"Any seasoned gamer worth his salt knows the essence of R.B.I. Baseball for the NES. It's one of the greatest yet simplest sports games ever made, maintaining a following even decades after its release. Much of this popularity came from the inclusion of real MLB players and teams of the time. The rest came from how easy the game is to play and master. It doesn't take much work to learn how to dominate batters like a 14 year old amongst little leaguers or bomb round-trippers with the ..."
Any seasoned gamer worth his salt knows the essence of R.B.I. Baseball for the NES. It's one of the greatest yet simplest sports games ever made, maintaining a following even decades after its release. Much of this popularity came from the inclusion of real MLB players and teams of the time. The rest came from how easy the game is to play and master. It doesn't take much work to learn how to dominate batters like a 14 year old amongst little leaguers or bomb round-trippers with the frequency of a beer-league softball game. In terms of gameplay and presentation, Atari R.B.I. Baseball clones its console counterpart. In fact, it has a single but significant edge: its players are not typical big leaguers.
If the NES version blinds with its star power, then the Atari flavor lobotomizes the visual cortex. The arcade variation features ten storied franchises, most populated with luminaries from every era of the sport. Mel Ott offers protection to Mays and McCovey. Ryno and Hack Wilson sandwich Mr. Cub Ernie Banks. There's an opportunity to play with a Bigger Red Machine, with Rose, Morgan, Bench, and Perez -- Frank Robinson's Triple Crown can substitute from the dugout. Then there's the ultimate, an augmented Murderer's Row of Gehrig, Ruth, Mantle, DiMaggio, and Berra. Facing these legends seems an impossible task, except when staring them down with the likes of Koufax, Spahn, Bob Gibson, and Nolan Ryan.
Examining the makeup of the various teams is one of the most interesting aspects of the game, and even with so few clubs, player allocation issues are particularly intriguing. Reggie Jackson and Rickey Henderson understandably suit up for the A's instead of riding the pine for the Bronx Bombers. Meanwhile, Jimmie Foxx, despite spending more of his productive years with those same Athletics, toils in Boston alongside Yaz and The Splendid Splinter. Then there's the players and teams unfortunately excluded from play. With apologies to The Ryan Express, the Astros are a squad populated almost entirely by 80's ragbags that only pepper other rosters -- soon-to-be stiff Glenn Davis is represented as, and plays like, the best of Houston's lineup. Couldn't this slot have been filled by Ty Cobb, Al Kaline, Trammel and Whitaker? Or by the O's with Brooks, Ripken, Eddie Murray, and Jim Palmer? What about having Honus Wagner join Roberto Clemente, Maz, and Willie Stargell's family?
In this case though, "More!" is simply the cry of a satisfied customer. Atari has given everyone the chance to immerse themselves in the collective nostalgia of America's pastime. Sure, any killjoy can point out the game's imperfections. Fielders waddle about with the speed expected from their portly bodies and stubby legs. Computer baserunners are dumb as bricks and can be baited into easy outs. The view used for both batting and pitching, a low angle from the backstop, reduces the complexity of both tasks. Trickery in pitching is limited to moving the ball from side-to-side, plus the occasional unhittable pitch in the dirt. Picking up the skill to follow the subtle curve of incoming balls and strikes takes little effort. Likewise, developing the repertoire to baffle CPU hitters requires only modest experimentation. Because of its simplicity, enjoyment must eventually be derived from the pursuit and execution of perfect play.
And yes, the atrocious musical strains present in the original game loop incessantly in this rendition as well.
This title does boast its own unique oddity involving the blowout rule. Human players abide by the familiar R.B.I. system, whereby a double-digit lead invokes the game-ending mercy rule. However! If the computer eeks ahead by even a single run, it's automatic game over. No losing of any kind is ever tolerated, which can bring a swift and disappointing end to a contest. This effect is also a downer because it eliminates the possibility of late-inning dramatics (good ones anyway), but it does make those player-favoring gameplay blemishes look very attractive, even essential.
There's more too, as the game has proven itself an accurate foreseer of the future. Not only does it predict that Mark McGwire will surpass the magical 61, but it plays out The Commish's embarrassing All-Star game decision, the smiting of competitive spirit. In short, ties are allowed. While the dollar-plus wasted for a full nine innings falls as an archaic complaint, the lack of resolution, particularly in a two player game, stands as an unsatisfactory outcome.
These negative issues don't concern me, though. The entertainment generated by the gameplay engine is not what Atari R.B.I. Baseball is really about. It's about Hank Aaron. Jackie Robinson. Stan Musial. It's about names, pitting legend against legend to invoke a reverence for the sport's rich history. Even if the tingle of exhilaration lasts for only a fleeting moment, every baseball fanatic should play this game and experience that feeling.
Community review by woodhouse (June 12, 2005)
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