New contributor Andrew Martin gives us the lowdown on RBI Baseball.
Few sports lend themselves to a gaming experience not in need of some serious graphics or, at least, proper sprites. Basketball games require the right amount of visual finesse and physics. Otherwise, it can feel like you’re controlling a blob that performs activities closely resembling basketball. Football can work in a simpler form—TECMO Bowl is obviously incredibly barebones but excellent—however it’s difficult to grasp the intensity of the sport without being able to truly harness the power of your player. Who wants to just run at a cornerback, wrestle with him, and then maybe score a touchdown? It’s all about jukin’, spinning, jumping, etc… your way to the end zone. The same goes for soccer and hockey, though I’m not about to slight the awesomeness of Ice Hockey on the NES.
So what about baseball, you ask? Well, we already have the game that perfectly captures America’s favorite pastime and it’s been available since 1988. For those who don’t want to think about this too hard or do some research, the game I’m referring to R.B.I. Baseball for the NES. Nearly 30 years later, it remains the only sports game that deserves no updates or sequels—it has received both—because it is perfect just the way it is.
Let me explain.
The physics and mechanics required to make a sports game work well aren’t easy to come by, though at this point they have been rehashed and recycled to the point that you wouldn’t know otherwise. There was a time that wasn’t the norm, though. NFL titles were once unbearable and the only game in town for hockey was being made by EA. Let’s not even get into the mind-numbing pain that is attempting to play an NBA Live game from the early-to-mid 1990s. Yeah, you may have some nostalgia for one of them, but try playing it now. Actually, don’t.
This was never the case with baseball, though. When R.B.I. Baseball arrived in ‘88, that was it. Now-defunct publisher/developer Tengen struck gold with this game, a flawless game that captured exactly what it was to play baseball in the late ‘80s. A big reason for that is the fact that the greatest players in history were up for grabs, especially if you wanted to play as one of the two all-star teams. We’re talking Tony Gwynn, Andre Dawson, Kirby Puckett, John Kruk, Cal Ripken, pre-steroids Mark McGwire, Darryl Strawberry… the list goes on and is so deep with talent it’s absurd—and that’s not even counting the pitchers!
The other—and way more important—aspect of R.B.I. Baseball’s presentation was how every single piece of the game was executed. As a batter, you were expected to perform at a certain level based on your batting average and home runs from the previous season. This meant that, yes, some players were power hitters while others were going to land you a single or double based on your swing and the player’s speed. Similarly, your pitcher will perform based on his stats, in this case his ERA, and whether or not he throws with a side-arm delivery. In other words, some pitchers will be absolute beasts and throw fire for innings on end—they will tire, though, I promise—while others will lose steam somewhat quickly and throw meatballs over the plate.
Sounds a lot like baseball, right? Of course it does. Yes, I realize that playing the actual sport is more dynamic and difficult to master. But in its most basic and enjoyable form? It can be this straightforward and an incredible amount of fun. To be fair, there are some totally unrealistic glitches you can take advantage of to completely own your opponent. In playing against the computer, you can time a bunt in a way that they will never be able to recover the ball. It’s not easy and, honestly, my brother could tell you how to do it better than I could, but he figured out a way to hit an inside-the-park home run … by bunting.