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Monday, August 12, 2013

NES Replay: Baseball

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: October 1985
If American football is one of the more difficult sports to simulate, baseball is one of the easiest. On any given play, there are only a few moving parts: The pitcher throws the ball and the batter tries to swing at it. They either hit it or miss it.

Even the AI programming is simple.  If there's a hit, the developer just has to figure out the trajectory of the bat off the ball and then have a fielder go get the ball and throw it to the base that has the best chance to get someone out. The runner is either safe or out. Throw in a random number generator for batting and pitching, and you're all set.

Because it's such a simple game to simulate, Nintendo chose Baseball as one of the launch games for the NES. Baseball is far more successful at simulating its sport than 10-Yard Fight was at American football, although there are still a few problems.
First, Baseball is really simplistic. You can pick from six different teams, even though they all look and play the same. None of the players have names. There are no stats or substitutions. There's no season mode. Amazingly enough, a batter can't even get hit by a pitch. It's as bare-bones as you can get.

There's also a problem with the fielding. Opposing and AI fielders simply cannot get in position to make simple ground ball plays, so every ground ball that's not hit directly to a fielder rolls into the outfield. The outfielders take forever getting to them, which is maddening. Even your own players have difficulty handling balls, so a single can turn into a triple easily.

The computer player also makes some dumb choices when trying to throw out batters. If you know anything about baseball, it's that throwing people out as they're heading toward first is almost always a more high-percentage out than second or third. A runner on base usually has a lead of a couple of steps toward the next base, whereas the batter has to drop the bat and start at home base.

No one told the computer player about this, though. They'll frequently try and throw people out on second or third base when there's an easy play at first that they could have made instead. Of course, every time they throw to second instead of first, my runners are safe at both bases.

Even with those flaws, Baseball is still fairly fun. Nintendo saw fit to program just the essence of baseball, and it worked.

For example, one problem I have when playing baseball video games (and baseball in general) is that I have no plate discipline whatsoever. If a ball comes within the same timezone as me, I'm going to swing at it. I can't "wait for my pitch" because they're all my pitches.

That nearly burned me in this game. During the first inning, I whiffed repeatedly on simple pitches and swung on pitches that were clearly out of the strike zone. When it was my turn to pitch, they crushed my very first pitch for a tape-measure home run.

I was worried that the game was going to be like that from there on out, but it settled down. By the time I finished playing, it was 6-4 in the fourth inning. I had the bases loaded and no outs. I figured that was as good a time as any to quit.

So Baseball definitely has its flaws, like we’ve stated. However, for a bare-bones baseball game released in 1985, Baseball works quite well. Sure, there are things that aren't quite right about it and it's certainly not a deep game, but it could have been a lot worse.

Final Rating:


Next Week: Clu Clu Land