We at Robot Butt like video games. Sometimes that means we play Fallout, sometimes we talk about Bloodborne, and sometimes we talk about Pokemon. Sometimes we write fantastic articles about video games, like this one, this one, or plenty of others.
But we also know a thing or two about sports video games. Sports video games seem to get a different reputation than other genres and that’s not necessarily fair. To help remind readers that sports games can be excellent, we’re starting a series that highlights the greatest sports video games ever to represent each sport.
We’re starting with an easy one: Baseball.
Ken Griffey, Jr. entered the big leagues in 1989 with a double to left-center. Over the next two decades, Griffey hit about a million more doubles, a billion home runs, drove in a ton of runs, and made 5,000 diving catches (all statistics approximate). You can read all about him wherever you want, because that’s not what this article is about.
This article is about how Ken Griffey, Jr. put his name on some of the best baseball games in video game history.
Winner, Best Baseball Video Game
Ken Griffey, Jr. Presents Major League Baseball (SNES)
In preliminary discussions about sports video games at RB, this one was non-negotiable, so let’s break down what makes this the best baseball game of all time.
First, it achieves the impossible task of a baseball game, as an entire game here can be played in less than 20 minutes. There are no loading screens, there are no replays – just gameplay.
Second, Junior is the only player whose name can be used, according to his contract. This seems unimportant, but it allowed a room full of nerds to make fake names for hundreds of “players.” Boston is made up of characters from Cheers, American historical figures (John Adams comes to mind first), and landmarks. The Indians have pin-up girls like M. Monroe, A. Hepburn, and others. The Cardinals are mostly comedians with Laurel and Hardy, the Rangers are Wild West names, and the Royals are all U.S. Presidents. It’s brilliant, quirky and fun.
Third, the soundtrack! My God, the soundtrack. It’s ambient music that plays throughout the entire game, not just menu screens. “Infectious” is the only way to describe it. The theme song should be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Fourth, you can’t just win every game. Take it from a guy who has downloaded the game and played several full-length seasons on an emulator; it’s impossible to win every game. Winning 110-120 is about as good as you can hope for, and even then you’re guaranteed nothing in the playoffs. There are no difficulty settings, you just play.
Fifth, Griffey’s game was not entirely “learnable.” You couldn’t just get so good that you were unstoppable. It balanced luck and skill to make you constantly come back for more.
Last, and maybe most importantly, it spawned future Griffey-named baseball games that were also really good. A few years later, also for SNES, was Ken Griffey, Jr’s Winning Run. It was good, but don’t let anyone tell you it was better than the first one. If someone tells you that, call the police because that person is not safe to be around.
After Winning Run was Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey, Jr. for N64. This game was very good. It featured a new hitting style where you had to move the hitting circle to wherever the ball was pitched. However, I hit over 200 home runs in a season with more than one guy on my superteam, so it loses points for lack of difficulty. The final installment was called Slugfest and it was not as good as the first or third installment in the “series,” but it was still pretty okay.
Known to abbreviators as KGJPMLB, this game spawned plenty of brother-on-brother violence, broken controllers, and tantrums galore. Sometimes there was just nothing you could do to prevent a terrible team’s No. 9 hitter from hitting a 575-foot home run in the ninth inning to beat you. Them’s the breaks.
Lots of good baseball games exist these days, and the MLB: The Show franchise is really good. The Road to the Show mode is excellent and the graphics are obviously tremendous, but as of a couple years ago, it was still impossible to play a full game in less than 35 minutes. That’s just too long for a 162-game season, so this can’t be No. 1 all-time.
Dipping into the past, World Series Baseball was fantastic from about 1995 through the early 2000’s (I was really good at ’96, for the record), but it took a major dive on Dreamcast with a tremendous amount of glitches.
One other game from the wayback collection that deserves mention everywhere is Super Baseball 2020 for Sega Genesis. This was an early Electronic Arts title – so early that they called themselves EOA instead of EA and their logo was a square, a circle, and a triangle. This preempted Mutant League Football but was in the same vein, as it predicted what baseball would be like in the year 2020.
Barring some major surprises, they were wrong. It won’t be cyborgs vs. robots and there will be no super-jump zones so you can catch balls 50+ feet in the air.