Pete Rose Baseball is a game that makes people sit up and say “Wow, I can’t believe this is an Atari 2600 game.” And not just people whose only experience with the 2600 is watching YouTube videos of kids making fun of the dragons in Adventure. Pete Rose Baseball makes longtime VCS veterans sit up and say “Wow, I can’t believe this is an Atari 2600 game.”
The baseball bar was set pretty low for the 2600. First there was Home Run, which now is more likely to be remembered as the subject of those George Plimpton commercials comparing it to Intellivision Major League Baseball than as an actual video game actual people played. In response to those commercials Atari released Realsports Baseball. It looked more like an actual baseball game but was hindered by AI that behaved like 5 year olds on a tee ball team. Around this time Mattel released a port of Major League Baseball for the 2600 called Super Challenge Baseball which lacked both a single player mode and a shortstop.
So saying Pete Rose Baseball is the best baseball game for the 2600 doesn’t carry a lot of weight.
And it’s far from perfect. Infielders are limited to moving within horizontal “zones” which can be awkward and frustrating. Control of the outfielders is much less confusing but essentially useless since most balls that make it to the outfield sail over the fence for home runs. Speaking of home runs, home run trot is the top speed for all baserunners.
Despite these flaws, Pete Rose Baseball does what few Atari 2600 sports games do. It holds up. Not just as a nostalgic gateway to a simpler time, but as a genuinely enjoyable game. It’s so good, in fact, that the Atari 7800 port is essentially the same game, just with improved graphics.
The batting screen impressively recreates the behind the pitcher view of a televised game, with responsive and intuitive pitching and batting controls. Once a ball is put in play, the view swithces to one of five fielding screens. The fielders are small and monochromatic, but well animated with smooth, responsive controls. The outfield view shows not only an actual fence with distance markings (311 down the line, which explains all the home runs), but a warning track and foul poles.
To this day, Pete Rose Baseball remains one of my favorite baseball video games. It’s a game I can pop in anytime and have fun playing.
Until the computer hits five dingers in a row and I rage quit.