Retro Sports Gaming: RBI Baseball

Game Name: RBI Baseball

System: Nintendo Entertainment System

Publisher: Tengen

Developer: Namco

History of Franchise: The game began as a series as Namco Baseball games in Japan under the name "Family Stadium" or "Famista" for short. Having yearly installments on the NES from 1986 to 1994, the series was practically the Japanese NES Baseball equivalent of the Madden NFL games. One of those games, the 1987 version, was reworked into RBI Baseball. RBI Baseball itself would spawn two sequels on the NES reworked with new sprites and more teams, and both the Japanese Famista and the American RBI Baseball would reappear multiple times on the Super Nintendo and other platforms.

League Licenses: It lacks the MLB License, with eight of the ten playable teams noted by only city name (while the other two were All-Star teams). The game did feature the MLBPA license, allowing full use of player names and statistics.

Gameplay: The game features three playing modes – player vs. CPU, player vs. player and CPU vs. CPU. Player one will always technically be the "road" team. As such, the player will always bat first. When Player two is involved, that player is always the "home" team, batting last and the only one capable of winning a game in walk off fashion.

When batting, the player is able to move to any part of his side of the batter's box. Swinging the bat requires holding down the A button all the way through; stopping midway will allow a batter to set up a bunt. Should contact be made, the player can try to run for extra bases by using the B button along with a proper direction button (ex: Up for 2nd base, left for 3rd base) to run for that base. If the player has second thoughts about advancing, pressing A with the corresponding base direction will get the player to head the other way. Bases can also be stolen by using B and a direction during an at bat.

Pitching is mostly simple. When throwing the ball with A, pressing it alongside a direction will change the type of pitch (down for fastball, up for a knuckleball, left/right for a curved pitch). Pressing B along with a direction will allow the pitcher to attempt to pick off base runners. Once you get a hang of what hitters will swing or won't swing at, you can start piling up the strikeouts.

Defense is something that takes time for many players to become accustomed to. The game gives the player control of multiple defenders at once while forcefully controlling the others. If getting the ball on a hop, the player can toss the ball at a base by pressing A and a corresponding direction, though if a player is right next to a base, pressing B instead will have that player just run to the base. Otherwise, should a ball get by, the running speed of the fielders is very slow, though usually the doubles and triples that result from a hit in-between outfielders is mostly realistic regardless. Sometimes its possible for a player to try to grab a ground ball with the shortstop, miss, then find the left fielder as the only controllable outfielder who is too far to the left to quickly reach the ball because he moved left just like the shortstop did. It's an odd quirk that a player can adapt to after a few playthroughs.

Season/Playoffs Mode: The player vs. CPU mode allows a player to play against every team aside their own in consecutive fashion, though there is no way to save progress midway through. The two player mode allows for a best-of-seven format between each player. Otherwise, there is no mode that determines a champion.

Other Features: You can also substitute in four bench players on offense or three other pitchers for relief by pressing the start button to pause the game and then pressing A.

Bottom Line: I've been mostly technical thus far when discussing the game, but let me assure you that this is one of the best baseball games available for the NES, despite the limited team selection and shoddy defense. If you can get past those minor setbacks, you'll find a lot of fun contained within this game.

Other articles in the Retro Sports Gaming series:
Tecmo SuperBowl (NES)
NHLPA Hockey 93 & NHL 94 (Genesis, SNES, Sega CD, PC/DOS)

Have a favorite sports game from the 80s or 90s? Message Rick D and he may feature the game in an upcoming article as part of the Retro Sports Gaming series.