Nintendo is Great – Baseball (Famicom, 1983)

 

The series Nintendo is Great will explore every game ever released for a Nintendo console/handheld, beginning with the Famicom and working our way up to the Nintendo Switch.

 

 

 

BASEBALL

 

PUBLISHED/DEVELOPED: Nintendo

RELEASE DATE: 12/07/1983 (Famicom – JP), 10/18/1985 (NES – US), 09/01/1986 (NES – EU)

ALSO ON: Famicom Disk System (02/21/1986 – JP), Game Boy (04/21/1989 – JP , 07/31/89 – US, 1990 – EU), e-Reader (2002 – WW)

Wii Virtual Console (12/02/2006 – JP, 12/29/06 – EU, 01/01/07 – US), Wii U Virtual Console (10/23/2013 – JP, 10/24/13 – US, EU, AU), 3DS Virtual Console (06/07/2011 – JP, 07/14/11 – US, 07/28/11  – EU, AU)

FEATURED IN: Animal Crossing (Gamecube, 12/14/2001 – JP, 09/16/2002 – US)

 

I’ve been playing Baseball for nearly 30 years now. Not because it’s a good baseball game. Not because I particularly enjoy playing it. No, I keep playing Baseball because I never know what’s going to happen.

 

Now, to be fair, one could say that most sports games are as unpredictable as Baseball. But Baseball isn’t just any sports game. In this – the very first sports title ever released for the Famicom – the player only has, at best, 75% control of your team at any given time.

 

I predict a third out.

 

Example: even if you smash the Run button repeatedly as hard as you can, your outfielders will still not run any faster than they have to. An incoming ball is not their immediate concern unless it lands directly on top of them. Another example that ties to the last example: a pop fly that should land directly in your player’s outstretched mitt lands directly next to him for seemingly no reason. Both of these examples happen frequently. Even after years of playing, I’m still not sure why. Shoddy programming? Glitches? Perhaps Baseball just likes to toy with its players? Who can say.

 

Good grief, everyone.

 

Baseball is more than a game. It’s a revelation, an experience, a journey into the unknown. Just when you think you’ve cracked its code, the game throws you a screwball – literally and figuratively – and you pound the ground with your NES controller. Then you come back for another round, because… what else can you do? Baseball is a seemingly simple 8-bit sports title, yet it always seems to have one up on its players. Truly, a king among the Famicom launch lineup.

 

1983: B+

Today: B-

The Future: A+

 

VS BASEBALL

 

Thanks to the Arcade Flyer Archive for this goofy ad!

 

Vs. Baseball takes Baseball, gives it an energy drink, and a tinge of blush, and off it goes. The busted hit-and-throw antics are the same, just faster, and with added speech. “Out!”, “Ball!”, and so forth. The umpire loves the sound of his own voice.

 

When it’s your team’s turn to pitch, the angle changes from standard overhead behind-the-batter view found in the NES game to a behind-the-pitcher viewpoint. The latter would become much more common in future NES baseball titles like Bases Loaded. I’ve always found it hard to judge distance with behind-the-pitcher views, but Vs. Baseball keeps the pitcher and batter directly aligned with one another. This makes it easier to direct the ball to where I want it to go.

 

The selection screen is different from the NES version.

 

The appeal of the Vs. arcade cabinets is the ability for you and a second player to have your own separate screens. Depending on the type of cabinet, each player either sits on the opposite side of the other, with both screens in between them, or diagonally from the other, each with a separate screen (as seen in the above ad). This works great for sports games like Vs. Baseball or Vs. Tennis and is not so great/downright pointless for longer experiences like Vs. Super Mario Bros or Vs. Goonies.

 

Bizarro Baseball!

 

Vs. Baseball was available in the US in July 1984, a full 15 months prior to the NES’ soft release in October of 1985. In fact, many of the Vs. arcade cabinets – which housed future NES games like Excitebike and Hogan’s Alley – were available for purchase in North America many months prior to the NES’ North American release. Given the decline of interest in video games around ’84 and ’85, however, I wonder how many establishments purchased these expensive cabinets then or if they only did so after the NES grew in popularity.

 

If you see Vs. Baseball in the wild, you absolutely need to play it. Not because Vs. Baseball demands your respect, but because Vs. cabinets are, sadly, increasingly rare. You may never see such a grand sight again.

 

Vs. Baseball: B

The Vs. Arcade experience: A+

 

BASEBALL (FAMICOM DISK SYSTEM)

 

It’s Disks Vs. Carts in this epic baseball lineup!

 

I did not review Famicom Disk System versions of Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Mario Bros., etc, and… I’m not sure why? I will go back and amend this. If I’m going to do the dang thing – reviewing all the games ever released on a Nintendo console – why not review all iterations of the same game at once, right?

 

Who needs a drink!

 

As expected, Baseball for the Famicom Disk System seems to be exactly the same game as the NES version… “seems to be.” As I was playing, my eagle eye was really hunting for differences, and I saw none. The Internet wasn’t forthcoming with any concrete information either. One thing’s for sure: the quality-of-life improvements found in Vs. Baseball are not in Baseball FDS. No overbearing umpire voice samples. No faster player movements. No behind-the-pitcher viewpoint. For all intents and purposes, Baseball FDS is the same game as the Famicom cart, just released two years later, presumably for a lower price point.

 

Playing anything on the Famicom Disk System: A

Nintendo not making any improvements to Baseball FDS: C-

 

BASEBALL (Game Boy, 1989)

 

Nintendo of America figured out early on that Mario = sales, even if he’s not really in the game at all.

 

For all intents and purposes, Baseball on Game Boy serves the same function as Baseball on the NES does: a simple, playable sports title intended to pad out the launch of the respective console/handheld. And yet, for every step forward GB Baseball provides – larger batter sprite, choice between USA and Japan teams, actual music – the Game Boy itself just can’t handle the on-screen action very well.

 

You’re fired, Bob.

 

Once you or the opposing team hit the ball, the action slows to a crawl as you watch the fielders try and catch up to it. You could hit that sucker at 90 mph, it doesn’t matter. Every hit ball is like that slow motion scene in every baseball movie ever. You can almost sense the audience watching, mouths agape, as the ball descends slowly into a fielder’s glove.

 

Lord help whatever is happening now.

 

GB Baseball is considerably harder than the already difficult NES game. At least in the NES game, presumably poor programming leads to both sides making stupid mistakes. In GB Baseball, the opposing team always knows exactly what they’re doing. Let’s say your batter cracks the ball high in the air. Even when the camera hasn’t caught up to where the ball is on the field (and this happens often), the opposing fielders always position themselves correctly to catch the ball. But if their batter knocks the ball upwards, pray the camera ascends to where your fielders are located before the ball descends towards them. Otherwise, you’re running blind.

 

All hail Baseball!

 

I suppose the more you play the game, the quicker you learn where to position your own fielders, but who wants to spend hours learning an ancient baseball game’s intricacies? The only people returning to GB Baseball at this late hour in humanity are ones who have some nostalgic fondness for it. I sympathize. After all, I love NES Baseball, even though it refuses to love me back. That said, if you’re a retro gamer with no long term affinity for NES or GB Baseball, five minutes with them will show you just how dated they actually are.

 

Hardcore GB Baseball fans (presuming they exist): B+

GB Baseball, divorced from nostalgia: C-

 

BASEBALL-e (e-Reader)

 

An absolute strike.

 

At some point, I have to get an e-Reader. It’s such a bizarre, wondereful piece of technology, Nintendo doubling down on being Nintendo. “Games on cards, dammit! Why shouldn’t we?!” someone at Nintendo may have shouted during a board meeting. Given Nintendo’s back catalog of insane peripherals, I’m not surprised the e-Reader exists, but I am stunned that it was approved for release anywhere outside of Japan.

 

A sexy device, this is not.

 

So let’s say I owned an e-Reader and the Baseball-e card pack. I’d slap that awkward device onto my already bulky first-gen Game Boy Advance, bust open the Baseball cards, slide all five cards through the e-Reader device, and bam! I’m playing Baseball on my Game Boy Advance. Never mind that, even in 2002, you could download a ROM of Baseball and be playing it for free in less than a minute. That’s very illegal, don’t even consider it. No, the only option for authentic, approved-by-Nintendo Baseball in 2002 – outside of the original NES version – was with an e-Reader, a GBA, and a pack of cards.

 

The cards don’t just hold the game itself. They also function as the instruction manual and provide useful information like controls, tips for how to play the game, etc. Of course, even in 2002, these games were about as complex as playing with dirt, but it’s nice that the cards had some appeal outside of their scanning capabilities.

 

Still, I ask why.

 

Alas, as with Baseball on the Famicom Disk System, there are no quality-of-life improvements here. Worse yet, you can’t even play against another player. Two-player mode – perhaps the sole reason to play Baseball in the modern era – is no longer available. I don’t want to hear excuses on this one. If ancient NES emulators could figure out two-player, the e-Reader could have worked something out. Given e-Reader Baseball‘s neutered state – and given the e-Reader’s overbearing setup – I can not in good conscience recommend playing Baseball on the e-Reader. Not in 2002, not in 2020, not ever.

 

What really is the e-Reader: B-

One-player Baseball: D+

 

BASEBALL (ANIMAL CROSSING)

 

Where’s Baseball, you cute little freaks?!

 

If you want to play Baseball in Animal Crossing, you’ll need to get to Animal Island. And in order to make Animal Island appear, you’ll need to connect a Game Boy Advance and a link cable to your Gamecube. Going to Animal Island is the only way to get both Baseball and Wario’s Woods for your NES collection, but it could take some time. Just because you access the island doesn’t mean the games will be immediately available. Like all good things found in Animal Crossing, you have to return day after day and hope presents or buried items appear. That said, Animal Island only has a limited number of items, so hopefully these games won’t take too long to obtain.

 

You know it, bro.*

 

Presumably, one would obtain Baseball in Animal Crossing because they’re having fun exploring Animal Island, and not because they’re seeking out a way to play Baseball on their Gamecube. It is really cool to set up an NES room in one’s house, but if that’s the only reason you’re playing Animal Crossing, I dare say you’ve missed the point.

 

The original Animal Crossing: A

NES Games within Animal Crossing: A

Only playing Animal Crossing to collect NES games: C

 

BASEBALL (Wii, 3DS, and Wii U Virtual Console)

 

Now with hot dog and beer DLC.*

 

The NES emulation within the Wii Virtual Console is just fine, which means NES Baseball plays just fine. The game looks and plays more or less like how you remember, particularly when experienced on standard definition televisions. The NES emulation on the Wii U Virtual Console is less impressive somehow, which means NES Baseball isn’t quite up to snuff on the Wii U. The visuals are darker and some of the games contain input lag not found in the original copies or on the Wii VC. As of April 2020, the only way to purchase a virtual copy of NES Baseball is through the Wii U Virtual Console, so keep the emulator’s limitations in mind before you do.

 

Just like Grandpa Yamauchi used to make.*

 

The Game Boy Virtual Console on the 3DS is solid and the games play like you remember. If for some reason you want to remember how slow and difficult GB Baseball is, the 3DS has you covered.

 

Wii Virtual Console (NES): B+

Wii U Virtual Console (NES): C-

3DS Virtual Console (GB): B+

 

BASEBALL (Nintendo Switch Online)

 

In these uncertain times, Baseball reigns supreme.*

 

If you are going to play Baseball in our modern era, you need to play it on the Switch. Why? Because you and another friend can play against each other online. That’s right: Baseball, a broken, ridiculous, incredibly old baseball game, currently has online play. Nintendo has not filled out their Switch Online retro games library as much as they could, but adding online play to NES and SNES titles was a fantastic idea.

 

Playing online Baseball against a friend: A

 

*thanks to Fandom, Miketendo64, and Nintendo.co.uk for these images!

 

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