Coin Toss: Champion Baseball (SEGA, 1983)

Coin Toss: Champion Baseball (SEGA, 1983)

Pre-game huddle: The Coin Toss series spotlights sports-related arcade games from years gone by, with the inclusion of personal experiences from The Ref. Get those tokens ready!

In the mid-1980s, a significant number of my summer weekends were often (unwillingly) spent at White Birch Campground in Whately, Massachusetts. The rec hall was where I spent most of my time when I was there; it was an escape from the bugs and it had a few arcade games inside. These arcade games made me forget for awhile that I was stuck in the woods for a weekend, and I can’t count how many times that I would offer to do chores around the campsite for my mother or her mom to earn quarters to play them. Missile Command, Battlezone, Galaga, and Mr. Do’s Castle were the highlights… but there was one sports-related arcade game, and it single-handedly sparked my interest in baseball video games.

Champion Baseball Sheet

It was Champion Baseball, developed by Alpha Denshi (who would later team up with SNK for such games as Magician Lord and World Heroes) and published by a company called SEGA. A quarter was all that was needed to start a game, and games lasted until an inning ended in which the computer was ahead. In theory, players could last for nine innings and win the game on one quarter… but, as anyone who has played arcade games knows, that was a pretty rare feat.

Before the game starts, the player must choose a team. Champion Baseball doesn’t have any licenses, but it does have 12 teams from cities that have Major League Baseball teams. The rosters seem to have some MLB players on them, but since only first names are used (such as “Jim” for Jim Rice and “Bob” for Bob Stanley on the Boston roster), there are no legal entanglements. (For the record, as a kid who grew up in Massachusetts, I always picked Boston.)

CBTeams
Boston v. New York. The Rivalry renewed.

Players always begin Champion Baseball on offense at the start and then pitch the bottom of the inning to try and keep the computer from jumping ahead by pushing runs across. The batter’s view is interesting, as the pitcher/batter showdown takes place on the far left quarter of the screen. The pitcher is at the top and the batter is at the bottom. Batting is a pretty simple process; position the batter in the batter’s box, time and position swings to make the best contact, and grab extra bases when the opportunity arises after contact. Scoring some runs off of the computer in the top of the first inning can happen, but it’s equally possible to be held scoreless by the CPU. Pitchers will run their stuff on both sides of the plate and they seem to really like blazing a fastball running in towards the hitter and catching the inside corner for strikes, so crowding the plate as a batter is an ill-advised strategy.

CBBatter1
PROTIP: Beware the inside fastball.

The bottom of the inning switches the pitcher/batter view to the far right quarter of the screen. The pitcher is now at the bottom of the screen, delivering to the batter at the top. Fastballs are thrown by pressing the joystick up, while offspeed pitches can be thrown by holding down on the stick after delivery. Pitches can be steered left and right, so players can get plenty of movement on them. Corner-nibbling is a good strategy, as is changing speeds. Pitches left over the heart of the plate will often be crushed by the computer, so, y’know… don’t do that.

The problem with defense, as it is in Nintendo‘s Baseball game, is that the fielders are largely operated by the CPU. Sometimes they are in great position to make plays, and other times– mostly when the human player has the lead– fielders tend to forget how to play. If a ball gets over a fielder’s head, the fielder doesn’t exactly move quickly to get it. It’s still possible to gun advancing runners down, but players must remember to use the joystick to declare which base is being thrown to. Otherwise, runners can safe on erroneous throws to incorrect bases… and this almost always leads to runs scored for the CPU.

CBPitcher
This could be trouble.

There’s also a bit of “Rubber band AI” in Champion Baseball, much like we will see in later arcade sports games such as NBA Jam and NFL Blitz. If the human player jumps out to a big lead, say 6-0 after a half an inning, don’t expect that lead to last. What would normally be fly outs wind up becoming bloop hits, even the slightest of pitch mistakes will be taken deep, and it seems to be almost too easy to throw to a wrong base. Before long, even after just half an inning, that 6-0 lead can be cut down to 6-5 or lost completely. I once had a 7-0 lead after two innings and thought I was in the clear… until the computer somehow came back with eight runs in the bottom of the inning and my game unceremoniously ended. It can be vicious.

As this is an arcade game, Champion Baseball does have a point-scoring system and its own leaderboard to shoot for logging your initials onto. Points are accumulated for many actions. Players get 10 points just for hitting the ball, and then there are points scored for touching first base, second, third, and home plate. On defense, strikes and outs score points for players. If you score a lot of runs, you’ll make the leaderboard for sure. Defensive contests aren’t as likely to rack up enough points to qualify.

IMG_2393
That score is good enough for first place on the scoreboard.

In spite of Champion Baseball‘s flaws, it was a highly addictive game in its day. The prospect of playing nine innings (and getting more than one or two minutes out of one quarter) was alluring. The game was (and still is) very easy to play. For 1983, the graphics and sound were really quite good; the player models have decent detail on the pitcher/batter screen, and there’s some digitized speech for umpire calls to go with the game’s peppy music. Sure, it does sometimes feel like the CPU cheats, but that doesn’t necessarily take away from the feelings you get when you bring home a couple of runs on a base hit or take a huge lead on a three-run bomb to left center field.

While playing Champion Baseball for two summers, my personal interest in baseball rose. I started listening to Red Sox radio broadcasts and watching games on television. I learned many of the rules and began to understand and appreciate the game. It wasn’t until I got a Commodore 64 in the summer of 1986 and played a game called Hardball! that I began to pull back on spending so much money on this game.

Hardball! and my Commodore 64 would eventually give way in the 1990s to RBI Baseball and my NES, Super Bases Loaded and my SNES, World Series Baseball and my Genesis, and Triple Play Baseball and my PlayStation. While I appreciate the journey through baseball video games that I’ve enjoyed over the last 30 years… it started with Champion Baseball at this small campground in Whately, Massachusetts. That game– and that place will always have special places in my memories.

WB RecHall
The rec hall at White Birch still stands today, more than 30 years later.

One last thing: If you’d like to try Champion Baseball for yourselves, you can, thanks to The Internet Arcade. It’s not a perfect replica of the game that I sank dozens of quarters into from 1984-1989, but it’s pretty close. A controller– such as an Xbox 360 wired controller– works best. If you play it, please let me know what you think!

The Ref’s Roll Call: Five Favorite NES Baseball Games

The Ref’s Roll Call: Five Favorite NES Baseball Games

The 2016 Major League Baseball season is almost set to begin, so this week will be dedicated to baseball video games… and I can’t think of a better way to start than to share this list of my favorite baseball games for the NES.

Before we get underway, a couple of rules from The Ref:

  • Only one game in a series can make this list. For example, RBI Baseball and RBI Baseball 2 can’t take two spots of the five.
  • Games that I don’t own– and therefore, might not have played, are ineligible for this list. So, if you’re asking about why Dusty Diamond’s All-Star Softball isn’t here… there you go.

Take your spot in the batter’s box, slugger. It’s time to play ball.

 

Number 5: Baseball Stars (Published by SNK; Released in 1989)

BaseballStarsTitle

There’s no question that Baseball Stars brings a ton of features to the table. Team creation and editing, stat tracking for customizable seasons, very good music and graphics, and more await those who pop this game into their NES consoles. It’s a good game, and it certainly earns its spot on this list of personal favorites.

Baseball Stars offers a ton of replay value. Playing through a full season (probably) isn’t something you’re likely to do in one sitting, and it’s neat to watch each player’s stats rise and fall as the season progresses. There’s also the addictive aspect of signing players and firing players, which adds a team manager role for players and really sets Baseball Stars apart from its competition on the NES.

BaseballStarsStill
More like Beanball Stars!

The reason that Baseball Stars doesn’t rank higher on my list has to do with the gameplay. Fielding can be a pain, and the pitcher/batter showdown tends to skew a bit more advantageously towards the pitcher. I can understand why some other players may prefer this setup over a more offensive-minded game, but I’m more of a fan of hits and runs. As for the fielding, my issues with that could have to do with there being so much open grass or turf to navigate.

If you’re interested in adding Baseball Stars to your NES library, PriceCharting has the game valued at around $11 USD for a loose copy… and nearly $24 for a complete copy. The game is easy enough to play without documentation, so a loose cart will provide you with hours of fun without too much hassle.

 

Number 4: Base Wars (Published by Ultra/Konami; Released in 1991)

BasewarsTitle

Base Wars takes the Cyberball route and substitutes robotic players for the highly paid (and oft-injured) human athletes of centuries gone by. What we get as a result is a more powerful– and more violent– version of America’s pastime. Base Wars does have its flaws, but the overall gameplay is solid, the presentation is very good, and the game provides plentiful options to keep players coming back for weeks.

Base Wars brings one very important rules change in its interpretation of baseball: No force outs or tag outs. Whether a runner is safe or out depends on the outcome of a literal battle that takes places between the runner and the fielder, and it’s a fun battle to take part in. Fists and weapons can be involved, and it’s a slugfest until one robot is left standing. Baseball purists will likely hate this change, but sports fans looking for something different will love it.

BasewarsStill
It’s Lasergun Day at the ballpark.

Despite some issues that I have with fielding– and how the camera doesn’t seem to react fast enough to batted balls, which makes fielding tougher than it should be– I still like what Konami did here. As with Baseball Stars, there’s plenty of customization and an option to play through a battery-backed season. The graphics and sound are also great, but that’s an expectation from most Konami games.

Base Wars should run you about $10 for a loose cart and about $24 for a complete copy of the game, according to PriceCharting. The game is generally easy enough to pick up and play without a manual, though you might want to check online for documentation on the robot fighting sequences.

 

Number 3: Baseball Simulator 1.000 (Published by Culture Brain; Released in 1990)

BaseballSimTitle

Baseball Simulator 1.000 can be as goofy or as serious as you want it to be. Ultra powers can make a game goofy; flaming fastballs can saw through bats, batted balls can spear opposing fielders and carry them to the outfield fence, and more. More serious players can play baseball traditionally, with the usual assortment of pitching, hitting, and fielding that they’re used to. The game’s customization and variety in gameplay styles make it a great (and relatively inexpensive) addition to any NES library.

At its core, Baseball Simulator 1.000 offers full season play (up to 165 games) for up to six teams. Fairly intensive stat tracking takes place across the season, with leaders posted in batting average, home runs, runs batted in, wins, earned run average, and saves. It’s not quite Tecmo Super Bowl levels of stat tracking, but still impressive. Teams can also be fully edited, although names can only be four characters long. This customization also extends to player abilities and assigning any Ultra powers desired– if you choose to enable them.

BaseballSimStill
Alex isn’t getting out of the first inning. Nope.

As much as I like Baseball Simulator 1.000, it’s not perfect. The biggest gripe occurs during simulated games during a season. The games can take 5 minutes (or more!) to simulate, so playing through a full season often winds up being accompanied by lots of waiting. Thankfully, Culture Brain sped this up for the game’s SNES sequel… but that won’t help you here. Additionally, the graphics here are a bit bland, though they’re passable.  There isn’t a lot of speech here, but the music is fine.

PriceCharting shows a loose Baseball Simulator 1.000 cart to be valued at around $6, while a complete copy is about $12. Most of the game can be played without instructions; however, enabling Ultra moves may require new players to read up on them either via a scan of the manual or through FAQs. I still go back to this game from time and time, and I do recommend it.

 

Number 2: RBI Baseball 2 (Published by Tengen; Released in 1990)

RBI2Title

I know what you’re probably thinking: “How can this not be RBI Baseball? It’s a classic!”

Simply put, RBI Baseball 2 made changes for the better and is therefore a better pick. There’s an instant replay feature, the player models look better than in the first game, and none of the things that made the original into such a classic are lost in the sequel.

If I was to nitpick the original RBI Baseball from 1988, my biggest gripe would be that the players all look fa– err… big-boned. It’s very cartoony. That’s fine, except that the game had the MLBPA license and access to real players in the game. The players in RBI Baseball didn’t look even remotely “real”… but the models in RBI Baseball 2 definitely look the part. It just feels like a natural progression for the game after its more humble mid-80s beginnings as a coin-op. The addition of replays after diving stops, home runs, and close plays at a base adds more presentation value… and a way to trash-talk your buddy after tagging him or her for a 3-run dinger to take the lead.

RBI2Still
Let’s go to the replay. That ball was crushed!

The lack of a battery backup is a downside to RBI Baseball as a series, including this game. Thankfully, cell phone cameras eliminate the need to write down passwords as we can simply take a photo of the password and enter it in as needed. There also isn’t stat tracking, as we’ve seen in the earlier games on this list. That said, RBI Baseball 2 isn’t necessarily worse because of these omissions. It still has the important tools: intuitive play controls, decent graphics and sound, the use of real Major League Baseball players, and it’s fun to play. No matter which RBI Baseball game of the three for the NES that you pick, you should own at least one for your library. The series is classic.

RBI Baseball 2 is currently valued at around $8 USD for a loose cartridge, and at about $23 USD for a complete copy, according to PriceCharting.. Unless you’re a serious collector, a loose cart will more than suffice; there aren’t any complexities that need a manual to clear up and the play controls are easy to learn. If you only own one baseball game in your NES library, it should be an RBI Baseball game– regardless of what my #1 game is.

Speaking of that honor… it’s time to reveal number 1. Here’s the pitch…

 

Number 1: Bad News Baseball (Published by Tecmo, Released in 1990)

BNBTitle

It doesn’t utilize licensed athletes like the RBI Baseball series does. It doesn’t track stats, offer a full season mode, or have a battery backup like some of the other games on this list do. However, silly bunny umpires aside, Tecmo’s Bad News Baseball is the most accessible, most straightforward, and most enjoyable baseball game for the NES that I have ever played. Simplicity is what vaults this game to the top of my list.

The pitcher/batter showdown is pure here. Pitchers often have the upper hand early, thanks to full stamina, and can blow away unsuspecting batters with 101+ mph cheese. It’s not always so, however, as quick reflexes can get a batter to hammer a leadoff homer to right and set the tone for an offense-laden game. What’s more, pitcher performance greatly varies according to effort; if you throw a lot of fastballs or offspeed stuff early, your pitcher will be tired by the third inning… so you must use your stuff wisely. Batting is all timing, so it’s easy to do– but difficult to time well at times, especially against new pitchers or pitchers with great ball movement. Fielding is also easy, much like in RBI Baseball, and it’s possible to pull off some nice diving plays or time when to move your fielders and where.

BNBStill
Painting the corner.

Bad News Baseball, much like the RBI Baseball games, relies on a “beat them all” system for its “season”. Pitcher stamina is key; if your starter in the last game went long and used almost all of his stamina, he or she is likely gone for a few games; meanwhile, shorter pitching stints can lead to coming back sooner. It’s also possible to start a pitcher without full stamina, if he or she is preferred (based on speed or movement), but a close eye must be kept on that pitcher and the bullpen needs to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. Timely hitting, strong pitching, and good fielding will be needed to beat all of the teams in the game and come out on top.

It’s also worth noting that Tecmo’s trademark cutscenes do appear in Bad News Baseball. Close plays at a base and home runs usually lead to some of these appearing. After a home run, for example, you might see the ball hit so hard that it leaves Earth’s orbit or boys in the dugout cheering while their coach sleeps. These cutscenes aren’t a big deal, but they do convey the game’s general message of fun over seriousness… and I think that’s a part of the charm of Bad News Baseball.

The price for Bad News Baseball is cheaper than Baseball Stars or Base Wars. PriceCharting shows the loose cartridge value to be around $9 USD, with complete copies going for around $13. The game is easy to play without a manual, although some statistics layouts may not make much contextual sense without peeking at a scan of a manual or using online FAQs. That said, they’re really not make-or-break levels of important.

And… there you have The Ref’s list of favorite NES baseball games. I’m almost certain that yours will differ, so now it’s time for YOU to make the call in the comments below. What are your five (or three, or even one) favorite baseball games for the NES? I’d love to hear what your picks are.

Baseball Week continues with my list of favorite 16-bit baseball games coming soon, as well as a new Upon Further Review.

Challenge Flag: Baseball (NES)

Challenge Flag: Baseball (NES)

Pre-game huddle: The Challenge Flag series brings games that have been considered to be below average– or just plain bad– in front of the Retro Referee to get a fresh ruling. Will he overturn the call, or let it stand?

Baseball is one of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s earliest releases. Based at least in part upon Nintendo’s Vs. Baseball coin-op, this game has been generally panned by modern-day reviewers and by retro collectors alike. Complaints about the game include a weak feature set, generic teams and players, automatic (and inconsistent) fielding, and more.

Is Baseball really a bad game, though? The Challenge Flag has been thrown, so it’s time to give it a look and see if the general ruling by reviewers and collectors stands.

Looking into the complaints about Baseball, they are valid. For starters, there are few features or options, except for choosing to play a solo game or a game against a human opponent and choosing one of six teams (A, C, D, P, R, or Y) to play as. That’s it. There aren’t individual players to make up each team, and there aren’t any statistics for players. The generic presentation here doesn’t give players much to be interested in. It’s one team of random players versus another, and other retro baseball games do this better with teams, players, statistics, and more.

BaseballFielderGaffe
That’s an E-6.

The complaint about automatic fielding is also a fair one, though it’s mostly because of the inconsistency of fielders to make standard plays. Outfielders misplay fly balls too often, and grounders seem to find their way through infielders’ legs a bit too much. These fielding gaffes can turn a 5-1 contest into a 5-5 tie in a hurry, even with a decent pitching performance with accurate placement and variable speeds. If a hitter makes contact, the defense could very well be hamstrung by poor CPU play… instead of giving a player the chance to make that catch or play (or not). It leaves too much to chance.

While the complaints about Baseball are understood, there are some things that I’m considering before upholding the ruling about it being a bad game.

VsBaseball
Vs. Baseball in play. Note the Points count on the right side of each screen.

First, Baseball was changed from what was a pretty good coin-operated arcade game. Vs. Baseball incorporated a points system that didn’t make the transition to the NES. The points system was, basically, a countdown timer; as the game progressed, points would decrease at a steady rate. Points could be earned by scoring runs, and they were lost more quickly by giving up runs to the opposing team. While the points system was certainly used to get players to pony up tokens or quarters to continue playing, it also encouraged strong play to extend how long each token or quarter lasted. Taking away the points system stripped Baseball of its main draw, and left behind a bare bones baseball game.

Second, it’s reasonable to argue that the teams in Baseball are supposed to represent Major League Baseball teams. Since Nintendo didn’t have the MLB license, single letters were used to get around that obstacle and represent six popular franchises:

  • A: Athletics (Oakland)
  • C: Cardinals (St. Louis)
  • D: Dodgers (Los Angeles)
  • P: Phillies (Philadelphia)
  • R: Royals (Kansas City)
  • Y: Yankees (New York)
BaseballTeams
The Philadelphia Phillies versus the Kansas City Royals? Could be.

The instruction manual doesn’t mention anything about this, but if you consider that the uniform colors match up and that these teams were pretty prominent at the time of Baseball’s release… the theory has merit. Of course, Nintendo wouldn’t note that the letters were short for MLB teams; unfortunately, the cryptic lettering and lack of specific players and their stats makes this hard to figure out. It’s also tough to pinpoint whether the Athletics hit for more power or if the Dodgers have better pitching, as their MLB counterparts back then had. That said, if you’re a fan of one of the six teams that are purported represented here, perhaps you might have a bit more of an affinity for Baseball now than you might have before reading this.

The final point that I consider when evaluating this game is the meat and potatoes of any baseball game: the pitcher versus batter matchup. Hitting and pitching are very simple and intuitive to execute in Baseball, and that is a positive thing for the game. Hitting is all about timing, and it’s very satisfying to take a fastball over the wall for a dinger or to pull a pitch down the line for extra bases. Pitching is surprisingly deep for such an early NES baseball game; changing speeds can really throw batters off balance, and moving pitches inside and outside effectively can catch a few hitters looking at called strikes.

BaseballHR
I’ll resist the urge to make a “Back, back, back!” Chris Berman call here.

In my view, the pitcher/batter battle in Baseball is a fun one to take part in. Maybe it’s a bit too simplistic for some, but keeping in mind that it’s an arcade game at its core, that simplicity would be attractive for a wider range of potential players. It’s an asset here because almost anyone can simply pick up and play Baseball. There aren’t more advanced things to consider, such as pinch hitters or relief pitchers. It’s a very straightforward game, and while that doesn’t appeal to everyone, it’s got a certain charm in its direct, no-nonsense approach to the game.

After considering all sides, I find that Baseball for the NES is not as bad as many claim it to be… overturning the initial ruling, after further review.

Yes, it’s generic. Yes, automatic fielding can be a hindrance at times. Those complaints hold water; however, I find credibility in the ACDPRY team theory and I genuinely have fun playing Baseball. Of course, I won’t play 162-game seasons and keep a book of stats when playing, but I do enjoy the relatively quick nine innings of arcade-style baseball that’s being offered here. It’s more fun when playing against a friend, but playing solo can generate some close games, too.

Baseball isn’t in the same class as the best baseball games on the NES, but given that it’s an early game within the console’s life cycle and that it’s a somewhat neutered coin-op conversion (instead of an original, from the ground up effort), it’s a decent game for what it is.

Collector’s note: As of this writing, PriceCharting has Baseball for the NES valued at around $4 USD for a loose cart and around $18 USD for a CIB (complete in box) item.

Scouting Report: Legends of the Diamond (NES)

Scouting Report: Legends of the Diamond (NES)

As we’re well into Spring Training, it’s a good time to look at some baseball games… including this one that just recently found a place in Retro Central: Legends of the Diamond for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

I’ve only spent a couple of innings with this one so far, but I do have some initial thoughts on it:

LegendsWindup

The big draw in this game is the inclusion of well-known baseball players from eras gone by. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Whitey Ford, Roberto Clemente, and other stars are in Legends of the Diamond, which is interesting. Whitey Ford throwing to (and trying to retire) Babe Ruth is a dream scenario… and this game lets you live it out. Kind of.

I say “Kind of” because the players all look the same on the screen. Only the names and the stats can help players figure out who is who. Yes, this is an NES game, so graphics are what they are… but there’s aren’t many height, weight, or appearance differences here. You just kind of have to roll with it.

Legends of the Diamond plays like many NES baseball games do, which isn’t a bad thing. Batting and pitching are simple to execute, and pitching has just enough strategy with changing speeds and locations to keep the pitcher/batter battle tense. If the batter puts the ball in play, though… controlling fielders to track down the ball is a royal pain. The camera doesn’t seem to track the ball well at times (shades of Base Wars, which will be covered soon) and fielder positioning is not all that advantageous. It definitely takes some getting used to.

LegendsHit

So far, Legends of the Diamond hasn’t done enough to get into the conversation about the best baseball games for the NES. There are penalty flags on the lackluster visuals and the issue with fielding, and the inclusion of historic baseball players isn’t enough to offset these problems.

Perhaps some more innings and experience will change my call, but early on, Legends of the Diamond is more of a foul ball than a base hit.

Upon Further Review: Arch Rivals (SEGA Genesis)

Upon Further Review: Arch Rivals (SEGA Genesis)

Arch Rivals is a 2-on-2 arcade basketball game from Bally/Midway that first saw life as a coin-op in 1989. The game features lots of scoring from in close and from long range, high-flying dunks, and strong defense through rough steals and shot blocks. If this formula sounds kind of familiar… well, it should. Many of these same gameplay ideas were finely tuned and put to fantastic use in a 1993 arcade game that you’ve probably heard of: NBA Jam. Far fewer people remember or have even played Arch Rivals, though, and that’s too bad.

This ref looks nothing like me.
This ref looks nothing like me.

For the uninitiated, here’s a brief overview of Arch Rivals. After choosing a team (from a selection of generic city names and funny school names), each player selects one of eight different athletes to control. Each athlete has his own area of expertise; Hammer, for example, is a great rebounder while Lewis is a skilled shooter. Once the athletes have been selected, the game consists of four 4-minute quarters and plays mostly like standard basketball. There are two-point and three-point shots, and players can either keep the ball and dribble across to the other basket to score or pass to the other teammate.

There are two key differences in Arch Rivals that make it interesting (and more fun). The first difference is that there are no fouls called. This means that stealing the ball from an opposing player is as easy as punching him in the face and picking up the ball when he crumples to the ground. The other difference is the inclusion of on-court debris, such as trash or even a team mascot. Running into these on the court causes the player to fall down and lose possession of the ball.

That had to hurt.
That had to hurt.

The first home console port of Arch Rivals was published for the NES by Acclaim in 1990 and developed by RARE. The Genesis port arrived two years later, published by Flying Edge (which was Acclaim’s publishing arm for SEGA). The NES port will get its own review down the line; this one is all about the Genesis version– for better and for worse.

What stands out about the Genesis port right away is how the game looks. It’s a very close copy of the arcade game, graphically. The player models look good, the cutscenes between quarters are spot on, and the game never slows down or flickers. One minor complaint is that the players in the Genesis port may look a little more cartoonish than their coin-op counterparts, but it doesn’t sour the overall look of the game that much. The transitions between screens from game start to team selection to player selection do tend to go on a bit too long and can’t be skipped. Aside from those gripes, though, Arch Rivals looks just about as good as the arcade original.

This port looks great. But...
This port looks great. But…

While this port looks great on the Genesis, there are some problems. The game moves fast– almost too fast. It’s easy for players to run past where they want to be on the screen because the players seemingly glide across the court, as though they are on ice. This is especially noticeable when going for steals or trying to grab a loose ball. The dunk animations seen in this port are also, well… not very good. The dunks are not slowed down enough for effect, so they’re not as impactful as they should be. Even more disappointing is the sequence of shattering the backboard, which should be a high point of the game– but is just another two points with little fanfare here.

The speed of the players and of the on-screen action plays havoc with the gameplay in the Genesis version of Arch Rivals. There are odd sequences where passing the ball to a teammate can miss the target. It can be too difficult to avoid debris on the court because players run so fast. It’s also tough to maneuver around defenders and avoid their punches as they go for the ball. The NES port and the coin-op original both ran a bit more deliberately without sacrificing the intensity of the action, and both games were better for that. This version simply moves too fast for its own good.

"Cleanup on the near court. Bill!"
“Cleanup on the near court. Bill!”

Sadly, Arch Rivals doesn’t have any kind of Season mode or ladder play where players can square off against the other teams in the game. This omission didn’t affect the coin-op, but the NES port and this port both suffer from a lack of replay value. Aside from entering your initials if you score enough points after four quarters (and you will), there isn’t any kind of battery backup or password system to keep your best efforts saved… unless you keep a running written (or typed) log of games played.

There’s also an issue with the relative ease of CPU opponents, if you play by yourself. In my first game on the Genesis, I beat the CPU by 101 points. Arch Rivals is best experienced with a friend, especially one who can supply a decent challenge. Otherwise, playing against the CPU is as easy as taking advantage of noticing patterns in opposing team movements, anticipating them, punching the player in the beak, stealing the ball, and driving the lane for a jam. Human opponents are usually less predictable, and therefore should require a bit more effort to get past.

Lewis has a deadly outside shot. Pick him for massive damage.
Lewis (lower left) has a deadly outside shot. Pick him for massive damage.

Of the available ways to check out this forerunner to NBA Jam, the Genesis port of Arch Rivals is not the best way. The NES port from RARE runs really well and does a great job of bringing the arcade home. Emulations of the coin-op original are available on compilation discs, including Midway Arcade Treasures 2 (PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Gamecube) and Midway Arcade Origins (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3), and bring the arcade home without owning a cabinet. I’d recommend these versions over the Genesis version; however, if a SEGA Genesis is the only console or the main console that you’re getting your retro fix on– especially for sports games– then Arch Rivals is worth a look… for the right price.

Collector’s note: As of this writing, PriceCharting has Arch Rivals for the Genesis valued at around $5.00 USD for a loose cart and $10.00 USD for a CIB (complete in box) item.

Pre-Game Introductions

Pre-Game Introductions

Greetings, friends, and welcome to the Retro Referee website.

My name is Peter Skerritt, and I am the Retro Referee. If my name sounds familiar, that’s because I’ve been writing and talking about video games for years. I have most recently been working on my Consoleation series of videos on YouTube, as well as writing articles for the great Retroware website from time to time.

Video games are my passion, but sports video games have always held an extra special place within that passion– and now, I feel that the time has finally come to trot that passion onto the field to share with all of you.

This website will revolve around sports video games from years gone by. I’ll be writing about them, sharing photos (and even some video) of them, and saluting the games that many players– and video game collectors– have left behind. NBA Jam and Tecmo Super Bowl will get their time in the spotlight, but so will many other games that players may have forgotten about or overlooked. Do you remember the Irem Skins Game for the SNES? How about MLB Pennant Race for the original PlayStation? Or how about Bad News Baseball for the NES? All of these games, and many more, represent what the Retro Referee project is all about.

Since I began putting together my library of retro video games back in 2012, collecting retro sports games has a focus of mine. Employees at video game stores always ask me the same thing: “Why do you keep buying old sports games?” This website, which I’ve been brainstorming for nearly four years, is why. I have dozens of games to play and to write about, and there’s no shortage of potential content.

While sports video games will be the main focus here at the Retro Referee website, there be will be other stuff to check out here as well. Observations about and suggestions for collecting classic video games and systems will be found here. Links to my other work will be found here from time to time. I may also roll out some other miscellaneous pieces in the coming months.

Retro Referee is still in pre-game mode, until the Spring semester of classes ends for me. There will be some content early on, but things will ramp up more once school ends. For now, be sure to bookmark this new website– as well as checking out the Retro Referee on Twitter and on Facebook.

So, take your seats, grab some popcorn, and get ready… because the game will begin soon.