?People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.? - Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), Field of Dreams
To say that baseball holds a special place in the hearts of millions, perhaps billions, of people is an understatement. The game has been used as a metaphor for everything from life to death and dozens of things in between. And it has been a part of the video game landscape almost since the very beginning.
Video games have even taken a little inspiration from baseball. Do you think it's a coincidence that many games start the player off with three lives? Three lives, three strikes, three outs. Baseball and video games have been intertwined almost since the beginning, when Atari created the first baseball game, Home Run, for the Atari 2600 back in 1978. Using blocky shapes that kinda, sorta resembled fielders (and only three of them at that), Home Run was not most gamers' first choice when it came to a realistic recreation of the sport of baseball, but it was the only choice.
Baseball video games got their first dose of Major League inspiration in 1980 when Major League Baseball was released for the Intellivision. The game can be found on the Intellivision Lives compilation for the PS2, GameCube and Xbox sans the MLB license. The game was also released for the Atari 2600, again without the MLB license, as Super Challenge Baseball.
Atari tried again with the simply titled Baseball in 1982. This title is featured on the Activision Anthology that was released for the PS2 and, maybe it's just the age, but it is practically unplayable today. However, along with Major League Baseball in the Intellivision collection, it's an interesting look at just how far we've come.
Nintendo got into the baseball game with the simply-titled Baseball when they launched the NES in Japan (1983) and in the USA (1985). The game would also appear during the launch of two more Nintendo systems: a port (with an added appearance by Mario) of the game would be one of the first games to appear on the original Game Boy and the NES title was one of the first games added to the Wii's Virtual Console after it launched. It would be many years before Nintendo developed another baseball game, but they would continue showing support for the sport in StarTropics (NES) and Earthbound (Super NES), two first-party titles that both featured baseball-loving teens as heroes.
The NES received its first fully licensed baseball games in 1988 with RBI Baseball and Major League Baseball. RBI Baseball sported the Player's Association license, so it featured real major league players but fake teams, while Major League Baseball featured the league license so it had real teams, but no players (although real uniform numbers were used to designate each player).
Both games were well received, and it's easy to find defenders for both, but only RBI Baseball was remembered fondly enough for someone to create a pitch-by-pitch recreation of game six of the 1986 World Series between my beloved New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox:
It's hard to deny that the NES was the golden age of baseball video games. Multiple companies put out many different licensed and unlicensed games. The two most popular were definitely Baseball Stars and the Bases Loaded series.
Baseball Stars was created by SNK and featured original teams along with the option for the player to create their own player or team. The game was so popular that it would go on to spawn a sequel, Baseball Stars 2, as well as two spinoff games: Little League Baseball and Legends of the Diamond (which featured baseball legends such as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig).
While Baseball Stars was the more arcadey choice for gamers looking for a baseball title, the Bases Loaded series brought the simulation aspects of the game to new heights. The first Bases Loaded allowed a hits-batsmen to charge the mound while the sequel introduced full stat tracking and a ?biorhythm tracker? that effected a player's streaks and slumps. The Bases Loaded series would go on to be very long lived with two more sequels on the NES, three games on the Super NES and one final game on the PlayStation and Saturn titled Bases Loaded '96.
Another unique entry in the baseball game canon was released on the NES in 1991 in the form of Base Wars. Base Wars was a futuristic take on baseball with a variety of robots replacing the human players. Released just after Terminator 2, Base Wars featured more than a little design inspiration from the movie franchise as the cyborgs looked more than a little like a T-800 endoskeleton.. The game didn't allow tag plays, but instead forced the robots to fight for the base with weapons including a laser gun, a ?laser sword? (read: a Lightsaber) and a rocket-powered fist.