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ACA NeoGeo: 2020 Super Baseball (PlayStation 4) artwork

Advanced technology, robots, cybernetic enhancements for humans, and flashy lights as far as the eye can see; these examples are often associated with a science fiction framework, usually in a city dwelling. Now what would happen if you apply these to a sports title, specifically baseball? Well, a dev team thought up such a concept with 1991's 2020 Super Baseball, originally released for SNK's Neo Geo hardware but recently resurfacing in Hamster's "ACA" catalog on the PS4. Curious gamers have the opportunity to experience baseball in the Cyber Egg Stadium, where teams made of men, women, and robots compete. Here, the game sticks out due to its colorful, futuristic applications, with human players sporting sensory goggles, armor, and jet packs, not to mention robots endowed with triangular caterpillar tracks as feet.

But is there anything interesting to offer besides a graphically-distinct design? It really doesn't seem so at first, but there are some unique changes to the game's flow. Likely the first one you'll notice is the stadium itself, with a good portion of audience stands covered with a protective see-through barrier; if a batted ball lands outside the playing area, it'll roll back into the field. The only spot that's exposed is the north fence facing the batter, making home runs much, much harder to pull off. Another neat change has to do with ground "pads" placed in corners of the field, some allowing extra jump boost, with others forcing balls to a stop behind the first and third bases. Interestingly, while sounding a bit too fantastical for real life, the MLB have actually incorporated audience protection nets and stop zones in the decades following this game's release.



Furthermore, catching balls in the outfield have been made a bit tricky. As the battle rages between teams, a Robocop-looking umpire will release crackers during certain innings; these crackers are basically land mines. If someone steps on one, they'll be out of commission for the duration of a batted ball, forcing someone else to pick it up from a distance. 2020 also has a separate scoring system that builds up currency depending on how well you perform, such as striking batters out, taking a base, or making a home run. Doing poorly will elicit deductions, like causing a walk or being tagged out, though penalties are usually low unless you execute a beanball. In turn, this currency can then be used to upgrade players for the current match, allowing for speedier pitcher throws and stronger batting swings. This system actually encourages skillful play for rewards.

These changes certainly make for interesting outcomes, and they would make the game genuinely fun if it weren't for a couple of problems elsewhere. For one, there is no infield fly rule, meaning you'll have situations where multiple base runners can be out, but that issue is the least offensive of the bunch. 2020's AI functions are poorly implemented. When a ball is hit, the camera follows and you can only gain control of a player when the camera flies over the first player seen. This is fine. However: remember the change about balls rolling back into the outfield? For some reason, when the camera follows the ball to the audience stands, the AI hijacks the controls. So when the ball rolls back in... your outfielders aren't there to catch the ball. You have to regain control and run to the ball. This is essentially the leading cause of runs to home plate for the opposing team.

Now, if you're playing against AI teams instead of another person, then it doesn't help that the computer outright cheats, magically performing "feats" out of nowhere. These egregious miracles usually happen when you make a great hit to the outfield; a catcher is already positioned in the spot the ball will fall. This occasionally happens for your side too, but it gets so bad with the opposing team to the point where every single ball you hit, regardless of its speed and trajectory, will be caught. The absolute worst variation of this can occur when bases are nearly loaded, you have two outs, and you hit a fast, unseeable flying ball to the north fence: a guaranteed home run. However, when the ball reaches the fence threshold, an AI catcher is already in the air, ready to catch the ball... and makes the catch. That's literally the computer calculating the ball's trajectory the moment it got hit. That's disgusting.



Hilariously, Hamster's port has a feature that can help fight the cheating: saving. Granted, you have to restart the game from the PS4 menu to load the save, but it's a feature worth abusing when the AI wants to screw you over. But that's also the sad part; if you have to rely on something included decades later in a console port to make an arcade game more bearable against bots, then that says a lot about the original dev team's approach to difficulty. 2020 Super Baseball comes with ideas that would make for an entertaining good time, and ideally you'll want to play this against another person. Sadly, its issues are too irritatingly distracting to make this a truly fun product. Unfortunately, that turns this into something you don't want it to be: just a gimmick you play every now and then.

2.5/5

pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (December 09, 2020)

Unfortunately, the last time SNES Gradius III has been available for download purchase was on the Wii's Virtual Console.

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