Known as Gekitō!! Stadium in Japan, Bad News Baseball is one of the better NES baseball games, along with R.B.I. Baseball, Baseball Stars and Baseball Simulator 1.000. In fact, in my opinion, Bad News Baseball is the best of the lot, and coincidentally it was made by Tecmo who also developed Tecmo Super Bowl, the greatest sports video game ever created.
And like Tecmo Super Bowl, what makes Bad News Baseball great is the fact that the umpires are rabbits.
But seriously folks, what makes Bad News Baseball great is the same great balance of depth and accessibility that Tecmo Super Bowl had--albeit not quite as perfectly tuned.
It plays very much like Namco's popular Family Stadium series (the first game of which was brought to the U.S. by Tengen as R.B.I. Baseball), to the point of being a bit of a rip-off. That's definitely a good thing though. The visual presentation is clean and simple with small, kind of semi-super-deformed players. Play alternates between your standard batting/pitching screen and fielding screen.
As you can see from the passed-out baserunner (he's so shocked at failing to reach base, he's seeing stars), the game also has a humorous, very cartoony sensibility, particularly evident in the cutscenes you get for things like home runs:
Yeah, high-five! Low-five! Woo!
Woah, what's with the M.U.S.C.L.E.-esque guy?!
If you really crush one, you get the "moonshot" sequence!
The pace of play in the field is somewhat slower, which makes fielding more manageable. The relative speeds of the game are well-tempered too: pitches, the baserunners and fielders, thrown balls in the field... they combine to give the gameplay a rhythm and a pace that isn't quite like the real game, but feels very much like it, something few baseball video games achieve while still maintaining good, satisfying playability.
I especially like that pitching stamina is a little more realistic too. Starting pitchers can usually go about six innings, give or take and inning or two. Complete games are the exception, but possible. In many other baseball games from this era, four or five innings is about all your starter can do, which always irked me.
This very effective illusion of realism, this attention to detail, achieved without sacrificing any of the ease and simplicity of its gameplay, is what really makes this game, providing the depth and replay value. I mean, look at the rosters of the 12 selectable teams (and two all-star teams): not only are they impressively large for a NES game (each team has 14 position players and 6 pitchers), but they are also very detailed. Position players are rated on "AV" (batting average, or contact hitting ability), "HR" (home runs, or power hitting), an A, B, or C rating for defensive positions (left to right: catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, outfield--if a player has no rating he can still play the position, he'll just make a lot of errors), "A" (strength of throwing arm) and "R" (running speed).
Pitchers are rated by "ERA" (earned run average, I'm not sure how this actually affects the players), "T" (throwing style or delivery: right/left and overhand/sidearm), "ST" (stamina), a 1-7 rating of their "R" (right) and "L" (left) curves, and a A, B, or C rating for their "F" (forkball, or sinker).
It's not necessarily unusual in baseball games from this era to have this much statistical and rating information for players, but I find these to be particularly intuitive, especially the defensive ratings, allowing for great depth of analysis without making things too arcane. It allows you to take into account a player's hitting vs. their defensive ability when evaluating them, it forces you to essentially use pitching rotations as you allow your most recent starter to recover his stamina, it makes decisions about pinch hitters or pinch runners or pitching changes feel more "natural" for someone who knows a little about real-life baseball.
To top it all off, there's also a code you can enter that allows you to play as all-female teams. The game plays exactly the same, but it effectively gives you a whole other 12-team league to play with, since the rosters are completely different. To access the girls' teams, hold down/left on controller 1, hold up on controller 2, and reset the system. You'll know it worked if the baseball cursor on the title screen is replaced with a heart:
And yes, lest I keep gushing like a fool, there is a flaw and a glaring one at that: depending on where the ball is hit, certain fielders cover certain bases. So, for example, there will be some pop-ups that your second baseman would have been in a perfect position to grab, but instead he stupidly trundles over to cover first. And once a player covers a base, he cannot move. Which is extremely frustrating when a throw goes inexplicably by, say, your catcher, and the closest controllable character you have is the pitcher who apparently wears lead cleats and just happens to also be up near second base. I have seen an inside-the-park grand slam because of this, and it wasn't me who hit it.
Okay. Enough about that. Stupid crap like that is in all 8-bit baseball games, which is why I don't really like most of them. But I like this one. It is that good.
Download Bad News Baseball