The Video Game Critic's
A fun look back at baseball video games through the years
Video Game Review Special
Homerun (Atari 1978)|
System: Atari 2600 (and others)
I can see why Atari didn't name this "baseball", since Homerun bears little resemblance to the national pastime. This early title is primitive and has few redeeming qualities. The sound and graphics are about as minimal as you can get. There are four bases, but no dirt around them. Your three fielders move in unison, and can't even throw the ball between each other. There are no fly balls, and hits to straightaway centerfield are automatic home runs. The pitching is the probably the best aspect of the game. You have total control of the ball and can often fool batters by catching a corner of the plate. The computer AI is dumb and easy to beat, and the two-player game is pointless - no one usually scores unless someone screws up. Homerun has not aged well, and many will argue it was never any good to begin with.
Baseball (Magnavox 1978)|
System: Odyssey 2 (and others)
Compared to Homerun (Atari 2600, 1978), Baseball for the Odyssey 2 is pretty amazing! You get all nine players in the field and there's even a home run fence! The animation is smooth and the controls are responsive. The pitcher can curve the ball at will, but sadly he can't control the speed. When at bat you can direct your hits (allegedly) by swinging early or late. On defense you can shift your outfielders, which adds a strategic element. Then we get to the fielding, which is where things start to get a little dicey. Whenever you catch a moving ball, it's considered a fly out, yet baserunners can take off at any time without penalty. While this clearly violates the tag-up rule, it also spices thing up by rewarding aggressive baserunning. Throwing the ball around the bases is easy, but the throws are far too soft. It's especially aggravating when you're trying to throw out a runner at home and he's running as fast as the ball! The general pace of the game is brisk, allowing you to play nine innings in about 20 minutes. The audio is minimal, save for the "take me out to the ballgame" song, which is by far the most horrendous
rendition I've ever heard in my life. There's no single-player mode, but Baseball's easy-going style makes it fun to play against a friend.
Realsports Baseball (Atari 1983)|
System: Atari 5200 (and others)
This is, without a doubt, my favorite classic baseball game
. It may not have all the features of Intellivision's World Championship baseball, but it beats that game hands-down with superior graphics, awesome control, and impressive voice synthesis. Realsports Baseball gives you uniformed players, a sharp-looking diamond, and a stadium complete with a homerun fence -- and a crowd. There's even a scoreboard that displays the complete line score. The pitching controls are outstanding! You can choose between nine pitches, and even control the ball in flight. Thanks to the helpful shadow, each pitch is visually distinctive. The batting controls are also innovative, taking full advantage of the unique Atari 5200 joystick design. You swing by sliding the joystick left to right, and can even control the height of your cut. Fielding takes a while to get used to, but the computer is surprisingly adept at choosing the appropriate fielder. The whole baseball experience is captured in this game, complete with tagging up, hit and runs, squeeze plays, no wind-up pitches, base stealing, and throwing errors! Thanks to some nifty voice synthesis, an umpire calls strikes, balls, and outs. The menu screen allows you to fully configure the number of players, difficulty, and number of innings. No game is perfect, and waiting for the teams to leave the field between innings gets old after a while. But when it comes to classic baseball, Atari 5200 Realsports is second to none!
World Championship Baseball (Mattel 1983)|
System: Intellivision (and others)
Super Action Baseball (Coleco 1983)|
System: Colecovision (and others)
What a *monumental* disappointment this game is! Super Action Baseball requires those huge Super Action Controllers to play, and these monstrosities feature 16 buttons, a joystick, and a roller! You really can't use them without looking ridiculous. Anyway, the main draw of Super Action Baseball is the groundbreaking pitcher/batter screen; featuring huge
players. I must admit, this screen looks pretty cool, except that the players are wearing the ugliest uniforms imaginable
(purple and orange?!? What were they thinking??). Unfortunately, the programmers must have spent 90% of their time on that screen alone, because the fielding screen is repugnant! Sure you can see the entire field and there's a nice-looking diamond, but the fielder movement is painfully choppy and the player graphics are completely static. The ball movement is equally horrific, featuring THE worst physics I've EVER seen in a baseball game. In addition, the control scheme is overcomplicated and more of a pain than anything else. Even the sound effects are annoying. What should have been a ground-breaking sports title is really only good for a laugh.
Star League Baseball (Gamestar 1983)|
System: Atari XEGS (and others)
Micro League Baseball (Micro League Sports 1984)|
System: Atari XEGS (and others)
Reggie Jackson Baseball (Sega 1988)|
System: Sega Master System (and others)
Bases Loaded (Jaleco 1988)|
System: NES (and others)
SportsTalk Baseball (Sega 1992)|
System: Genesis (and others)
Baseball Stars Professional 2 (SNK 1992)|
System: Neo Geo (and others)
I loved the first Baseball Stars Professional, and BSP2 really ups the ante. It's very similar to the first game, but the graphics have been given a major
overhaul. In fact, the visuals are so flashy that sometimes I think they might have gone a bit overboard. The game bombards your senses by flashing so many windows and graphics that you can never digest it all. The main screen features animated close-ups of both the pitcher and batter, and while these look terrific, the same faces repeat with annoying frequency. There are numerous cool graphical details like batters that break their bats, submariner pitchers, and rolling balls that kick up dust. After a home run, the entire team (including the mascot) greets the player at home plate. There are a substantial number of cut scenes and close-ups, especially during diving catches and close plays, which add drama and excitement. Unfortunately, the umpires tend to make bad calls, often contradicting what you see on the field. The gameplay itself really hasn't changed much. It's easier to position your fielders laterally, but harder to tell how far the ball was hit. New "power-up" options add a bit more strategy, allowing you to increase your batter's strength a limited number of times per game. The single player tournament mode lets you save your place between innings, which is a welcome feature. I enjoy Baseball Stars Professional 2 immensely. It's probably the most spectacular baseball game I've ever played.
Ken Griffey Major League Baseball (Nintendo 1994)|
System: Super Nintendo (and others)
This game gave the SNES a legitimately baseball title - finally! This is a polished, arcade-style game featuring all of the major league teams and stadiums. Unfortunately, it does not
contain any of the major league players - except Ken Griffey of course. In theory you could modify and save the rosters to reflect the real players, but this would be a lot
of tedious work. The graphics look crisp and colorful, although the players look cartoonish with their exaggerated physiques. The scrolling and animation is smooth, and the detailed stadiums look terrific. I remember by friend Eric and I playing this game on a display at Toys R Us and being extremely impressed that the outfield wall at Wrigley Field was actually covered with ivy! Ken Griffey's controls are simple and responsive, and this has to be one of the fastest baseball games I've ever played. It's really too bad there's no instant replay feature. It may come up a bit short on realism, but Ken Griffey Major League Baseball is undeniably fun and entertaining.
World Series Baseball 98 (Sega 1997)|
System: Saturn (and others)
With World Series Baseball 98 (WSB98), Sega finally fulfills the promise of the Saturn system. The game is now rendered using genuine 3D polygons which remarkably do not
compromise the fast, fluid gameplay that's distinguished the franchise. The player models may look chunkier than their Playstation counterparts, but the animation is superb. The new 3D visuals allow for TV-style camera angles including players stepping up to the plate and dramatic collisions at home plate. Pitchers and batters possess the same mannerisms as their real-life counterparts, so baseball enthusiasts will recognize their favorites easily. The pitching and batting system has been overhauled and is much more sophisticated. The pitcher can precisely aim the ball, and the batter moves a target to direct his swing. A useful and unobtrusive "guess the location" feature gives the batter an advantage if he can anticipate the correct quadrant of the pitch. These new mechanics add depth but never impede the brisk pacing of the game. The weakest aspect of WSB98 is its audio. There's a new umpire voice, but he's just as annoying as the last guy, and you still
can't shut him up! The commentator is less irritating but still dumb ("The ball goes hiiiiigh in the air!") Inexplicably, there's still
no instant replay feature. But these gripes can't prevent World Series Baseball 98 from being a showcase sports title for the system, and one of the finest baseball games I've ever played.
All-Star Baseball 2001 (Acclaim 2000)|
System: Nintendo 64 (and others)
The tagline of All Star Baseball 2001 is telling: "The only
new Nintendo 64 baseball game this season!" When that's the best thing you can say about your game, that's not
a good sign! With little incentive to innovate, it's not surprising that this 2001 edition is practically identical to the year before, albeit with updated rosters. The graphics are exactly
the same, with zero effort made to improve the stilted animation or questionable collision detection. You'd think they could have at least
incorporated overrunning first base! The most substantial difference is the red color of the cartridge. I did take a slight interest in the new "easy pitching" and "easy batting" options, hoping they would make the game faster and more arcade-like. But instead they made the batting feel more like a guessing game, and it wasn’t long before I returned to the old, tedious cursors. All Star's pace is slow, and games take too long to play. The commentator constantly refers to home plate as "the dish", which is about the most annoying expression I've ever heard. All Star Baseball 2001 is clearly a case of Acclaim "mailing it in", making this a highly questionable "upgrade" for owners of All Star Baseball 2000.
World Series Baseball 2K2 (Sega 2001)|
System: Dreamcast (and others)
Mario Superstar Baseball (Nintendo 2005)|
System: GameCube (and others)
MVP Baseball 2005 (Electronic Arts 2005)|
System: Playstation 2 (and others)
MLB 07: The Show (Sony 2007)|
System: Playstation 3 (and others)
Major League Baseball 2K10 (2K Sports 2010)|
System: Xbox 360 (and others)
MLB 14 The Show (Sony 2014)|
System: Playstation 4 (and others)