Soapbox: what happened to all the great baseball games on Nintendo consoles?

“Right! Try to make up your mind, okay? Imagine the sun setting over the vast waters of Lake Victoria… A hundred thousand wildebeest grazing on the Masai steppe, yeah? A misty, sleepy dawn is breaking to reveal Kilimanjaro in all its hypnotic majesty…”

Adorable stuff. These are the poetic and naturalistic writings of Steven. An investment banker. A yid. A character from the legendary British television super comedy Only fools and horses, Steven states that he has to “get up early in the morning to play baseball,” to which Derek Trotter, another dinner guest and comedy legend, adds, “Oh, baseball! Yeah! No… i love it. I still watch it on Channel Four”.

Originally broadcast on Christmas Day 1989, the mere mention of baseball to the millions of spectators is crucial because in the UK at the time, the television channel Channel 4 had the exclusive rights to broadcast several American sports, including the NFL football and baseball. Channel 4 had only broadcast in color since 1982, so the platform was relatively new. Not only that, but it was one of the first times these sports were broadcast live, on a semi-regular basis, on a terrestrial television network. This meant that the popularity of NFL football and MLB baseball had skyrocketed, and American sports were very popular with the traditionally insular British public.

And I should know; the mid-80s was around the time word started filtering into the playground of the team you were supporting. Who is good ? Who is bad? Who stayed up all night to the shimmer of a 13-inch Matsui in their bedroom at the quietest volume to catch a glimpse of the Superbowl or the World Series? For purely household purposes, I selected the LA Rams and The New York Giants and the New York Mets respectively (although today I have a soft spot for the Oakland A’s, Seattle Mariners and LA Dodgers as well). On Christmas Day 1987, I received a Giants jersey, an NFL rulebook and copies of 4th and Inches and Hardball for my Commodore 64. That was it. I was hooked.

The games they come fast

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Image: Bryan Ochalla

Baseball computer games have been around for much longer than you might think. In May 1963 (just 6 months before JFK’s assassination) The Ledger Star published an article about a newly developed “computer program” for the IBM 1620. The very first baseball simulation game. Work on the simulator began in 1961, but by the time it was demonstrated in 1963 the game was polished and beautiful in both its ease of end-user setup and its complexity under the hood. Once loaded, the game would ask for a set of variables (player’s batting choice, team name, etc.). Once “locked”, the program generates its own variables and begins to eerily mash the keys themselves, automating game by game. If you saw this in 1963, you’d probably need a drink to recover from the shock.

Fast forward 20 years to 1983, and Nintendo releases the aptly named Baseball for his new Famicom console. A small but perfectly designed (though very dated by now) video game interpretation of the sport of baseball. I’ve always thought baseball should be reasonably simple to translate through any video game platform. At its heart is a simple game. Nintendo’s Baseball has welded together enough quality components to result in a solid and enjoyable baseball game. Nothing more. And that was probably what players dreamed of back then.

According to official sales data from Famitsu Japan, Baseball has sold 2.35 million copies (LTD). Compare that to Famitsu Japan’s sales for Super Mario Worldwhich has sold 3.55 million copies (LTD) and you can see that, compared to a video game hailed as one of very best ever, he put in a solid performance at checkouts. That’s not all, because if we delve into the vaults of checkout rolls and registers from the past three decades, you’ll find this cheeky Konami PlayStation slugger. Jikkyou Mighty Pro Yakyuu ’99 Kaimakuban is the 106th best-selling video game of all time in Japan. 106th. By the way, I can hear you choking on your cup of tea. Yes.

When you look at the list of other fast sellers, this brave slugfest stands among the titans of gaming history. Final Fantasy, Mario, Dragon Quest, Pokemon etc And right there, in 106th place, selling 324,721 copies as of July 22, 1999, is the first game to break the procession. Not GTA or another AAA hyper-blockbuster, but a pitiful baseball game.

Designated Hitters

Throwback to the 1980s and 90s and the beginning of the (golden?) age of video gaming, like the bell bottom pants Reggie Jackson wore for his Yankees trade in 1977, to achieve a fuller stride and richer. Along with the rare polished diamonds, there has been an overabundance of waste. And the boy was there a parcel garbage when it came to baseball titles. From the awful ESPN Baseball tonight Hatayama will not hatch Pro Yakyuu News! Jitsumei Han and human baseball to the exquisite Ken Griffey Jr Presents MLB and Powerful Jikkyou Pro Yakyuu series, Nintendo has certainly given its “seal of quality” to some gems and absolute stinky.

I loved this period of video game history. Everything was fresh, new, exciting. Developers could set up shop overnight, take a risk, and produce something extraordinary. The rules were few and laissez-faire, and that led to some beautifully original ideas that would seep into the pores of the Super Famicom in particular. Baseball games became more than just a game of bat and ball, the concept would turn into a puzzle, with the impressive PuyoPuyo-Game Pro Yakyuu Nettou: Puzzle Stadium. Think NPB mascots battling with baseball mitts and catchers for game pieces and you’re pretty much there. It was a fun and addictive puzzler with some nice combo mechanics thrown in for good measure.

Let’s not forget the bestseller Family stage (aka ‘Famista’) series that has proven for decades to be a massive hit across multiple Nintendo platforms, including the 3DS. However, as time progressed, the scope of baseball titles began to shrink to a mere handful of tried and trusted titles. Looking at the software sales numbers for the GameCube for example, it’s no wonder publishers moved those games from Nintendo to the house of Sony. THE BASEBALL 2003released on GameCube in 2003, only sold 2,463 copies and was only saved for one week.

What began as a cutting-edge simulation in 1961 evolved into a full-color, highly detailed baseball game in 1983. Since then, baseball games have withstood rough seas both on and off the field, at both in the glut of shoddy games but also in the players’ strike, the loss of the Montreal Expos and the steroid scandal (Aaron > Bonds, btw). Today, we are left with not so much a trickle of titles, but an utter drought of baseball games. In the past decade alone, we’ve only seen around three games released regularly – one of which is Japan-only.

Think like the dock

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What happened? Where has the creativity gone? Where the grill, football, golf, NHL and so on have continued and flourished, baseball seems to have been left to rot in a ditch. Dock Ellis (which will appear in MLB 18: The Show) was a great player who pushed many exploratory boundaries. On June 12, 1970, The Dock launched a famous “no-hitter” while completely out of his face on LSD. A no-hitter is one of the rarest things you’ll see in baseball bar a triple play, considering a regular season that spans 2,430 games and there have only been 296 no-hitters since 1875. Quite a feat. Why can’t a development studio achieve a similar feat? Gathering a team to start producing baseball titles that offer something new? Explore new frontiers. Trace a legacy through non-compliance. Be original.

I refer you to the wonderful Super Famicom port of the Neo Geo steel heavy hitter Great Baseball 2020. A game that takes the basics of baseball but slightly changes the rules to make it a wonderful new game. The Famicom had a big bat and a fight Cyber ​​Stadium Series: Base Wars, the only baseball game I’ve seen where you’re actively encouraged to come off the bench and rip a man’s head off. Or, looking towards the arcade, the delicious club ’em up ninja baseball batman. In the crazy Wario Items an eagle eye surprise is available to feed your joyless souls. Nintendo introduced an old toy they produced in the 1960s titled the Nintendo UltraMachine in the form of a mini-game! Even the Satellaview got a Kirby take america’s hobby with Kirby no Omocha Hako. Why have the devs lost their sense of adventure these days, compared to those goofy, left-wing times?

With the Catcus and Grapefruit spring training leagues (wouldn’t seem out of place at all in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe!) Literally days away, it’s a huge bat signal (pun intended) that the new MLB season is right around the corner. What we have to look forward to this year is the AAA title (admittedly amazing and one of my favorite games of 2017) MLB 18: The Show next to formatting to become stinky shit (if it’s anything like last year’s version, anyway) RBI Baseball ’18. Then it’s a long wait until April for the latest 2018 Mighty professional Title. Two of those games are PS4 exclusives (Powerful Pro 2018 is also available on Vita), meaning the Switch sticks with RBI Baseball ’18 and… that’s it. Unless of course you count the aforementioned Baseball 2020, which is available on the Switch eShop.

Nintendo is a company that, until 2016, possesses major league club, the Seattle Mariners, for shouting out loud! Baseball is in his blood (and no, Mario Sports Superstars does not count). That Switch-owning baseball fans are so poorly served is a borderline crime, and I long for a day when the sport returns to the spotlight and we get a quality title worthy of our attention. If you feel the same, be sure to take a swing in the comments section below.

Timothy C. Mayo