Legends of the Diamond (NES) review
"Hearing old baseball players and analysts like Joe Morgan on television waxing poetically about the “good ole days” of professional baseball and players playing “for the love of the game” and not “multi-million dollar contracts” can warp the distinction between perception and reality. False beliefs, such as teams winning with “clutch” hitting, defense, and determination are held up and idolized by the paid professionals who play and cover the game of baseball. Despite recent hard work by stati..."
Hearing old baseball players and analysts like Joe Morgan on television waxing poetically about the “good ole days” of professional baseball and players playing “for the love of the game” and not “multi-million dollar contracts” can warp the distinction between perception and reality. False beliefs, such as teams winning with “clutch” hitting, defense, and determination are held up and idolized by the paid professionals who play and cover the game of baseball. Despite recent hard work by statisticians and historians, this false perception of “ye olde baseball” has persisted to current times.
Reality clashes with all of these beliefs. Before Jackie Robinson, baseball was a game played only by illiterate hicks and fair-haired white Yale boys. It was an intensely violent game until owners needed to clean up the game after the death of a player and the Black Sox scandal of 1919. The owners were partly responsible for the situation, as they bled their players of wages with restrictive contracts, encouraging many to supplement their income by throwing games. Many players didn’t play for “the love of the game.” The twenty grand and endless steam of women that could be obtained with their star status sure beat dying a slow death as a coal miner or becoming a petty thief. Teams weren’t built upon defense and determination. The great Yankees dynasties all featured tremendous power hitters, the championship teams of the 70s and 80s exploited speed because of the freak cavernous stadiums of the era, and baseball theorists like Bill Veeck, Earl Weaver, and Branch Rickey flourished because they were willing to think outside of baseball’s mind-numbing psychological box.
Because history itself has been unduly muddled by perception, some flaws present in Legends of the Diamond can be overlooked. No, Josh Gibson never threw close to 90 MPH, nevermind the 115 he’s clocked at in this game. Yes, when creating rosters, they did take too many players with .300 averages from the offensive eras, and pitchers with sub 3.00 ERAs and gaudy win totals from the deadball era. In equal time frames, there is no way that most of the “legends” would be able to compete with modern players.
However, there is no excuse for the lack of gameplay modes, roster composition, and basic baseball mechanics. The only valuable aspect of the game (having control over the legendary greats of baseball) is negated by the sheer inadequacy of everything else. Legends of the Diamond does little but rely on its one gimmick to separate itself from the superior baseball games available for the NES.
Strike one against Legends of the Diamond are the gameplay modes. You can play single game exhibitions or a multi-game playoff tree. There is no season mode available and zero stat tracking. In fact, there’s no way to discern between players except for their lifetime stats and skin tones; there are no ratings for power, speed, contact, etc. Without stat tracking of player ratings, the potential of seeing stars duke it out with each other for all-time supremacy is lost entirely.
Strike two against Legends of the Diamond is the horrible roster composition. Any game which has Babe Ruth riding the pine is immediately dubious in my mind. The lineups are confusingly arranged, with weak hitting speedsters at the top and power sluggers riding the pine. Players are identified on the pregame coaching screen by an assortment of confusing names - Babe Ruth is listed as “Babe” but Johnny Mize is simply “Mize.” Without any naming standards, constant consulting of the players data sheet is needed to determine their true identity.
However, the worst aspect of the rosters is the complete lack of flexibility. There are only three position and two pitching substitutes for each team. Thankfully, injuries aren’t possible in Legends of the Diamond, since the position players on the bench can’t possibly account for all the possible positions on the field. Well, this doesn’t really matter either, since Hank Aaron can play shortstop as well as Honus Wagner. Pitching is even worse. All pitchers can remain at top form for roughly three innings before they start lobbing 70 MPH meatballs. At least two pitchers are needed to finish each game, and heaven help you if you get into extra innings.
The enormous “whoosh” of air that comes with a swinging strike three is due to the horrible gameplay. The batting and pitching are OK due to the low standards of NES baseball games. Outside of Bases Loaded, every other baseball game paraded out the flat overhead batter vs. pitcher confrontation, which eliminates all pitches which rely on vertical movement. This factor alone makes it much easier for the batter, and explains the monumental box scores in early NES games. Batting is dependant on when you swing and where the ball meets the bat. Pitching relies on painting the corners and changing speeds, feebly hoping that the computer won’t make contact. Legends of the Diamond actually does feature a curve ball; it’s a slow squib into the dirt which is unhittable. Too bad the computer will only swing at it once in a blue moon.
Legends of the Diamond becomes atrocious due to the utter lack of reasonable fielding. Simply finding fly balls is an adventure because there’s no on-field indicators of your player’s positioning. Therefore, unless the ball is hit close to an outfielder or somewhere in the infield, you can mark it down as a double at least. If your player is off the screen, you can only imagine his position relative to the ball, which makes retrieval one hell of a problem. Even if you manage to salvage a play, the computer always runs the bases perfectly; it helps to control the AI, eh? Prepare to boil as it skillfully avoids rundowns, never getting an out in them, using some great perversion of The Sandlot’s Bennie to avoid pickles.
The miserable fielding prohibits Legends of the Diamond from being any sort of enjoyable baseball game despite the great premise. Merging hall of fame players with a quality baseball engine is an excellent concept that has not been achieved yet. Legends of the Diamond provides the flawed nostalgia of “ye olde baseball” without any of the gameplay to backup the giants of America’s pastime.
Community review by sgreenwell (August 19, 2003)
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