Genre: Sports Developer: Accolade Publisher: Accolade Players: 1-2 Released: 1991
Sega’s 16-bit console was the flagship console for sports games during its day and was the go-to system for sports fans at the time who were looking for the most accurate depiction of their favorite sport. The Genesis (at least with Electronic Arts’ help) seemed to have solid and consistent offerings in each of the sports genres. That is, except for baseball. Many companies steadily released yearly installments representing the sport but none were well enough polished to become the system’s staple that it needed early on. Some of these games were actually decent at the time and were well received, but most were rough at best and never had the consistent quality needed to shine.
The Hardball series was one of the longer lasting series of baseball games released on the console, and I’m actually surprised that the series endured for so long. The first game didn’t turn out that well at all, and its sequel was released as a PC exclusive. It wasn’t until the later installments arrived that the series became solid enough to be a contender.
Hardball is one of those games that, try as I might, I can’t enjoy as it’s just too frustrating. It’s really a shame, as it’s really nice-looking for a such an early title. All of the teams are represented with their city names and their colors, are all matched up despite not including real team names. The animation is also really smooth, and there is a lot of detail here too. There is some mild skin color differences between teammates but not much more variety between them. The pitching and batting animations are detailed and smooth and really look good for the time, and they even look better than some of the later baseball games released for the system. The parks are also brightly colored and crisp and easy to look at, and the sound effects are also very nicely done and satisfactory. Even the lone tune that plays throughout the game doesn’t get that monotonous to hear over and over.
With all that there is to compliment here you’d think that this game is off to a good start. Unfortunately, it’s really difficult to play and will leave you more ticked off than anything. Offensively, this game is manageable but unforgiving. It’s very hard to actually hit the ball. With a bit of practice, I could hit the ball pretty consistently; however, many times I thought I had a good solid hit just to have the ball go almost nowhere and be caught, resulting in more outs than I wanted to remember. I found home runs nearly impossible to hit, even after practicing for quite a while.
The defensive gameplay is just broken and kills the game in its entirety. To start, the AI seems to be able to easily hit the ball no matter what you throw at it. There are times when it seems to space out, but that seems to be few and far between. There’s also no way to see where the ball is in the outfield while the infield is in view, and you can’t run your outfield players until the ball travels to the outfield. You have to wait until the announcer announces left, center or right field. This may not seem quite as bad as I’m making out to be, but there will be so many times that an infield player will be a split-second away from catching a ball just for it to call switch to the outfield, where your players will be too far away. You’ll have to start running for the ball all over again, all the while handing the opposing team runs on a silver platter.
Now, combine all this with poor outfielding, difficult batting and AI that’s a hitting powerhouse, and you have a game that’s just plain not fun to play at all. I was unable to sit through more than one exhibition game at a time, let alone an entire season, as it’s that broken and frustrating to play. This is just one of the many series of baseball games that started out incredibly weak. I can’t recommend this to anyone at all, even fans that are nostalgic towards these old sports games, since there’s really no redeeming qualities to be found here. If you’re looking for decent 16-bit baseball games, then I’d jump ahead to Electronic Arts’ Triple Play series. They were unfortunately “too little, too late” for the console but are really awesome to play otherwise!