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Nintendo has less of a grasp on our national pastime than I do.
Matt - 4/23/01

For those interested in going out and playing baseball, consider playing with BBCOR baseball bats.

Recently, the weather around here has certainly be out-of-character for mid-April. Today hit 85 degrees, which for the East coast at this time of year is, in the words of those rambling idiots in the audience of The Price is Right when someone's playing Hi - Or - Low, 'too freakin high'. If I may for a moment throw away any demographically specific titles for this here region and simply call my near and not-so-near neighbors 'us people,' we've grown real accustomed to having actual seasons. Autumn is when we complain, winter's when we all get really fat. Spring is for sports, and summer's when everyone wishes 90210 was still around so we'd get those special new beach episodes where Brandon and Steve date twin sisters.

As you all know, we're in spring, and I just don't play sports. I wouldn't really consider myself terribly unathletic at this point in my life, I think moreover its this intense fear that any flying ball is gonna hit me in the face. The fear's not unfounded, because this has happened dozens of times in my earlier years where I'd give in to playing sports just because everyone was still too young to convince to just drink or discuss the intricacies of soda carbonation. I'd get nailed in the kisser, on average, around three or four times per game. My theory is that the other players realized that a win over any team that had me, Mr. Sports, as a part of it would be a hollow victory, so they just kept throwing balls at my face until I went home crying so their victories would seem more legit. Don't worry, I'm over it now. There's only so much time you can devote to mourning your awful aptitude at wiffle ball. We live, we learn, we move on.

But that's not to say I didn't attempt a compromise. For better or worse, I wanted to keep my sports-enthused friends. Unfortunately, its tough to maintain a shared level of interest when you think a doubleheader refers to the coin toss that dictates which team 'goes first.' I may have been a lost cause as a young athlete, but there's always a loophole somewhere. And this time, it came from my Nintendo Entertainment System.

Six out of seven times, 'baseball' was any given friend's answer as to what we should do on any given day on any given afternoon throughout my childhood. And for a time, just hearing the word would send me spiraling into a depressive state of no-playground outcasted hysteria. Until I found this glorious way to give everyone what they wanted. My friends wanted to play baseball? Well they'd get their wish. Oh yes, they'd get their wish, and I wouldn't have to ask anyone what a foul ball was. With my trusty Nintendo, all parties would be satisfied, and I could go on having friends who didn't consider it an exercise in getting out of a few years of purgatory by hanging out with me. Or so it seemed!

See, what I completely overlooked when mapping out my evil plot was that the original NES 'Baseball' cart ultimately would be regarded as one of the greatest flops in video game history. Back then though, the scales were a lot smaller: we just thought it really sucked. Apparently we weren't alone in this belief, since to this very day Baseball ranks high on net lists of roms you should never, ever download. Even when you can download a game that's only 25KB in size and play it for free, its still wretched. But back when getting a new video game was an event with more cultural and social significance than any religious ceremony or educational milestone, I was especially pissed off about it.

Retrospectively, many of Nintendo's earlier titles were very hit-or-miss. Or more directly, many of the first NES games were either pretty good or bad to the point where they personally insulted anyone who bought them. Baseball easily falls into the latter category - a mixture of bad graphics, bad gameplay, bad controls, and even bad music. The only point of merit about it was that it wasn't long enough to make you really kick yourself in the ass for wasting time on it. You realized it sucked, and was going to continue sucking, within just a few minutes of blowing heartily into your dated console and turning the power on. So at least it didn't try to mask the suck with promises of a killer ending or secret levels.

I got the game the same day as I got my first Nintendo - it was part of my unholy trio of Nintendo gamin' first, along with Super Mario Bros. and Slalom. My sister had bought it for her then-boyfriend/now-husband, but I don't think anyone would fault me for the all the kicking, whining, and screaming I did to transfer that gift into my name. I'm sorry, you just don't put a freakin Nintendo in the same house with a little kid who doesn't have one. Its blatantly asking for trouble. That's like assuming a fat guy on a diet sleeping on a bed made entirely of cake won't eat his way to the floor. There was absolutely, positively no chance in Hell that I wouldn't end up playing that Nintendo. Years upon years later, the thing still sits by my television. It collects a lot more dust these days and appears to have the word 'crystal' scrawled on it in red crayon, but given all the changes and moves I've gone through over time, it just goes to show how much the system means to me. While I was more than excited to play Super Mario Bros. 24 hours a day without fail, the other two games didn't exactly meet the criteria of things I proclaimed thanks for at Thanksgiving dinner. Slalom was a skiing cart whose title is approximately 42.7 times more exciting than the game itself. But Baseball? A whole other beast entirely. Let's find out where it went wrong.

Off the bat, there's a few problems. The game was made in Japan, where the game differs slightly from America's favorite pastime. I don't say that from experience of course, but you know, you read enough reviews, and you start picking up on things. Why just last night, I was reading some Sopranos review that cited the guy who plays Ralph as the same guy who sold out the good guys from The Matrix. Now, the next time I do a Kevin Bacon Challenge with special rules, I'll have the edge on the competition. I guess the moral here is to read lots of reviews, but in truth, I just wanted to point out that the guy just doesn't look one ounce Italian.

When I say the game has differences from the American version, I probably mean that in a much different way than you think. I'm not saying the guys run around using swords as bats, or that the vendors in the crowd delight fans by selling cups of Ramen noodles dirt cheap. Some of the differences here are as follows:

* In American baseball, there's a strong emphasis on the players' physical condition because its important that they're able to reach the ball as quickly as possible before the opposing team is able to score runs. In Nintendo's version, the players can't run. Scratch that, they can't even walk. Instead, they hop in the general direction of the ball until at least one person on the other team scores. Then, they throw the ball to whatever base is available that doesn't have an opposing player even considering going near it.

Take this, for instance. The two pictures are from the same play, the computer's team hit a line drive (I think?) towards right field. No problem, I've got guys there to handle that situation, right? Wrong. Notice the placement of the batting players versus my outfielders. The opposing team was able to virtually run the gamut of the field before my guy even realized where the ball was. Inexplicably, when I made him throw the ball back in the hopes to at least salvage one out from this catastrophe, he threw it towards first base - the only base no players were anywhere near. So we're left with two possibilities. The opposing team paid off one of my outfielders, or Baseball really blows. I don't think my opponents had enough money to pay anyone off considering that they could only afford one-piece suits with orange clown shoes, so yeah, bad bad game.

* In American baseball, the umpires are the Absolute Law. Its absolutely imperative that they have solid virtues, an immense understanding of the game, and above all else, a keen eye. In Nintendo's version, the umpires have no fucking eyes at all.

I've played my fair share of bad video games, and I've always found that you can get past the horrible ones so long as you're able to master them. There's few pleasures in life greater than the knowledge that you can beat a game with no problems whatsoever. But we won't find that kind of salvation here, since even the friggin umpires work against you. It doesn't take perfect vision to realize when your player reaches a base. Furthermore, it doesn't take a perfect SAT score to realize that when your player has been standing on a base for 45 seconds and the umpire calls the play an 'out,' something's gone gravely wrong.

Then again, for officials without eyes, they do a damn good job. They also maintain an impressive ability to teleport into the game whenever needed, disappearing when there's nothing to call. I don't know. The games take place on a perpetual sunny day. Maybe its really hot out there, and the guys are just ticked that they get saddled wearing black full-body suits 24/7. They absorb heat, you know. Or, maybe they're just the first in a long line of people to realize that we're witnessing the world's worst ballplayers in action and don't want to bother expending their fluent skills on what's surely gonna be a brutal game. Maybe games made by Nintendo just blew before 1984. Whatever the case, don't count on the umpires to make the game run any smoother. Consider them evil enemy obstacles, not good-natured baseball officials. You'll have a lot more fun. Its almost impossible to not score 45 runs an inning anyway, so dealing with the occasional blatant bad call isn't worth complaining about given the fact that there's so many more actively bad elements of this game to devote your rants to.

* In American baseball, the fans can make all the difference. A strong, enthusiastic showing of support from the ticket-buyers can make a great game feel that much better. A lackluster crowd who offers little support and leaves midway through the last inning will likely keep you from considering what you're watching as 'epic.' In Nintendo's version, the crowd is a tumultuous string of blinking Christmas lights.

Am I nitpicking? Well what am I supposed to do? The game's so flaccid that there's not even enough bad things to talk about. I could extoll the virtues of the game's pixelated astroturf that somehow enables the ball to defy gravity and bounce three times in succession after every hit reaching heights of at least 15 feet, but truth be told, I just don't like baseball enough to beef this article up any more than I have to, so let's just say that the things won't bounce 15' on grass and leave it at that. Now then, the crowd.

At first, I wasn't sure the game had a crowd, as the only thing visible in the rafters looks to be an enormous sheet of sandpaper. Fair enough, technology wasn't terribly advanced back then. What pissed me off is this: the payoff for getting a home run consists of the 'crowd' making slight noise while blinking blue and orange. Huh? I strategically placed my batter and worked on my hit technique for that? It wouldn't be so bad if the stupid ball players didn't take six hours to make their way to home plate, but Christ, if you know your game sucks this bad, at least throw a side shot of some faceless demons holding up a 'TEAM 'S' is NUMBER 1!' sign or something. Oh yeah, I didn't mention that? Your choice of teams are just letters. So basically, if you want that hometown feel, you've gotta pick from the 5 or 6 available letters that are alphabetically closest to your state's initials.

Things like this continually fuel my theorizing fire as to why the players in this game seem to have no interest in baseball. Why give all that effort for a non-televised game in a stagnant stadium where the only way to invoke any type of emotion out of the crowd is to hit a home run? Thankfully, the game is so easy that the scores read more like a scorecard from football.

The saddest part? I used to play this thing endlessly. It was my only link to success with sports, unless you count that brief period where my friends and I maintained our own front-lawn wrestling league where the only legal hold was a headlock and you could only lose by a 30-second count-out. Needless to say, I don't pay much mind to sports at all today. Amazingly, all things considered, I'm pretty sure I could grab my grandmother and all the kids from Eight is Enough and still beat the shit out of any team in this league. All you really need to know how to do is walk in a straight line and throw the ball before the umpire makes a call. I may be a novice, but the people who put this one together likely knew less about baseball than I do. And that's some scary stuff.

To cap things off, I'd like to offer up two ways the game could've been made better. The decisions were tough ones because my rules were that I couldn't give the entire thing an overhaul. Of course, unless you do give the whole thing an overhaul, it retains the eternally crappy qualities that make it the awful slimebag of a cart its come to be known as today. Still, its late enough and I'm tired enough to go against my innate grains of being and take on a challenge, so here's my two suggestions.

#1) Have random stills featuring J.T. Adams and Glory Booth appear on the bottom right of the screen whenever you fuck up a play, serving both as a form of negative reinforcement and as a way for me to offer up 65,000 bonus points to any reader who caught the reference.

#2) Stick Bowser in the left outfield and have him eat any oncoming balls. It'll help offset the natural advantage right-handed hitters have, but more than anything else, nothing masks a shitty baseball game more than an evil dragon who eats the baseballs. Plus, Bowser's a perfect fit since his mobility in the original Super Mario game exactly matches the running ability of the players in this here cart. Magnificent.

Anyway, for the three people who want to greet Dante at the inferno, download the rom here. Remember to right-click and save to your harddrive. And also remember that I hate e-mails asking about how to use emulators almost as much as I hate baseball. Enjoy!

- Matt
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