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Review: Major League Baseball (NES) - Printable Version

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Major League Baseball (NES) - Nightingale - Jun 7th, 2018

[Image: Major_League_Baseball_LJNCover.jpg]

System: NES.
Year: 1988.
Genre: Sports.
Developer: Atlus.
Publisher: LJN Toys, ltd.

I'd like to start this off by saying that, while I have done plenty of modifications to the game over the years (particularly visuals), I'll be sticking to the original version that was released in 1988. It wouldn't be a very useful review if I commented on a version of the game literally only I could play, right?

With that out of the way, I'd just like to add that I tend to favorite the use of screenshots on my reviews to illustrate what would otherwise be hard-to-describe points. It's not like the whole thing is gonna turn into a visual walkthru of sorts, but you'll be definitely be seeing captures here and there.

Lastly, this is most likely NOT going to be the best review you have ever read... I do realize how far-fetched that would be, and it's been way too long since I have actually written one of these for last time, but I will try to make it worth your while regardless.

Now, how about if I start talking about the game already? Grin

Major League Baseball on NES was kind of a huge deal when it first came out in 1988. It wasn't particularly groundbreaking in any regard, except one... it was one of the first games (and actually the very first one on the Nintendo console) to get the blessing of Major League Baseball, meaning it could carry all the teams' names and leagues, and even make use of the mythical World Series (but only in name, as in practice it was a single game with no special flavor added to it... so it was more like a hyped exhibition match).

Now, I realize that this doesn't sound like so much of a selling point thirty years later (and really, it's more like a given nowadays) but being able to play as your favorite ball club with your friends was very big indeed. It definitely caught my attention, and my eyes got drawn to it like a magnet.

However, that isn't to say that the game was 100% faithful in terms of the what the league looked like during the '88 season, as LJN didn't get the license from the Major League Baseball Players Association (therefore, none of the players were actually included on it); but that's also one of the brightest points in my opinion, as the people behind the game really made a strength of this limitation, choosing to instead represent the rosters by their jersey numbers, batting averages and ERAs... and frankly, that was a masterful move.

The game was marketed to us baseball fans first and foremost (and we really like to keep track of all those things) so, in the end, it truly wasn't much of a loss. I definitely didn't think so highly of it back when I first played it, but I'm honestly impressed now. That's how you turn a weakness into an engaging formula.

The first thing you'll notice upon turning the game on is it glitching out for a second and showing you a gray screen a darn impressive-looking pixel art rendition of the MLB logo. And it's not like good pixel art was foreign to the NES, but this is just gorgeous.

[Image: Major_League_Baseball_USA_-0.png]

Unfortunately, this is immediately followed by some NOT so great use of the visuals. These menus are functional enough, but are also very dry and sterile. A little more imagery would have gone a long way towards keeping things fresh and interesting.

[Image: Major_League_Baseball_USA_-3.png]

And the screen in which you select your line-up is where it all starts falling apart.

It certainly doesn't LOOK complicated, but this has to be one of the more hostile, intrusive selection screens I have ever seen. I get that this was 100% my fault for not picking exactly four infielders and three outfielders (in other words, a functional baseball team) but it gets really annoying when the only feedback the game gives you is a loud beep that would be more at home at a game show and the incredibly cryptic "DO NOT SELECT" message. Not to mention, it stops the game right on its tracks.

[Image: Major_League_Baseball_U_PRG1_-43.png]

Regrettably, that screen sets both the tone and attitude for the rest of the game. Most of what's to follow is a series of confusing and/or poorly-executed routines that somehow end up resembling a baseball match.

Now, I realize I have been griping about the game's faults an awful lot... without actually having shown you any of it, so let's get into it.

[Image: Major_League_Baseball_U_PRG1_-13.png]

For all the bad things I have been saying about Major League Baseball on NES, this is one stance in which it is totally commendable: That scoreboard not only looks neat, but it's also very easy to follow and kinda resembles what you may have seen on an actual park in the late 80s. Furthermore, it tells you right off the bat that you are allowed to go to extra innings (which is such a blessing, as many games just ignore this). The fact that it even keeps track of how many hits each team has had further proves how truly great it is.

You'll be seeing the scoreboard every third out. And I have no complains about that.

[Image: Major_League_Baseball_U_PRG1_-14.png]

As the game actually starts, you'll be presented with a nice and slick pitching/batting screen. I love this one, but it's not without fault.

Avid NES baseball junkies may have noticed that this game completely rips off TENGEN's 1987 R.B.I Baseball's pitching/batting screen. But it does it worst, somehow.

[Image: R.B.I._Baseball_USA_-4.png]
R.B.I Baseball (1987).

While you have complete freedom of movement around the mound and batting box in R.B.I Baseball, Major League Baseball limits your options to no movement on the mound and only vertical moves on the box. I don't know why that is, but it is what it is.

Also, I find it really amusing that LJN decided to copy TENGEN here, as R.B.I Baseball was an unlicensed NES game that got no blessing from MLB, but was, indeed, endorsed by the MLB Players Association. So, at one point in time, as a gamer you had the option of picking your game for the players or for the teams.

I don't miss a lot of things about old games, but that one I really do. It's simply gorgeous.

[Image: Major_League_Baseball_U_PRG1_-22.png]

I don't really like how pitching works on this game. You have absolute control over the ball (and I do mean absolute) but it's so over-the-top, it becomes more of a situation in which your pitches aren't so much of your tools, as they are your slaves.

I'm serious, you can throw a high-90s fastball that zigzags around the plate as if it's nothing... and do it at will. In fact, I remember seeing a video in which the poster decided to exploit this and completely shut-out the computer on the World Series. The AI isn't great at batting... in fact, It's not great at anything. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

[Image: Major_League_Baseball_U_PRG1_-44.png]

Batting, however, really does work. And it is immensely satisfying to do so.

A single tap of the button can make the ball blast off in the direction you are steering it to (you can sorta influence the batting with the d-pad, but it is yanky at best). However, points need to be docked again because of the following:

[Image: Major_League_Baseball_U_PRG1_-20.png]

Look at this! Some people call this a "game-breaking glitch", I call it sloppy design. The camera does this every time the ball is hit to the outfield and it makes it effectively impossible to coordinate your players in order to catch it. Someone must have been very impressed with the camera work during Blue Monday, huh?.

There's also the following:

[Image: Major_League_Baseball_U_PRG1_-16.png]

The whole games goes green for a second while it needs to reset its position (every time a play is completed, for instance). It's not super annoying, but heavily distracting. You simply can't ignore this screen. There must be some junk code left on the rom in order for this to happen, but, so far, I haven't been able to find it.

Now, we can talk all of the above for days (because those are some serious issues that affect the gameplay in a negative matter) but for me, the real problem with Major League Baseball on NES as a whole comes from the fielding aspect.

I mentioned the AI not being great at anything a few paragraphs above, but this is where it really starts showing. The CPU would simply not take the initiative when it is trying to field the ball... in fact, it's kind of disturbingly amusing in a way, as it really doesn't care if the ball has fallen two feet away from the nearest player or thirty, as it won't do anything in order to get to it... usually. It sometimes does.

But even when it DOES care about the whereabouts of the white dot, it tends to take the most inefficient routes possible in order to get it. And, even worst, I have sometimes witnessed some sort of relay effect to it, in which the AI-controllerd players would let another one take on the job, regardless of the distance. I have no screenshot for this, as it caught me off-guard, but I distinctly remember hitting a ball down the first base line, right in between the infield and the outfield, which the first baseman rushed to catch... until it decided against that, turned around, and let the right fielder do it instead (two runs scored off this).

To top it off, the game came packaged with a very interesting feature: the possibility of making throwing errors. I'm really a fan of realism in my games, but I think this one is a little overdone. As far as I know, there's no passed balls while pitching, but you can make horrible throws to all bases and home plate on a live ball, which is usually taken advantage of by the AI runners. This would, indeed, be very nice as a feature to your game, except that it really doesn't translate all that well into actual gameplay.

You may be standing in front of your catcher, throw to him to force the out at home and somehow stare powerless as the ball travels to dugout area. This happens on all bases, as well as home plate (and sometimes even the mound) and it seems more random than anything.

Another thing worth mentioning is that the game allows for pinch-hitters and the usage of the bullpen, which I find pretty neat and a nice touch.

Other than all of the above, I only wanna mention that base-running/stealing is pretty awkward, but fun... and that that same awkwardness makes for some really fun run-downs while playing with a friend.

Oh, and yeah... if you have sensitive eyes or are sensitive to flickering lights yourself, you may wanna avoid this game, as this is what happens when you hit a homer:

[Image: Major_League_Baseball_U_PRG1_-40.png]

It probably doesn't show all that well on a single frame, but this is very dizzying indeed. The whole crowd flickers several colors for several seconds, which isn't pleasant. I know they were just trying to copy Baseball's (1984, Nintendo) home run effect, but that one works so much better because the camera pulls away from it:

[Image: Expos2-118.png]
Baseball (1984).

Before wrapping this up, I should mention that the music is very limited (a title theme, which carries over many other parts, and a few notes of the "let's go" theme often heard at parks). It all sounds nicely, though.

Sound effects are limited as well, but that's to be expected.

In conclusion: While I have brutal problems with it, and with the knowledge that the game is mostly a product of its time that has aged horrendously... I still love the heck outta Major League Baseball on NES.

I played it relentlessly in order to refresh my memory for this review and I'm proud to say I still had a blast with it. I mean, sure, I couldn't overlook even a single problem it had, but I could, indeed, enjoy some late 80s baseball with it, which I think was kinda like the point.

You may call me crazy (I'll take it) but I think the game is still very much worth getting, if you have the chance. All of the above makes for a very unique playing experience, even if not always for the right reasons.

Now, that doesn't mean you have to pay the "collector's" price it is probably going for on Ebay and some other places, because even its biggest advantage (the MLB endorsement and the possibility of playing as bygone teams like my beloved Expos) is pretty meaningless nowadays. But at the right price? Go get it, tiger.