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Super Baseball 2020

Genre: Sports Developer: NuFX Publisher: Electronic Arts Players: 2 Released: 1993

Super Baseball 2020 on Genesis has that rotating ‘2020’ balls intro! SNES doesn’t!” “Yeah, but our title screen has the player on it just like the arcade!” “No one cares about that! Our font better matches the game!” “Who cares about fonts? Ours is better because our Cyber Egg Stadium zooms into the screen while Sega doesn’t!”

Consoles are generally a long term investment for kids, and when it comes to multi-platform releases such as the SNK games, you want to know that you’re getting the best possible port short of the original, because who had the money to buy a Neo-Geo and be a real hot dog? Not many, that’s for sure. We’re gonna have to settle on a port, and when the reviews come out, we want to know what we’re missing and ideally that we’re missing less than the other guy. Good news on the home front helps vindicate your console choice and ensures bragging rights at school. It’s all part of growing up during the console wars.

Thankfully, Genesis owners generally found themselves on the long end of the stick when it came to SNK’s Neo-Geo ports, and Super Baseball 2020 is a great example of just how much better the Genesis and its Motorola 68000 was at compressing Neo-Geo games. It’s not a perfect port, of course, but the 16-bit cartridge is a very good replica of its “24-bit” parent and undeniably the better console port. If you had to show someone what Super Baseball 2020 was but couldn’t do it with the original, you’d reach for clamshell case since the cartridge inside offers the more authentic experience. Playing the game on the Genesis feels very much like playing the Neo-Geo game apart from a few minor visual changes which frankly I don’t think many people would notice if they were not comparing the games side-by-side. Unlike the 16-bit console ports of Samurai Showdown, there’s nothing here which jumps out at you and announces that the port as an inferior arcade clone as the absence of Earthquake and scaling did for that game.

All the Neo-Geo machines around me were dedicated fighting cabinets, so while I got to play Samurai Showdown regularly, I didn’t get a chance to play Super Baseball 2020 until it came home. Super Baseball 2020 is essentially a baseball game set far in the future, Conan, all the way to the year 2020. Although we’ll pitch and hit with cyborgs and robots, everything which makes baseball baseball is present in the game. There are, however, a number of wrinkles in the gameplay which set Super Baseball 2020 apart from SNK’s other, better known baseball franchise besides the robots. For one, the field at Cyber Egg Stadium may look familiar, but it has an odd assortment of changes which alter how the game is played. The biggest change to the game is removal of most of the foul territory. Once the ball sails past the diamond, it’s a clean hit. You’d think this would result in endless homeruns, but the stadium has the crowd section enclosed except for a small patch over center field. If the ball lands on the roof, then it just rolls back down to the field of play while the baserunners do their thing. Catching the ball as it rolls back onto the ground doesn’t count as an out, so deep balls are more likely to end up as doubles and triples than your typical baseball game. I’ve had an inside-the-park homerun on account of a slow rolling ball and some sluggish fielding by the CPU.

Adding to your defensive woes are “crackers,” which are land mines distributed throughout the stadium. With each inning, more and more crackers get strewn about. It’s ridiculous when you’re expected to make a play on a ball while dodging some two dozen mines out there. In all fairness, the crackers aren’t quite as imposing as they would seem, but they are nonetheless another deterrent against defensive play. Fielders can boost around a bit out there — basically the slide of the future — so the detours aren’t as crippling as they could be, but when you go boom, that’s pretty much it. Good luck getting your next available fielder there to make a stop. The game’s not entirely rigged against the defense, though, as stop zones on the field halt rolling grounders from going deep into the outfield, and frankly the running speed of the baserunners is rather slow. It can seem like an enternity going from home to first, and getting thrown out from left field can be disorienting at times. It feels as if we’re building robots out of 1950s’ auto manufacturers’ steel instead of the lighter materials currently available, never mind what will be around come 2020.

Super Baseball 2020 already a high scoring game, and you can further pad your score by taking advantage of the power-up system. Every good play earns you money; every bad one subtracts from it. Base hit? That’s $300. Double? Your $300 is now $500. Strikes ($50), catch-outs ($800), and even getting hit by a pitch ($1,000) have monetary values assigned to them; and you can take your money and roll it into a player of your choosing. Three levels of upgrades are available, and the best enhancements cost the most money expected. Given that baseball is a sort of singular team sport, it’s not always smart to max out a player. Imagine the hitting power if Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds all pooled their steroids together to boost just one of them! Well, you’d just walk that player. Walk three evenly roided up guys, and you’re stuck risking a grand slam. You can boost pitchers, too, so your futuristic robotic Roger Clemens is OK to enjoy his performance enhancing purchases, but I’ve always found pitch selection to be where it counts.

Just as with Cyberball and most other novelty sports titles, Super Baseball 2020 is geared more toward arcade play than simulation. You can play a single game or round out an individual season (using a password to resume), but with just twelve teams in the game, advancing through a tournament is not the game’s strong suit. Much like Baseball Stars Professional, whose sequel borrows much from this game, Super Baseball is designed to be an exciting, flashy arcade experience. We get lots of close-up plays at the plate, giant “zoomed” in shots of diving and jumping catches, and thrilling animated victory laps for homeruns. Powered-up players are bursting at the seams with energy, pop flies look like they’re gonna smash through your screen Tommy Lasorda-style, and each of the three player types (male cyborg, female cyborg, and robot) all have unique animations which add to the experience. Super Baseball 2020 sells itself on its futuristic theme and over-the-top arcade presentation. It’s a baseball game with attitude. It’s edgy; it’s “in your face.”

Super Baseball 2020 is a fun game but not without its kinks. Runners don’t automatically advance base even on solid hits, so you need to keep your attention on the diamond as well if you don’t want to give up needless double and triple plays to your opponent. Leaping for catches rocket you high enough to touch the stadium roof, so a mis-timed jump can really set you back as well. Fielding is basically automated; if the ball is catchable, the CPU will automatically move the fielder to the spot to make the catch. Remember when people griped about World Series Baseball 2K1‘s lack of fielding control? I can see them complaining here, except that the semi-automated fielding works to the game’s benefit if only because there’s no map to give you a sense of where your players are relative to the ball. While the hitting game feels solid, there’s no use in bunting, which seems odd since the game has a defined bunt button. Of course, in a game like this, who bunts? It’s like the punt plays in a football game or the “middle power” swing in a golf game.  You just don’t worry about it while playing.

If given the choice, you want to be playing with a Sega Genesis controller in hand, as the SNES version is missing the crackers, has neutered home run celebrations, and is slower playing; but people shouldn’t worry too much about the competing port while playing the game. No one should blow a gasket because the SNES game’s field is washed out or how the Genesis players don’t teleport into the batter’s box quite like they do in the arcade. While these are certainly valid differences to bring up in any side-by-side comparison, the fact remains that Super Baseball 2020 in any form is a fun and exciting take on the sport. I don’t think we’ll be watching robots playing sports in six years given the lack of progress in that arena, but I know I will still find myself enjoying Super Baseball 2020 for being a fun game of baseball on any system. The solid, familiar gameplay makes it easy to jump in for a game, and the unique presentation keep Super Baseball 2020 relevant even as we march into a future that the game clearly didn’t foreshadow.

SCORE: 8 out of 10

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