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)

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

2 thoughts on “The Ref’s Roll Call: Five Favorite NES Baseball Games

    1. I actually do have Baseball Stars II in my library. I picked it up from my favorite local game store before I even got the first game; I knew that it was rather uncommon and was given a good deal on it– so why not, right? When I think of Baseball Stars II, the music instantly plays in my head. I really enjoy the march that plays and hearing the rap of the snare drum. I do need to spend more time with it than just playing a game here and there, and your ringing endorsement reminds me that I should.

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