"You know you’re playing a beat-‘em-up if your brutish, hulking warrior, hellbent on vengeance, finds his only respite from his henchmen-bloodying efforts in the form of consuming a hamburger he found in a dumpster. "
You know you’re playing a beat-‘em-up if your brutish, hulking warrior, hellbent on vengeance, finds his only respite from his henchmen-bloodying efforts in the form of consuming a hamburger he found in a dumpster.
You know you’re playing Ninja Baseball Bat Man if that hamburger has legs and eyes, and your hero—a jersey-clad ninja—needs to smash it into submission before it will stop moving so that he can get it down.
Of the now-defunct late-‘80s-early-‘90s school of 2D side-scrolling brawlers, the most respectable and unforgettable entries had fundamental common threads: setting and context. Final Fight, Streets of Rage and The Punisher, three of the genre’s finest, combined grueling gangland fisticuffs across putrid urban slums, warehouses and factories, parkways, and other thug-dominated territories, with a motive for retribution of a generally serious nature. A kidnapped daughter, a slaughtered family, pervasive citywide corruption at the hands of crime syndicates—these are the types of high-profile wrongdoings inspiring the rage of the typical beat-‘em-up badass.
Across these spectra, NBBM is consistently guilty of deviance, presenting circumstances more goofy than serious by virtue of cultural proximity: this adventure is blatantly Japanese, as evidenced by the coloring-book-light presentation, silly enemy family (complemented with off-the-wall boss encounters), and the relatively trivial task at hand. This will prove to be simultaneously amusing and crushing.
An unknown, nefarious thief has broken into the Baseball Hall of Fame and stolen a solid gold statue of the legendary Babe Ruth, as well as the accessories (bat, ball, glove, spikes) accompanying it. For no immediately apparent reason, he then scatters these items across six cities, which must be traversed and cleansed by a ragtag team of heroes. While I as an American would have gotten a lot more out of the experience if that hero had been an awakened, skull-smashingly furious Babe Ruth, Irem Japan, as you just knew they would, decided to go with ninjas donning baseball uniforms and wielding bats.
The radical nature of the presentation and situation never reach the protagonists’ surface-level characteristics—the ever-present archetypes (the well balanced, the fast and weak, the slow and powerful, the long-range tactician) make up the roster. However, in a surprising and refreshing twist, each has his own individual special maneuvers outside of the standard three-hit combo and spinning clothesline that deal an impressive amount of damage. Very rarely does the genre provide for a variety of character-unique skills—it’s nice that it’s done here, but disappointing that it takes such an obscure brawler to get right what the mainstream multitudes should have made typical. Multiple baseball bat slugs to the head, topped off by being set afire by a stick of dynamite, leaves a rather sour taste in the mouth of any demonic baseball or glove that may approach you.
No, these enemies aren’t of the flavor you’re likely to be familiar with from past beat-‘em-up expeditions—many of them are otherwise inanimate baseball equipment brought to life by apparent satanic ritual. The brightly colored Seattle airfields first explored host enemy baseballs, gloves and pumpkin-heads. Once you’ve jumped up into the aisles of a large jet heading down the runway, your first boss encounter will ensue. The opponent: a green, beady-eyed upright-walking prop-plane that takes swings at you with its extractable landing gear. Attack head-on, or pick up the passenger seats and hurl them at this hard-hearted sky-flyer, in hopes of defeating him and regaining Babe Ruth’s gold bat!
. . .
Frankly, I’m at a loss.
You’ll cross a dilapidated Golden Gate Bridge, then plummet through its remnants onto a steam liner to clear its main decks of malevolent sports gear and other unidentifiable attackers. Once you dock, obtaining the second piece of Ruth’s holy sportswear rests on the outcome of a duel between your baseball ninja and Mad Lax, a monster truck that attempts to run you over and jab you with its license plate lips. After you’ve sent him out into San Francisco Bay, it’s onto the neon-lit Las Vegas strip to vanquish yet more oddball assailants: playing cards wearing top hats. It is after you’ve seized The Great Bambino’s hat, recovering from a tough fight with the claw-armed killer slot machine, that you’ll begin to wonder if it’s all worth the trouble.
NBBM’s value is going to rest on whether your notions of a beat-‘em-up are typically restricted to the concepts now deeply rooted in the genre—things like city streets and graffiti, knife-wielding thugs, and the hero as a musclebound, cold-blooded symbol of vengeance. The light-hearted brightness of the worlds explored here, the types of enemies—some creatures which are totally unclassifiable—and of course, the enigmatic baseball ninjas, all serve to make for an adventure impossible to take seriously. In Chicago, you’ll contend with trench-coated, Tommy gun toting dogs. If this strikes you as amusing, than suit up, friend, the Bambino needs you. Most will find it bizarre, and eventually move on.
This is a quest that proves at first refreshing, with a variety of special moves to be utilized and some silly boss encounters to enjoy. Unfortunately, under any scrutiny things appear hollower: the heroes have very little personality, beating up five hundred baseballs isn’t nearly as fulfilling as beating up five hundred thugs, and the atmosphere and situation simply aren’t in keeping with the principles underscoring most brawlers. To sustain interest in a game of a genre that is repetitive by its very nature, strong characters and memorable heroics are a necessity; Ninja Baseball Bat Man ignores this and goes for full-on wackiness. The result inspires short-term bewilderment and, ironically for a game so seemingly unique, long-term obscurity. Old tricks are even resorted to—witness the worn-out ‘boss gauntlet’ serving as a prelude to the final confrontation—but this one still lacks staying power.
This will certainly prove to be an interesting temporary diversion, but if anything in this archaic genre calls you back for more, it will be Final Fight and The Punisher.
Community review by dogma (November 24, 2004)
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