It’s been a fun week of talking baseball, and now it’s time to deliver my first Starting Five. I’m going to list five of my favorite baseball video games, with […]
It’s been a fun week of talking baseball, and now it’s time to deliver my first Starting Five. I’m going to list five of my favorite baseball video games, with a few sentences for each to explain why they make the lineup. This isn’t in any particular order. I have narrowed the list to a few consoles, mostly because there are so many baseball games out there that it’s almost impossible for me to include only five if I delve into more recent platforms. It also leaves open the possibility of another one of these for those later on.
Now that you know the rules, let’s look at my starters:
Bad News Baseball (Tecmo for NES, 1989): I’ve made my love for this game known on social media for some time. It’s not because it broke any major ground when it came to baseball games, but rather because I really enjoy playing it. The cutscenes that play after home runs or after close baserunning plays really add to the experience for me, and it’s got an almost Little League kind of atmosphere going on. Cutscenes mean nothing, though, if the gameplay isn’t any good– and that’s certainly not the case here. Pitching and fielding are responsive, and batting is easy. There’s some strategy in play for those who are looking to “beat” the game by defeating all of the teams. Pitcher stamina must be monitored… and, if the starter tires too quickly, tough decisions about bringing in another starter or hoping to be stingy on pitch counts with a reliever come into play. If you haven’t played Bad News Baseball yet, and you’re a fan of the of the sport– or just a fan of sports games in general, you need to put this one into your own starting lineup.
World Series Baseball (Blue Sky/SEGA for Genesis, 1994): If you watched this week’s #Unsealed episode in the Film Room, you already know why this game is here. Simply put, in my view, this is the best 16-bit baseball game ever made. With its full MLB and MLBPA licenses, its presentation, its strong (for the time) commentary and line delivery, its accessibility and easy-to-learn play controls, its sharp graphics, and its battery backup to play out any season scenario… World Series Baseball is still one of the finest versions of America’s Pastime out there. Yearly updates for this game came out later on, but the original was the trendsetter. This would be definitely be on a Top 10 list for sports video games for the Genesis, and potentially on a list with the best sports games of all time. It’s that good.
RBI Baseball 3 (Tengen for NES, 1991): The last of the “traditional” RBI games, this one is the most refined of the NES trilogy. Yes, there’s a version of this for the Genesis, but it’s not as well-executed. While some would argue that the visual shift from the first game’s cutesy super-deformed player models to the more realistic ones seen in the sequels, I think it looks better. The use of automatic replays to show home runs and highlight plays is a nice touch. Finally, the inclusion of 28 past division-winning team rosters– in addition to the regular 1990 rosters for each team– is a nice historical touch. Perhaps it’s not as visually charming as the original, and its lack of MLB team licensing may irk some modern gaming fans, but RBI 3 is my go-to when I feel like revisiting the series during some downtime.
Super Baseball Simulator 1.000 (Culture Brain for SNES, 1991): This one was a tossup with Base Wars as the “different” kind of baseball game. In the end, Super Baseball Simulator 1.000 won out because it’s a deeper experience and can either be played traditionally or with unique “Ultra” powers that give it an arcade-like feel. Like Base Wars, this game has a Season mode and a battery backup to save everything– but seasons can last for as many as 165 games here! Add deeper stat tracking in all areas, setting base stats for player abilities, faster simulation of CPU-controlled games, and the option to customize game length and game type in a season… and it’s hard not to pick this one over Konami’s effort. Ultra plays are completely optional, but can be fun to use. Fastballs that can saw bats in two, batted balls that land as mines in the outfield, pitches that stop and resume on the way to the plate, and more await– but strategy is needed, because each Ultra play draws from a team’s pool of Ultra points. Once those are gone, it can create a severe disadvantage. Maybe this one needs an After Further Review of its own!
Super Bases Loaded (TOSE/Jaleco for SNES, 1991): The premise here is unique. It’s not just about winning a game, but instead winning while making as few mistakes as possible. This adds more pressure than you might think to each game. It makes you more defensive on two-strike pitches, because striking out costs you when the final evaluation score is tabulated. Even if you’re blowing out the computer, one mistake can be all the separates you from a perfect score of 100, so every out counts. This is my favorite Bases Loaded game and lands on this list because of the concept. It’s not easy, even though the game gives you the chance to create your own teams and make them as powerful as you want… and “beating the game” here requires you to beat the toughest difficulty setting to do so. It took me 26 years to do that, and I did it when I was reviewing the game for a certain SNES guidebook back in 2017. I haven’t been able to duplicate the feat since, but I still try from time to time. It’s quite the challenge.
Of course, every Starting Five is complemented by a group of bench players– so here are some baseball games didn’t make this list, but still deserve a few words:
- Base Wars (Konami for NES, 1991): Robots playing baseball, and it’s from Konami? I’m in. Check out my After Further Review feature on it!
- Super Batter Up (Namco for SNES, 1992): The spiritual successor to RBI Baseball, taking advantage of the more powerful SNES for better visuals and sound.
- Little League Championship Series (SNK for NES, 1990): Yeah, it’s weird, but I’ll take this over Baseball Stars. I like its more straightforward approach and fun personality.
- Hardball ’95 (Mindspan/Accolade for Genesis, 1995): The Hardball series spanned four games on the Genesis, and this final one is the best of the lot. Al Michaels rules!
- Relief Pitcher (Left Field/Atari for SNES): This is a conversion of a little-known arcade game, and it gets right to the point. No full games, but tough situations to pitch (or hit) out of. It’s uncommon to find, but a game worth checking out if you find it.
What’s your Starting Five for baseball video games? Feel free to leave yours in the comments, or you can reach out to me on Twitter and tell me there!