If I were to make a Venn diagram of the relationship between American fans of shows like Mobile Suit Gundam and baseball fans, it would be two circles with the edges barely touching. That tiny, almost imperceivable area of overlap is my friend Steve. Steve owns a dizzying collection of DVDs of Japanese television shows I know nothing about and have no desire to know anything about, which vie for shelf space with binders filled with meticulously organized baseball cards. He is quite possibly the only person in the Western Hemisphere who can identify every character in Battle Baseball and name very member of the 1988 Oakland A’s.
Had Steve been given the opportunity, I’m sure he would have snatched up Battle Baseball. But, thanks to the relative obscurity of many of the characters featured in the game outside of Japan and its release late in the life of the Famicom/NES, Banpresto opted not to release it in North America.
Battle Baseball looks and plays like the typical early 1990’s baseball game, with the notable exception of the chibi-ized versions Japanese TV and movie characters taking the field in place of non-licensed stand-ins for Ryne Sandberg and Ken Griffey Jr. In addition to teams made up of Ultramen and Gundams, there is a team of Godzilla and other kaiju, a team made up of soldiers and scientists, another of some sort of bug guys, one with some luchador-looking dudes and two others I can’t even begin to identify.
There are three main game modes, each with a bewildering array of options (though if an English translation were available they would be far less bewildering, maybe even slightly underwhelming). League allows you to play a complete season of 21, 35 or 70 games. Open lets you play a single game against the computer or another player. All-Star mode lets you create your own team using any of the characters in the game.
Once you’ve successfully selected a game mode, team and game length (stick with 3 or 5 innings unless you feel confident in your ability to successfully navigate the substitution screen when your pitcher starts getting tired) and A Button mashed your way through a few screens of wall-to-wall Japanese text, it’s time to play ball. The screen layout and gameplay will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s played any baseball video game ever. Battle Baseball doesn’t innovate, but it does a competent job of imitating the RBI Baseball formula. The main batting and pitching screen uses the behind a catcher view with separate windows for baserunners on first and third. The d-pad controls the speed and path of the ball when pitching. While batting, the hitter can be moved around the batter’s box to get the sweet spot of the bat on the ball. When a ball is put in play, the action switches to an overhead view showing part of the field.
Where Battle Baseball stands out is with the graphics and animation. The cartoony characters are colorful and detailed. Even the tiny versions of the characters on the fielding screen are unique and easily identifiable. The kaiju in particular are adorable (check out King Ghidorah holding the bat in one of his three mouths), but all of the player graphics are cute. The cuteness works its way into the actually gameplay as well, sometimes to the detriment of the game. Occasionally a fielding player will get bonked on the head by a fly ball and stand there dazed for a few seconds and even the shortest throws seem to take at least two hops to make it to their destination. Things like this help Battle Baseball score cute and funny points, but it would be nice to actually throw the batter out on a ground ball to the shortstop once and a while.
If you don’t like baseball video games, Battle Baseball isn’t going to change that, no matter how much you love the bug guys and luchador-looking dudes. Under the surface, it’s exactly like all those games you don’t like. If you’re a fan of baseball games but names like Baragon and Jet Jaguar mean nothing to you, Battle Baseball doesn’t do much to stand out from the crowded field of NES baseball games.
If you’re Steve, you’ve already placed a bid on a new in box copy on eBay.