69: Baseball Stars

Genre: Baseball

Developer: SNK
Publisher: SNK
Year: 1989

Basic Idea:  Pay your players to give them better stats over time, or just play with the ladies.

Review: This is often considered the best baseball game on the NES.  While it has a lot of flair, there’s too much wrong with it for me to rank it higher.  I was told once I tend to end my critiques on down notes, so I’ll try to do the opposite here.

Despite mostly solid game mechanics, this game has one major no-no that is present in way too many baseball games; when a ball is hit to the outfield, you actually don’t get to see your outfielder until the ball is almost there.  While the game helps you out a little bit in this regard, I have no desire to make last-second adjustments when the screen finally zooms to my outfielder.  This also is occasionally a problem in the infield.  On line drives, I want to try and dive and catch them, but the ball is usually past the infield before I can see where my infielders were located.  Second, the players generally make weak-ass throws.  Can-of-corn pop-ups caught by the shortstop in short-left often lead to runners tagging up from third and scoring.  Finally, you cannot retreat to the previous bag if you’ve already touched the next one, making for easy double-plays.

However, the game has so many good qualities that help it make the list.  Play control is incredibly fluid, perhaps the best of any baseball game on the system.  It is also the only game (well, sort-of) on the NES where your player can climb the outfield wall and try to rob a homer.  Not sure I’ve ever done it, but it’s possible.

What really made the game popular, though (I think), is that you can create your own team that can grow better over time (similar to the system in Tecmo Super Bowl III for  the SNES).  Every time you win a game with your crappy team, you get money which you can spend on improving different attributes of your players.  While against the computer this is more or less an exercise in level-building, against a friend it can get competitive.  The game does save your teams and your stats, which should be silly to mention but in 1989 battery back-up was still pretty rare.  Unfortunately, the season mode only lasted 25 games.  While most groups of friends don’t have the patience to play longer seasons than this, it would have been nice to be able to play a regulation season.

There is also a built-in team of lady players.  They pretty much suck, but it’s a nice touch.

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