Up until now, last year’s R.B.I. Baseball has been my favorite of the many baseball games on the Nintendo. Not only was the gameplay smooth, but also it featured dozens of real superstars, like Dwight Gooden, Vince Coleman, and Kirby Puckett. SNK’s Baseball Stars doesn’t have any MLB teams or feature current players, but it still manages to soar above all of the competition, making it one of the best games to own on the NES no matter the genre.
There are multiple modes of play in this Game Pak, but I’ll start with the basic gameplay mechanics. At the onset, you can play an exhibition game against the computer or go head-to-head against a friend. There are 8 teams to choose from, each complete with an adjustable roster of 18 players. You can view the stats and attributes of each.
There are some amusing teams – the best are the American Dreams featuring fictional versions of all-time greats, such as Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Cy Young, and more. This team destroys any and all other competitors, giving it an extremely unfair advantage. You can use this team to just have fun with or maybe give yourself a handicap to let other, less proficient gamers take you on. Other quirky teams include the Ghastly Monsters – which consists of players named Medusa, Freddie, and Cyclops – and the Lovely Ladies – a much-welcomed all-female team.
Most of the traditional rules of baseball are included and it controls and plays similar to R.B.I. Baseball, only it is improved in every conceivable way. Pitching, hitting, base running, and defense are all quite simple to learn and execute. Fielding is so much smoother than RBI, which was very unfair at times. The standout feature is that you can dive for grounders, leap to catch line drives, and even climb the fence to rob home runs. There are several kinds of pitches to throw including a trick-pitch. As the game reaches the middle innings, your pitcher will begin to tire and lose his speed and velocity, so you’ll need to utilize your bullpen. The gameplay is quickly paced, and a game should only take about 15 minutes to complete. A 10-run rule is enforced, so if the game is a blowout it will end after that inning. The game is very approachable and anyone can easily pick up a controller and have a blast.
On the surface this is an outstanding sports game, but Baseball Stars offers so much more. The attraction that is going generate a lot of buzz is a General Manager mode. First off, you can create your own team from scratch! You get to choose from a variety of logos and you customize your team from several options. For example, you can choose from a balanced team, or one with strong pitching, power-hitting, speedy runners, or defensive specialists. You then name the team and each of the 18 players. Of course I had to make a team made up of the current Minnesota Twins roster. You have the option to create up to six teams, and since this game features a battery backup like The Legend of Zelda, all your information will be saved automatically. This is probably the smartest decision by SNK, since now you can seamlessly continue your season without the need for pesky passwords, which vastly adds to the lasting value of this game.
After you’ve got your team created it is time to begin your season. You can choose from 2 to 6 teams to be in the league and have up to a 125 game season. You pick which team to control and the games between the computer teams are automatically played once selected. All of the stats are saved, so the batting average, home run total, and pitchers’ E.R.A. will be displayed during the game. In between games, you can view the standing and the league leaders in the major statistics. This is a dream come true for stat geeks and baseball card junkies like myself.
You’ll notice right away that your created team is horrible. The runners are slow, the pitchers tire easily, and the hitting stinks. How do you improve? If you win a game in the league, you’ll be awarded money based on the attendance (certain teams bring in bigger crowds than others). With the money, you can purchase skill upgrades on any of your players. You also have the option to fire your really poor players and hire new ones. Newly hired players usually have higher potential than your existing ones. It takes a lot of wins against the poorer teams to start to have a truly competitive roster.
If these innovative new game modes weren’t enticing enough, the presentation in this game is phenomenal. The players are significantly larger than in R.B.I. The crowd looks pretty good and there are some cool screens when you hire or fire a player. Each team has its own uniform colors, but unfortunately during the game all the players look about the same, except for the women who wear skirts. The animation is crisp, and lacks the choppiness that has hampered other sports games. The controls are spot on, making this an easy game to pick up and play without spending excess time going through the manual. For a sports game, the music is excellent, as several stadium-type songs play during the game time. The intro music is great, and there is also a tune that plays during the menus, although this can get repetitive since it takes a decently long time to name all of your players.
It’s pretty clear what I’ll be doing all summer and fall – going though my entire Baseball Stars season on a quest to max out my players and beat the fearsome American Dreams. The gameplay itself is spectacular, but I’m really blown away by the create-a-team mode and customization. SNK has opened the gateways for a new type of sports game. I have little doubt we’ll begin to see new basketball, soccer, hockey, and football games with modes like this in the near future. I have virtually no gripes at all with Baseball Stars, although it would be nice to see some different characteristics on the players, rather than having them all look exactly the same. It’s a small quibble for an otherwise outstanding title.
Baseball Stars Review
- Graphics - 9/109/10
- Sound - 8/108/10
- Gameplay - 10/1010/10
- Lasting Appeal - 10/1010/10
Final Thoughts: OUTSTANDING
I don’t want to take away from how cool R.B.I. Baseball is, as it included the some of the most exciting players in baseball and offered a great 2-player game. However, SNK has raised the bar pretty high. I believed Tecmo Bowl would be a shoe-in for Sports Game of the Year, but I think Baseball Stars has got that locked down. Even casual sports fans will love this game, and this will become an addiction for many.