Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Game 269: Baseball

Baseball might no longer be America's favorite pastime, having conceded that ground to football long ago, but it's still Japan's. And now, thanks to Data Driven Gamer, I've played takes on both sports by video game developers in both countries.

If 10-Yard Fight was an oddly playing counterpart to my post on Computer Quarterback, then Nintendo's Baseball is a comparatively straightforward counterpart to Computer Baseball. As one might surmise from the target platforms, developing companies, and even their titles, one's a hardcore strategy sim where stats dictate everything, and the other a casual arcade-style game where strategy is minimal and stats don't even exist, as the teams and players are all identical. This one does, at least, seem to more or less follow the rules and flow of baseball, certainly with more accuracy than how 10-Yard Fight portrayed football.

Baseball is among the first Nintendo games made specifically for the Famicom. Its launch titles, which I covered a few months ago, were all ports of their major arcade platformers, and the year also saw two educational spinoffs, and Othello and Mahjong cartridges, which may be based on Computer TV Game and Computer Mahjong, respectively. Only Baseball appears to be a Famicom original, unless we take the view that this game is just an adaptation of Gunpei Yokoi's Ultra Machine.

As Baseball supports two players - it would be weird if it didn't - I played a game with "B." We played the U.S. version, which as far as I can tell differs from the original Japanese version only by team names, showing TOP/BOT on the inning display, and by measuring pitches in mph instead of km/h.


I went with the team "A" and he picked "P." Athletics and Phillies, maybe? The only difference it makes is the uniform colors.

The core mechanic of Baseball, as in the sport, is the duel between the pitcher and batter, and everything else is peripheral. You don't even have any control over the fielders except for passes, and the runners similarly act on their own, though they can be manually advanced. The pitcher pitches with the A button, special pitches can be selected by holding a direction on the d-pad beforehand, and the batter bats with a well-timed A press.

Once the ball flies, the runners advance based on the situation - aggressively when there are two outs, cautiously on grounders, sticking put on flies, while the fielders go for the ball on their own, sometimes to a hilariously inept effort. Once someone catches it, it may be passed to a baseman with the B button, holding the corresponding direction on the D-pad first (down for home, right for first base, etc.). Runners may likewise be manually advanced with the B button, first holding the direction corresponding to their starting base (or down to advance them all), and may attempt steals by doing this early.

"B" trounced me thoroughly in an 11-5 game. I'd like to think that I got unlucky with poor-performing outfielders that I couldn't control, but fact is, he pitched a better game than me, and my fielders had more chances to screw up. He was especially fond of "pitching around," and too often I'd instinctively chase and miss a pitch I had no chance of hitting, turning a ball into a strike. Consequently, he got more chances to score, and did.

Here's a montage of the game's worst moments of Keystone Cops grade fielding.

 GAB rating: Average. I'm not a baseball fan, so this game wasn't going to rate very highly in the first place, but we both enjoyed the game while it lasted. It's obviously pretty simplistic, lacking stats, pitcher fatigue, or much in the way of strategy, but nevertheless, Baseball gets surprisingly good mileage out of its two-button control scheme. It's easy to pick up and play, offers a modicum of strategic depth, and it gets engaging when the bases are loaded at two outs. I just don't expect the simplistic fun would withstand a replay, and surely there have been far better casual baseball games released in the years since.

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