In honor of this weekend’s Video Game Marathon fundraiser for Jays Care I thought I’d take a time out from counting down Blue Jays and look at some of the top baseball video games of all-time. This list is highly subjective. Actually scratch that. It’s completely subjective. It’s entirely my opinion and if you’re favorite game doesn’t make the cut the main reason may be because I’ve never played it. The big problem is my current systems don’t include a PlayStation, only an X-Box. Because of that you won’t find The Show on the list. What you will find is number of classic games, including a bunch from the original Nintendo Entertainment System. If you’re old enough to remember the Blue Jays win the World Series in the early nineties at least a few of these games should be familiar. If you’re too young to have even had an NES get ready to fire up the emulator and play some of the classics. Here we go…
10. RBI Baseball
Developed by Namco and published by Tengen, the first RBI Baseball was released for the original Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987. Two sequels followed for the NES and in the future editions also came out on the Genesis, Super Nintendo and a few other systems. We’re focusing solely on the original game on the NES.
RBI Baseball was the first console game licensed by the MLBPA which allowed it to use the names of actual MLB players. However, it wasn’t licensed by MLB baseball so team names or logos weren’t included so George Brett simply played for Kansas City and Dave Stieb was the ace of the Toronto no names.
The inclusion of real players also allowed for their attributes to be realistic as well. For example, Vince Coleman could fly and Nolan Ryan brought the heat.
The animation looks awful by today’s standards with the pudgy players at the plate swinging a bat that look more that a folded umbrella. It wasn’t bad for its day though and I spent many hours playing it as a six-year-old.
9. MLB Pennant Race
MLB Pennant Race was the first baseball game released on the PlayStation in 1996. It was also the first baseball game I played on the system. A friend of mine got a PS1 not long after it first came out and we played MLB Pennant Race for hours. It would eventually get replaced by the far superior Triple Play series of games, but it was a solid if not spectacular first attempt by the game makers at Sony.
MLB Pennant Race came out right before baseball games started the shift to becoming as real as possible. It kind of bridged the gap between arcade style fun and realistic action. Not a bad mix looking back. It also boasted both Major League teams and players which was a rarity in games up to that point.
It may be hard to track down a copy considering it wasn’t an incredibly popular game and it also came in the giant game boxes PlayStation used before changing to jewel cases. If you can find it and have a working PS1 to play it in give it a shot. It might surprise you.
8. World Series Baseball
World Series Baseball was a Sega game first released on the Genesis in 1994. It included licenses from both MLB and the MLBPA which allowed it to include team and player’s names.
Over the summer in 1995 a friend and I played a ton of games of World Series Baseball, which was a solid game for its time with pretty good graphics, game play and play-by-play. It wasn’t all good though. Hitting a home run proved to incredibly annoying as it would take forever for players to trot around the bases while doing cartwheels, fist pumps and yelps of joy depending what buttons you pressed. Yay, another home run. Wake me up when he crosses the plate.
7. ESPN Baseball Tonight
Released on both the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis in 1994 ESPN Baseball Tonight came out before everyone grew tired of Chris Berman. The makers of the game got it backwards by getting MLB licensing, but not MLBPA licensing. You could play as any MLB team but without the actual players.
Gameplay was pretty good though which almost made up for the lack of real Major League players. The play-by-play was also well done, supplied by Dan Patrick. Video clips of Chris Berman were also included and Berman dished out his “back, back, back gone!” calls in Home Run Derby mode. The Home Run Derby was also a little different as you hit off a pitching machine.
6. Baseball Stars
If you’re old enough to have played an original NES with the hand destroying rectangular controllers you likely remember playing Baseball Stars. Released on the NES in 1989, Baseball Stars didn’t have real MLB teams or real MLB players unless you read between the lines. One of the teams, the American Dreams included players called Babe, Hank, Willie, Cy and Pete. They may not have had the last names Ruth, Aaron, Mays, Young and Rose, but you get the idea. Some of the other fun teams in the game included the Ninja Black Sox, Brave Warriors, Japan Robins, Ghastly Monsters and the Lovely Ladies an all-female team.
Baseball Star was also the first baseball video game to offer a number of features. This included a battery backup allowing you to create a team and season and save stats. It also had a create a player feature and the ability to purchase upgrades and new players with money won by playing games.
Apparently there was a sequel, Baseball Stars 2 released in 1991, but I don’t remember even seeing it in my youth let alone playing it.
5. Base Wars
Fighting, cyborgs and baseball. It’s the perfect combination! Base Wars, the game where cyborgs from the future battle on the baseball diamond, was released on the NES in 1991. Human players are replaced by cyborgs who come in four different models. There was an android (built like a regular human), a tank (with wheels on a track), a flying bot (who hovers off the ground) and a cycle-bot (basically half man half unicycle and very fast). Each model can be upgraded and repaired in the shop to be customized with various weapons. Just a few of these weapons include laser guns, laser swords, machine guns, brass knuckle fists and a boomerang type weapon.
These weapons come in handy because whenever there is a putout at any base (that is not a force play) on the diamond, the fielder and the base runner fight it out. If the runner wins the fight he’s safe, but if he loses he’s out.
Cyborg’s obviously need to have a few other quirks then simply beating the crap out of each other. Pitchers in Base Wars could throw an incredibly slow pitch or if you held down the pitch button and let their arm charge up they would throw a rocket fastball. The stadium was floating in space so when you hit a home run the ball flew into the Milky Way.
4. Little League Baseball Championship Series
I played this NES classic some many times growing up I’m surprised the cartridge didn’t wear out. Little League Baseball Championship Series was released in 1990 and used the same engine as Baseball Stars but with slightly different (and in my opinion better) graphics. Players were able to select one of 16 teams from around the world, including Canada, Japan, Italy and Chinese Taipei. There were also a number of different US states to choose from such as Texas, New York and Pennsylvania.
The Canadian squad in Little League Baseball was actually really good. Players in the game were rated from 1 to 5 with 5 obviously the best. Canada had a few players rated at 5 include slugger Peter who hit moon shot home runs if he connected.
The best part of Little Baseball was the ability to play tournaments. You would select you preferred country or state and battle to win the Little League World Series Championship. You would get a password after each game so you didn’t have to have marathon sessions and finish the entire tournament at once. The only tough part was that the password was insanely long and if you copied one letter or number down incorrectly you were sunk. If you think typing in long WiFi passwords is annoying you should try typing in a password in Little League Baseball on for size.
3. Triple Play 2001
Whenever I hear the song Magic Carpet Ride I think of Triple Play 2001. The song played when you loaded up the game and it will remain synonymous with the game for the rest of my days.
Magic Carpet Ride isn’t the only memorable thing about the game of course. The game itself was fantastic. I only played the game on PlayStation and heard that was the best version so go with that one if you ever go back in time and have to make a choice.
Unlike the Triple Play releases from 1999 and 2000 which had some problems and were mediocre, Triple Play 2001 knocked it out of the park. The graphics were top-notch for its time and the game play was a reminder of how well EA Sports made baseball games. The EA developers really knew how to make the hitting portion of the game fun and not a back-breaking task that it seems to be in so many baseball videogames of the last decade or so.
Triple Play 01 also had some fun new features including the new Big League Challenge which allowed you to play in some weird venues (such as a construction site and kids bedroom) and pick up points for smashing windows and causing other damage. There were also some new unlocking features that allowed you to unlock new stadiums and classic stars like Hank Aaron, Cy Young and Babe Ruth.
2. MVP Baseball 2005
The last MLB game released by EA sports before they lost their licensing is still considered by many to be the best baseball videogame ever released. It’s No. 2 on this list and may have been higher if I was a little younger in 2005 and still had hours to spend playing videogames. Want to know how popular MVP really is? Well, you can still find fans making updated MOD rosters to this day, eight years after the game was originally released.
The copy of MVP Baseball 2005 I have is for PC but it was also released on PlayStation 2, X-Box, Nintendo Game Cube and PlayStation Portable. MVP included all Major League teams and players except for one superstar. Barry Bonds withdrew from the MLBPA licensing agreement so he wasn’t included in the game. Instead the San Francisco Giants had a made-up player called Jon Dowd who had all of Bond’s attributes in left field.
The game included a number of different modes from the basic such as exhibition and the more in-depth franchise modes and manager mode that allowed you to take full control of a franchise. Dynasty mode was especially cool as it allowed you to build your own franchise from the ground-up and develop it into a World Series champion
One cool feature in MVP 2005 was the inclusion of a number of classic stadiums including the Polo Grounds, Tiger Stadium, the Astro Dome and Olympic Stadium. Sadly they did not include Exhibition Stadium, but if you looked hard enough online there were some clever computer geeks who made their own Exhibition Stadium that you could MOD on to the PC version.
The game play in MVP was spot on. In my opinion no one has made better MLB games than EA and it’s a shame that they haven’t had the license and the ability to produce a MLB game is nearly a decade now. With those licensing finally becoming available again soon it would be great if that finally changed and EA Sports got back in the baseball business.
1. Triple Play 98
Triple Play was EA’s annual MLB game in the late 90s and early 2000s. And, it was amazing. I played this game so often in the late 90s that I can still remember the theme song.
The graphics may not match what you’ll find in The Show on PS3, but the game play is just as good and so is the player controls. Season mode in Triple Play 98 was great, even though it took forever to complete 162 games and the postseason. The create a player function was also great whether you wanted to create a slugger or an ace pitcher. The only problem was a glitch that for some reason turned after pitcher I created into a submariner knuckle-dragger.
The hidden gems in Triple Play 98 were also top-notch. There were a few hidden fields, including the corn field from Field of Dreams. There was also a Triple Play All-Star team made up of wacky players. One player was a giant and only his legs were visible at the plate. He obviously destroyed the ball when he hit it. There was also a tiny guy smaller than the ball, but incredibly fast. If you laid down a bunt you could be to first base before the fielder picked up the ball. There was also a paper-thin player that could not be tagged out. If he got on base it was an automatic run. If I remember right the starting pitcher for the EA All-Stars was a flame throwing that could throw 150-plus miles per hour.
He wasn’t the only pitcher in the game with a lightning arm. There was a glitch in the game that made it almost unfair to use Oakland reliever Richie Lewis. If you threw a slider with Lewis it would reach 115 MPH. This pitch was practically unhittable and against a human opponent turned his fastball into the ultimate changeup.
I almost forgot to mention the announcing team for Triple Play 98 was very familiar for Jays fans. The former Blue Jays announcing team of Jim Hughson and Buck Martinez handled the play-by-play in fine fashion.
If you ever get a chance to play Triple Play 98 I recommend using the Colorado Rockies. Their overloaded lineup which included Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga, Vinny Castilla, Dante Bichette, Ellis Burks and Eric Young was lethal.
Bonus: The worst baseball games:
For every great baseball videogame that’s been made there’s been at least a couple pieces of garbage. With that being said here’s my pick for two of the worst baseball video games I’ve had the unfortunate luck of playing.
Super Challenge Baseball
Super Challenge Baseball was released for the Atari 2600 in 1982 and it was the first baseball videogame I ever played as a kid. It’s amazing I even like baseball after suffering though that catastrophe. Playing Super Challenge Baseball is the equivalent to getting punched in the back of the head over and over. Yes, it’s that aggravating.
The first thing you’ll notice about Super Challenge Baseball is that there are only eight players on the field. There’ no shortstop, but that may not be a horrible thing since you’ll have a hard enough time controlling the eight fielders you do have. When the ball is hit you are supposed to be able to take control of the fielder closest to the ball, get the ball if you can and throw the runner out. In reality your best bet is to run toward the outfield fence because most of the time that’s where the ball will end up. Even if you do field the ball half the time your fielder can’t throw the ball fast enough to get the runner at first.
I think the real super challenge in Super Challenge was being able to last nine innings without turning the game off or smashing it to bits.
The first Bases Loaded game was released on the NES in 1988. A number of sequels followed over the years and it was actually a pretty popular series. As a kid I hated it and haven’t played it or one of it sequels in at least 20 years.
There’s one reason I hated Base Loaded. Unlike every other baseball video game known to man Base Loaded was played from the perspective of the pitcher. The same view you get when watching a baseball game on TV is the one you’d get in Base Loaded. Try guessing when to swing for a pitch or assess if it’s a ball or a strike when you CAN’T watch it come toward the plate. Playing Bases Loaded after playing another baseball videogame with the normal view was like right-handed person trying to write with their left hand.