This weekly column looks at classic video games both in how they looked back in the day and how they stand up today. Though scores will be assigned, our tough review standards will be relaxed a bit for these games to give a general overview instead.
All retro games come courtesy of Retro Games Plus, located at 1761 Post Road East in Westport, CT. If you’re in the northeastern part of the United States, please give them a look.
I was hoping to have another surprise game go up today, but it needs more time; simply put, it’s a longer game than I anticipated. So instead, I’m going to go with a game I bought on the same day I got Flying Dragon but have actually enjoyed for a long time.
When Little League Baseball: Championship Series was released by SNK in July of 1990, Little League was not only as popular as ever, but its popularity had arguably peaked as it entered its most popular era. America was still in love with the Trumbull CT team that won the 1989 LLWS behind future National Hockey League star Chris Drury, as seen on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. This might sound like the verbiage of someone who lived in Connecticut and played Little League in those years, but since 1989, the Little League World Series has grown from a curiosity to being a massive, heavily sponsored event on ESPN with former Major League players calling colour commentary. ESPN: exploiting prepubescents since the ’90s!
So was Little League Baseball: Championship Series nothing more than Baseball Stars under a kiddy venier?
HOW WAS IT THEN: Bascially, LLB:CS was Baseball Stars with a skin. It had the same gameplay but without the management options that made Baseball Stars one of the greatest 8-bit baseball games of all time. In place of a full season mode and player management—the first game of its kind—was a simple tournament with set teams. Some teams were better than the others, and it took a little bit of experience to learn who the better players were on each team. Batting averages and home runs were replaced by a simple skill level, which went from one to five for players and pitchers. Other than that, it was the same gameplay from Baseball Stars in a six inning format.
Some nice touches were added, such as players showing nerves or getting emotional in tough spots, and parents and cheerleaders cheering every home run. But LLB:CS fell under the radar because everything it did, SNK’s other baseball games did bigger and better. It was still one of the best baseball games on the market in 1990, however.
HOW IS IT NOW: Whereas modern baseball games have exposed the management options of the two Baseball Stars games as clunky and almost impossible to use in 2011, LLB:CS actually retains almost all of its playability today and has the added bonus of being easier to play.
LLB:CS was meant to be simpler, whereas Baseball Stars was the hardcore game of its day, at least until Baseball Simulator 1.000 came out. However, LLB:CS has two advantages over every other baseball game on the NES: First, it has a simple yet effective, clear-cut way to see who your better players are and who aren’t; and second, it’s only six innings. That’s a bigger deal than people think: while regular baseball games tend to drag on in the middle innings, this feels almost like an arcade game with the quicker pacing forced on it by the lack of those three last innings. Every at-bat is huge, especially when facing a 5-skill pitcher. The mercy rule also helps to keep lopsided games close.
This isn’t to say there aren’t problems. The AI, like in virtually every other NES-era baseball game, is a little wonky though better than what you see in any of the RBI Baseball games. The sounds of the game wear out fast, as the same theme plays during gameplay. Learning who your best and worst players are is a completely trial-by-fire system since you can’t see ranks when you’re in the lineup screen, and it’s hard to monitor substitutions (remember, in Little League, starters can come back into games). Finally, LLB:CS uses a long password system that’s hard to get right, though anyone playing this on an emulator can get past that by using savestates.
I can barely play Baseball Stars now because it’s geared to scratch an itch that more modern games scratch with better precision. Little League Baseball: Championship Series is my favourite baseball game from the NES era because even decades after its release, it’s just as much fun, if not more so, as it was when it was first released. It’s a pick-up and play game for people who are too smart for typical arcade fare.