Alongside 10-Yard Fight, Nintendo had another major American sport covered for the NES’ launch library. Simply titled Baseball, this game was a must-have title for many on the console’s release day. For some, it may even have been their first disappointment with Nintendo’s first gaming console.
What is says on the cover
Baseball is baseball. You have the option to pick between various different teams, differentiated only by their color scheme, and play a game of baseball. The game randomly decides which team starts out in the field and which one is up for batting.
What makes the game kind of remarkable is how much options it tries to give the player. The D-pad refers to all the different bases, so if you are the field team you can point in a direction and hit B to make the player on this base make a run for it, whereas the pitcher can do the same to throw the ball to the base to deny this. The pitcher also uses the D-pad to alter the kind of throw, with left and right causing a curveball, whereas up and down decide between a slow or fastball. The ball is then thrown with A, which is the same button the batter uses to strike.
The usual rules for baseball apply and wrapping your head around these controls isn’t too difficult. The problems lie in the little details, which is where Baseball constantly messes up. The AI is abysmal, especially for the field team. The players are terrible at tracking the ball and can waste a lot of time pacing back and forth, or just let a ball roll right past them without attempting to stop it. Players frequently freeze in place, with especially the catcher being really indecisive about whether they will pick up balls right in front of them or not.
Pitching also just doesn’t seem to work. I usually end up ramming the A-button constantly until finally the pitcher will throw the darn thing. Meanwhile, the AI pitcher will often just keep throwing feints or trying to out players waiting on the bases, sometimes leaving you standing there for 2 minutes while he wastes your time. The idea of letting you instruct players on bases with the D-pad is also novel and complex for a launch-day NES title, but it often means micro-managing as sometimes players will run on their own and at other times they won’t, sometimes even blocking the batter from getting to first base. Instructing them manually at that point is just too panicky and oftentimes just as unresponsive as the pitching.
The batting itself is simple to do, but I have to say the physics just feel random. I have had hits that felt terrible turn out to be home runs while fastballs that I hit dead center just drop to the ground instantly. I have also had the batter get stuck in his animation, which is an obnoxious and frequent little bug.
At the best of times, Baseball is a functional and decent sports game, but the AI is too poor and the physics too unreliable. The game also lacks any kind of career mode, though it does have a 2-player competitive mode.
Gameplay score: 2.5/10
The game’s graphics and animations are understandably minimal, with each of the game’s characters being identical clones with different clothes to separate the various teams. There is only one stadium you play in, but especially for this early in the NES it looks great.
The music is also simple and short, but nice for what it is. There is a menu theme, some sounds for when you change positions and hit home runs, though it doesn’t have any cheering like what 10-Yard Fight had.
Presentation score: 6/10
Between 10-Yard Fight and Golf, which I’ll review later, Baseball is both the most ambitious and least enjoyable of the NES’ launch library of sports games. The complicated control scheme is an intriguing feature, yet the game is finicky to play and often unresponsive. The AI also sours the experience entirely, for that reason alone I’d say this is a definitive skip. I commend Nintendo for trying, at least.