By Sean Willis and Marshall Garvey
Ah, baseball. It’s a game that’s anachronistic in so many ways, with roots that can be traced to the years preceding the Civil War. Yet it’s also incredibly modern, with many teams utilizing mind-numbingly detailed mathematics and analysis (better known as sabermetrics) to figure out the science of winning it. It’s a sport without a game clock, cheerleaders and halftime shows. It can be played anywhere, from parking lots and backyards to multi-million dollar stadiums. And it produces more unforgettable sources of drama and thrills than any other sport: walk-off home runs, grand slams, no-hitters, perfect games, stolen bases, suicide squeeze bunts, leaping and diving catches, triple plays, bases-loaded, two-out strikeouts…the list goes on.
Naturally, with all these components, baseball has been a fertile subject for memorable video games throughout the years. The Show is but the latest franchise to serve as the annual chronicle of the sport for consoles, following the likes of MVP Baseball, Nintendo’s Ken Griffey series and R.B.I. Baseball. Fans got a fun twist on their favorite players with the Backyard Baseball series, which turned dozens of MLB’s biggest stars into kids. Or how about when Mario and friends took to the diamond in 2005’s Mario Superstar Baseball? Not to mention, the always-satisfying All-Star Baseball 2001 for N64 was one of our first inductees in the Last Token Gaming Hall of Fame.
Hell, video games have even factored into the baseball world itself, albeit often as a negative distraction. Take the story of Seattle Mariners shortstop Rey Quinones in 1987, who was unavailable to pinch hit during a game because he was too busy playing Super Mario Bros. in the clubhouse. (When asked to leave, he refused, as he was closing in on the seventh level.) In 2011, when the Boston Red Sox spiralled into their infamous September collapse, part of the blame lay with starting pitchers Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and John Lackey’s hobby of eating fried chicken, drinking beer and playing video games in the clubhouse rather than putting in the effort to lead their team to the playoffs.
With the Major League Baseball regular season over and what is sure to be an incredible playoff underway, it’s only fitting Last Token Gaming kick October off with a baseball piece. Today, however, we’re not talking about games that accurately recreate the sport. Instead, Marshall (one of LTG’s resident baseball geeks) and Sean are traversing down a more offbeat path of some of the craziest, most bizarre takes on America’s pastime to ever reach consoles. From Spongebob facing off against Felix Hernandez to robots stepping up to bat, here’s six of the most insane baseball video games you can play.
- Ninja Baseball Bat Man
Sean: Well, it isn’t really a baseball game as far as gameplay goes, but it is outright saturated in baseball as a theme. Pretty much one of the best side scrolling arcade beat-’em-up games ever made, and one of the simply brain-busting crazy ones. It was made by IREM, who are known for lots of great arcade games way back when. Up to four players play as the Ninja Baseball Bat Man, who when called by the commissioner must go out and find the golden baseball items of some sort of importance. From there, you go out classic arcade style beating up everything that moves, which mostly consist of walking sentient giant baseballs, catcher’s mitts, squids, a car with lips, angry playing cards, a slot machine with claws, sentient baseball bats, swinging baseball bats, a boss fight inside a plane…uh, let’s just say it gets a bit crazy.
Beyond the craziness, it has a simple attack system, with a few hidden moves which require some quick inputs. Things like flying in the air by twirling two bats, or crashing into the ground with a lightning strike. Complete with some crazy all-powerful moves that summon a bunch of meteorites, a volcano eruption, lightning, or a water dragon thing. (Trust me, it looks cool.) The game takes players from Seattle all the way to New York, where the final battle takes place in a stadium just in case anyone forgot there’s a baseball theme going on. The arcade machine of the game is near impossible to find and there was never a port to consoles in any form, so your only chance to play it is via emulation, but it’s worth playing at least once.
- Baseball Stars 2
Marshall: OK, so this one might be a bit of a stretch to include on this list. After all, it does center around on-field baseball action, even more so than its predecessor. But I still feel it warrants inclusion because of how deliciously over-the-top its aesthetic is. First, the characters look like animated versions of the Big League Chew mascot. Second, each pitch and play is interspersed with loud noises, flashing text and smash-and-grab action animations that are an absolute hoot. (For one, every time you strike out, the batter breaks the bat on his knee.) All of this colorfully augments one of the most muscular gameplay setups in any baseball video game….you FEEL every hit and strikeout. Altogether, Baseball Stars 2 is by far one of the best baseball games ever released, and one of the many reasons the Neo Geo deserves celebration. How I had never played it until the LTG 2-year anniversary party this past August (when my friend and colleague Michael Mygind brought it over as part of his Neo Geo collection) is beyond me.
- Super Baseball Simulator 1000, aka Super Ultra Baseball (Japanese title)
Sean: One of the classics I grew up with, this game was actually an upgrade to Baseball Simulator 1000 on the NES. (Notice the lack of “Super” there.) The game is pretty much your standard baseball game, with good sounds, music and lots of options. It doesn’t get too weird or crazy until you select the Ultra leagues. Now what would the Ultra league be? Just harder terms right? NOPE! Well, yes actually, but what I mean to say is they have super powers. Yep…super powers. Each batter gets their own super power which can be enabled, but is only used a limited amount of times once the player rotates around for another chance at bat. Powers include things like super speed to the first base, super powered swings which put them into a tornado like spin, weird illusions which hide the ball shadow with more shadows, or a straight up crazy swerving ball. Providing the player at-bat can hit the ball as the pitchers not only have powers too, but can also choose from a list of them. Controlling the ball mid-flight, stopping it in place, calling up thunder and lightning itself into a power throw. Just a bit overdoing it there guys. Other than that, the game is fairly standard baseball, but the extra additions add a bit of extra spin to it to throw anyone off their game. Not the CPU, though, as you can use as much powers as you want, but they always seem to manage a hit or catch the ball. Pff, cheating computers. Might confuse and anger your friends though, always fun.
- Nicktoons MLB
Marshall: 2011 was, to say the least, a surreal year in baseball. Jim Thome quietly reaching 600 home runs, Bud Selig and MLB taking temporary ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers away from Frank McCourt, the epic collapses by the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves, that insane final day of the regular season, Chris Carpenter out-duelling Roy Halladay in the NLDS to lead a 90-win Cardinals team over a Phillies team that won 102 games, Albert Pujols blasting three homers in a World Series game before switching from Cardinal red to Angel red in the offseason. And of course, game 6 of the World Series, in which the Texas Rangers were one strike away twice (TWICE!) from winning their first ever championship, only to have those upstart Cardinals come storming back both times. All before David Freese launched a home run into centerfield in the bottom of the 11th. Just typing all these out still makes my head spin that they even happened at all, let alone in one year.
Yet perhaps the weirdest MLB moment that year didn’t occur on the field, but rather on Wii, Xbox 360 and Nintendo DS/3DS consoles with the arrival of Nicktoons MLB in September. Like many baseball games, you can play as some of the game’s biggest contemporary stars, including Yadier Molina, Andre Ethier, Jason Heyward, Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, and Joey Votto. Not to mention, you play in fairly decent recreations of MLB stadiums. But rather than playing against each other in simulations of real-life games, they instead take the field against the likes of Spongebob Squarepants, Timmy Turner, Invader Zim, Ren and Stimpy, and Aang.
The result is….surprisingly good. Granted, I have yet to pick it up and play it myself, but the game received mixed to good reviews, providing a fun motion-controlled sports game for all ages. But it’s nonetheless a weird symbiosis, especially if you’ve pissed away countless hours of your life watching Nickelodeon cartoons and baseball like I have. Frankly, I’m surprised I never daydreamed about the Angry Beavers going up to bat against Tim Lincecum myself, or Plankton trying to groove a fastball past David Ortiz. This really shouldn’t be a one-off deal…rather, there should be yearly iterations like we get with The Show.
- Winnie the Pooh’s Home Run Derby
Marshall: Of all entries on this list, this one is by far the smallest in scale, as it’s merely a flash game produced by Disney for kids. And it’s seemingly innocent as can be, with Winnie and friends playing a friendly game of baseball. But it might as well be 40 hours in length and right on the shelf next to Dark Souls, since it’s attained notoriety for being excruciatingly difficult, especially for a kids game. Its original Japanese incarnation quickly became popular fodder on 4chan and Reddit, even rippling out to sites like the Daily Dot, Kotaku and NBC Sports’ Off the Bench. The final stage against Christopher Robin in particular generated quite a few hilarious GIFs and images, including this gem:
Personally, I love that a Winnie the Pooh baseball minigame is absurdly hard. I say, why stop at a home run derby? Let’s have a whole season mode, with all of the features of the game. Why not, for example, add a base-brawl feature, where you can charge the mound and put Christopher Robin or Tigger in a Nolan Ryan/Robin Ventura headlock? Plus, considering how many players’ numbers go into the toilet after participating in the home run derby, as well as Winnie’s performance-crippling addiction to honey, you have to figure the rest of the season is going to be pretty rough for everyone’s favorite resident of Pooh Corner. Which could set up the sequel: Winnie the Pooh’s Steroid Scandal.
- Super Baseball 2020
Sean: Taking our first pick might not be the most insane in itself, as say the crazy difficulty of Winnie the Pooh’s Home Run Derby, but it does provide some food for thought about what the future of baseball might be like. Say in about, five years from now. Well, mind you, back in the 90’s the year 2020 was quite a ways off, but I guess we have five years to find out if it happens the same way. A sort of spin-off of the Baseball Stars games on the NeoGeo (before our #5 entry Baseball Stars 2, actually) the game takes place in the future year of 2020. Human players all wear a sort of armor, female players join some of the teams (and comprise the majority of a couple teams) and of course robots, cause I mean, it’s the future after all. From there, the gameplay is standard baseball. However, field players are able to use jetpacks, mines known as crackers are placed on the field, and robots explode if you hit them with a ball.
Though it is standard baseball for the most part, the extra additions make for some more interesting play. Not to mention, the landmines are always fun to watch. Along with the mines, there are also jump and stop pads along the field. These allow a field player to rocket up to the ball or stops it in its tracks. They can also slide using their rocket packs, which just looks cool really. Overall, graphics are a bit serious, with large and highly detailed sprites. Just about everything looks mechanical in some way, from the scoreboard to the bat and batter’s box itself, which features teleporters. (Why walk there when you can teleport, right?) It isn’t quite in-your-face overall but you know, this is how baseball is gonna be in five years so ya better get ready. The umpire is a robot after all, he’ll know, he’s watching your every move.