It can be argued that Konami took inspiration from Atari‘s Cyberball when developing Base Wars. Cyberball, released in arcades in 1988, substituted robots for humans on the football field and changed a few rules in the process. The concept of “downs” was replaced by an unstable ball that grew hotter after each offensive play. It could only be cooled down once, by reaching the 50-yard line. After that, unless the offense scored a touchdown, the ball would explode after reaching Critical status– and if an offensive player was in possession of the ball when it exploded, that player would be destroyed. Defensive players could also destroy offensive players by targeting them with a few hard hits. Otherwise, the game played very similarly to American football and was well-received in arcades.
Konami’s Base Wars— the first and unfortunately only game in the Cyber Stadium Series— is similar to Cyberball in many ways. Robots again replace humans on the field of play. Repairs and upgrades for robotic players are available. There are also some key rules changes that make the game stand on its own while still feeling very much like the sport it’s based on. But is this game worth the price of admission? That’s to be determined… After Further Review.
Players can take the field for a single game or in a short season mode called Pennant Race. Single games can be up to nine innings long, while Pennant Race games always go the full nine. Pitching is unique in that faster pitches can be fired by holding down the A button until the pitcher flashes. Batting is as easy as timing the swing with the pitch as it crosses the plate. Fielding is a weird mix between automatic and manual control. Most times, not pressing the D-pad when a batted ball is struck will allow the computer to move the fielder toward the ball; however, there are times when the computer stops the player short, allowing a catchable line drive to become a base hit. Caution should be used if deciding to manually move fielders too soon, as the camera often doesn’t keep up with the ball off the bat and it’s easy to erroneously move the fielder out of what would have been a decent position.
Baserunning is where Base Wars deviates from the norm. In a regular baseball game, when advancing to a base, the runner is automatically out if the defender covering that base has the ball and steps on the bag. Here, these force plays aren’t automatic; instead, this triggers an interactive battle sequence between the fielder with the ball and the runner. A limited fighting game breaks out in these cases, with players using fists or weapons to drain the other’s life bar. If the fielder wins, the runner is out. If the runner wins, the runner is safe. The battle sequence isn’t executed that well; the A button punches, the B button kicks, and pressing both together unleashes a special attack, similar to a Konami beat-’em-up like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game. Unfortunately, it often degrades into a button-mashing event that sometimes will leave players wondering why they lost. It’s a novel concept, but it could have used some fleshing out to work better.
The meat of the Base Wars experience is Pennant Race. Pennant Race allows up to six teams to compete in a season where each team can play up to 10 games. Pennant Race allows for each team to be edited, including the robot type, name, position, and handedness. Each of the teams can be controlled by a human player or by the computer, so this mode is great for having friends over and going a bit deeper than just one single game.
Pennant Race’s depth is fairly impressive for a game like this. There is some stat tracking, and league leaders for four categories. Season progress is saved to battery backup, including edited team info, statistics, and season standings. Perhaps more importantly, a Parts Shop allows team owners to repair and upgrade their players with money earned from each game played. Upgrades for speed, power, throwing strength, and weaponry are available. Being smart with upgrades and saving some cash for necessary repairs when a player is damaged during baserunning battles is important. Dropping $20,000 on an Ultra Shoulder upgrade often drains the bank account– and while this is a big offensive boost, it’s only for one player.
As usual with Konami’s NES efforts, Base Wars mostly impresses in the graphics department. There are some impressive cutscenes for home runs and during player repairs and upgrades between games. The pitcher/batter confrontation looks great, too, with detailed robot models and smooth animations. The baserunning battle sequences look good as well. Unfortunately, once a ball is in play, the graphics become more generic-looking and– as as mentioned above– the camera sometimes has a tough time tracking the ball off of the bat. Vertical scrolling is also occasionally uneven.
The sound here is great. The selection of voice samples for umpire calls works well, though the quality could be slightly better. The effects, including swings, the bat striking the ball, and the clangs and bangs of combat are all solid. The music is very good, too. The on-field music may get a bit repetitive after a few games in a row, but it’s never offensive. Other music tracks in the game what players have come to expect from Konami, with deep percussion and peppy melodies.
After Further Review, Base Wars is an NES baseball game that stands out from the rest and is fairly deep. Comparing Base Wars to RBI Baseball, Baseball Stars, or even Bad News Baseball isn’t really fair because this game takes chances that the others don’t. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely different and is more fun than frustrating. Consider platooning this one with your favorite NES baseball games and go to it every so often when you’re feeling like a change.
The robots will be waiting.
Buyer’s Guide: At the time of publication, the approximate average value for a cartridge-only version of Base Wars is about $10USD. A complete in box (CIB) copy is closer to $25– though, as with many NES games, CIB copies can vary in quality… especially when it comes to the boxes themselves. A manual isn’t required to learn the basics, but can be useful in figuring out the controls for editing teams. Finally, be aware that this game has a battery backup, and some of the cartridge batteries may not be working any longer. They are replaceable, either on your own or via someone else.