WedNESday Review: Bad News Baseball
The Nintendo Entertainment System has some memorable baseball games. R.B.I. Baseball, Bases Loaded, and Baseball Stars likely jump to mind when you think NES baseball games, but there’s one title that tends to sneak under the radar when talking about this subject: Bad News Baseball.
Bad News Baseball doesn’t have real baseball players like R.B.I. Baseball does. It doesn’t have the full season mode that Bases Loaded has. It doesn’t have a battery backup to save seasons and stats like Baseball Stars has. Despite missing these things, Bad News Baseball delivers as an accessible baseball experience that’s on the more casual side but still enjoyable for all ages. It’s just fun to play, and that’s the most important thing of all.
Batting, pitching, and fielding are very easy processes in Bad News Baseball. Batting is all about timing, as you swing with the A button. Stats come into play, such as batting average, home runs, and running speed. A batter with a poor average but a high home run count is dangerous at the plate with runners on base, while a batter with a high average and lower home run totals usually hits balls that find holes in the defense. Don’t discount running speed, either. Power hitters tend to be slow, so trying to stretch that single into a double could be a poor decision. Since there isn’t a designated hitter rule in this game, some tough choices may have to be made for the pitcher’s spot. Do you bat him and sacrifice a probable out he’s pitching well, or do you take him out for a pinch hitter and take your chances with the bullpen?
Pitching is also handled with the A button, and strategy is needed to change speeds and locations to keep hitters off balance. Prior to pressing the button to release the pitch, pressing the D-pad up or down will affect the pitch speed. Pressing up will slow the pitch down, while pressing down towards the plate will put some extra heat on the pitch. Once the A button is pressed, the D-pad can be used to select the pitch break. Will it break inside, outside, or perhaps bite downwards? It’s not a lot of depth, but pitching can be surprisingly effective if you take advantage of the changing speeds and breaks to confuse opponents. The one real problem with pitching in Bad News Baseball is that pitchers don’t have a ton of stamina, even though their stats may indicate otherwise. Within two or three innings, pitches lose their pop and bite, leading to advantages for the offense.
Pitching and hitting are fairly straightforward and responsive, but the fielding in Bad News Baseball fares a bit worse. For starters, fielders can be a bit slow and positioning for line drives to the outfield can be frustrating. Some line drives that look to be caught wind up just out of the reach of the fielder and go by, leading to extra bases or worse. There is an option to dive for line drives, but it’s not consistent in execution and sometimes doesn’t work at all. The other big problem is that cutoff men can get in the way of throws to bases, leading to extra time for runners to reach safely. These complaints aren’t meant to say that fielding is broken, because it’s not. It is flawed, however, and there will be at least a couple of defensive plays during each game that will make you wonder what happened.
Bad News Baseball can be played by one or two players. Playing solo charges the player with choosing one team and defeating all of the other teams in the game. Stats aren’t kept, but stamina for starting pitchers is tracked and it usually takes at least two games before depleted stamina recovers. This adds to the strategy element in the solo play mode in terms of determining how hard to work pitchers before going to the bullpen and considering whether to start an ace on short rest because the third or fourth starter is terrible. After defeating each team, a password screen is shown. Like many other NES games, the password consists of various characters, and copying even one character incorrectly can lead to lost progress. If you can run the gauntlet, a neat little victory cutscene airs, with a pretty cool guest star from another popular Tecmo game.
When it comes to visuals, Bad News Baseball isn’t going to blow anyone away. The pitcher-batter matchup screen has the most detail, with decent character models for the batters and less-detailed pitcher models, along with a rear view of the catcher. When the ball is hit into play the screen changes to a zoomed-out view of the field and the players become miniaturized, similar to R.B.I. Baseball in many respects. What sets this game apart from the others in terms of graphics are the cutscenes that are shown after certain events during games. Home runs are followed by one of a random series of cutscenes, ranging from dugout reactions to balls hit so hard that they’re out of this world. Close baserunning plays are also punctuated by cutscenes, and the end of each victory has a montage of team reactions. These cutscenes are fun to watch, especially the first few times you see them, and underscore the lightheartedness of the game’s atmosphere.
The music in Bad News Baseball is fair. Each team has its own background music, which plays during its half-inning at bat. A few of the themes are catchy for a short time, but nothing stands out. The team-specific changes are nice per game, but playing solo and hearing the same music over and over again for your team may get a bit grating before long. There is other incidental music that plays during setup and before and after each game, but it’s generally unremarkable. There is some digitized speech for certain calls in the game, but the rest of the sound is pretty standard stuff.
Despite its flaws, Bad News Baseball is my favorite NES baseball game. It’s easy to play, it’s still fun despite the lack of licensing and the long password system, and everything still holds up well today. Full games can be played in less than 20 minutes and two-player games can be the source of tight competition and maybe even a little bit of trash talk. When playing alone, comebacks are always possible and there’s maybe a bit too much of the longball– but that also makes it a bit more exciting to play. It’s a relatively easy game to find through online resellers and the price is reasonable.
If you haven’t given Bad News Baseball a turn at the NES yet, I recommend giving it a try. It might not have the bells and whistles, but it’s a solid game of baseball that just might surprise you… even if the umpire is a bunny rabbit.
(Credit for gameplay video goes to NESGuide.com, a site that does great work. Be sure to check them out!)