Hamster Corporation, the company behind the Arcade Archives series for the PlayStation 4 and the Nintendo Switch, revealed recently that it’s bringing another one of Nintendo’s Vs. games to the Switch– and it’s one that I’ve been hoping for: Vs. Baseball.
Many players will think this looks familiar, and it is. Nintendo converted it for its “Black Box” series of early games for the Nintendo Entertainment System, and it’s generally been panned by critics and the retro community at large. It’s easy to understand the complaints at first glance: fielding is automatic and generally unreliable. there aren’t any player stats or substitutions, and very little stands out about each of the game’s six teams except for their signifying letter and color. It’s a very bare-bones baseball experience, but the home version was stripped of what made the coin-op original so tense and addictive.
The coin-op version works on a declining points system. It’s much like a countdown timer that runs whenever the baseball is in play. When a pitch is on its way to the batter from the mound, points run off. As the ball is being fielded by the defense and thrown to a base, points run off. Worst of all, allowing any run to score subtracts 30 points at once– and, if the player gives up a homer, 30 more points are run off in addition to the 30 lost for each runner that scores. It’s a punishing system, but one that also makes players consider their pitches more carefully than usual.
When the player is able to score runs, the game adds 30 points per run scored. Hitting a grand slam can add 150 points to the total, which is half of what each credit starts with! This also adds to the tension in the game. If a batted ball is being chased by opposing fielders, it’s tempting to go for the run and the 30 extra points to avoid having to pop in another couple of tokens of quarters to refill the points.
The coin-op also differs from the NES conversion in that the perspective changes, depending on whether the player is hitting or pitching. On offense, the camera is focused on the hitter’s perspective. Pitches travel down the screen toward the batter. On defense, however, the perspective is from behind the pitcher; this means that pitches travel up toward the batter and that changing speeds is reversed. Holding up on the joystick or D-pad throws a fastball, while holding down throws an offspeed pitch. It’s not the easiest angle to judge whether a pitch catches the outside or inside corners of the plate, though computer-controlled batters have a tendency to swing at the outside offering.
Finally, the coin-op offers voice samples for umpire calls, which is a nice departure from the stale sound effects used for the NES conversion. The samples are surprisingly clear and authoritative, especially on strike calls. Voice work in video games wasn’t really new in 1984, but was still novel enough to catch the ear of players and passersby alike. The music is still largely the same in both versions, from the startup music to the triumphant home run jingle to the inning transition theme.
Is Vs. Baseball a great game? No. The flaws in fielding can be maddening, especially when they allow runs to score and whittle away the points pool. Even with the points, there’s still not a lot outstanding here by comparison; SEGA’s Champion Baseball from 1983 was sharper, had distinctive teams and stats, and was at least equally as engaging. That said, it’s a better game than the NES conversion that followed it. Much has been made here about the points system, but the difference that it makes in the overall experience can’t be understated. The computer opponent in Vs. Baseball is also a comeback machine, unlike the NES version; going up six runs early means nothing in the later innings, where players will often be fighting from behind after opposing batters keep finding soft spots in the defense and a few timely longballs leave the yard.
That said, it will be worth considering for Switch owners who like sports video games. Players who had never seen or played Vs. Baseball in arcades before will see what the NES game was based on. Returning players will be able to test their skills in a more controlled environment, without the need to keep feeding quarters or tokens into a machine to keep playing– especially when their teams are winning and they want to see the games through. Despite the fielding quirks, the rest of the game is accessible and easy to play.
Think about saving some quarters of your own for it when it comes out, presumably later this year.