zeus and Caesar), as well as a few other teams that aren't quite as interesting.
But screw the pre-made teams. In Baseball Stars, you can create your own teams. Not only can you name your players, you get to power up your players with cash received from defeating other teams. Each player has a certain number of attribute points, generally between 50-80 (with a maximum of 90). While some of these points are predetermined, you get to buy points with your cash. This means that you can make a guy faster or hit for more power or improve their defense. The performance of the players is accurately reflected by their stats. A guy with fast speed runs noticeably faster than a guy with slow stats. If your fielder has better defense, he's more mobile. A person with maxed out Batting gets more home runs. And prestigious players put asses in seats, increasing attendance and monetary payouts for wins.
|You can also make a team of 18 scrubs|
|There IS crying in Baseball Stars. A lot, actually.|
You have the option to play up to 5 other teams a maximum of 25 times each to create a 125 game season. The best part of all of this is that the game saves your stats. Over the course of a 125 game season, the game tallies the batting average and home runs of your players. Pitchers' ERA, wins, saves...it's all calculated and saved. There's even a leaderboard that you can check out to see where your players stand in the league, all recorded and saved to the game's battery.
Although it's the best NES baseball game by far, it isn't perfect. The AI isn't as smart as I'd like. You can trick them into giving up extra bases easily, and they occasionally make bizarre throwing errors. And, even though you don't have to play or watch the computer's games in a long season, you still have to simulate each one (which doesn't take that long, but it's annoying as fuck).
It's also a bit too easy to hit home runs, especially if you hire a lot of superstar players. This can be easily remedied by imposing your own limits on how good your players can be. After playing this game for over a quarter century, I generally fire anyone with more than 70 attribute points and try to play the 8-bit equivalent of small ball, just to keep things honest.
The other drawback is that there's no playoffs. You can start a league series with anywhere from 2 teams in a three game series to 5 teams that play each other 25 times each. The ending is still the same (featuring a bizarre parade). It doesn't seem like it would have been too hard to come up with a type of World Series best of 7 scenario for the two best teams after a 125 game season. Then again, you can easily make your own best of 7 series against the second best team (almost certainly The American Dreams); you'll just have to be willing to ditch your old stats.
Still, the amazing game-play coupled with the ability to completely customize a team and the options to hire and fire players gives this game potentially limitless replay value. Baseball Stars was years ahead of its time and leaps & bounds ahead of any other baseball game on the NES.