We often call baseball the national pastime. Video games are a favorite pastime of our writers, readers and millions across the world. Sometimes when these two pastimes combine, the resulting effort is nothing short of magical. Virtual baseball season has already started. GamerTell will get you ready with updates on the newest baseball games as well as a look back at some classic titles. First up is 1988’s RBI Baseball, the first video game to bring real baseball players to home consoles.
Looking back, this shouldn’t have worked. RBI Baseball was actually a port of Japan’s Pro Yakyuu Family Stadium. Publisher Tengen didn’t get the official Major League Baseball license, instead working out a deal with the Players Association. It could only use the cities baseball fans would recognize, not the mascots. Though it had real players, Tengen didn’t use realistic character models. Regardless of what a player actually looked like, he was chubby and white in this game. Even by the graphical standards of the Nintendo Entertainment System, this game was challenged. It had only eight teams and two All-Star teams composed of players not on any of the other squads. Of course, that was 10 more real teams than any previous baseball game had.
But the most important thing is the gameplay. While the Major League players didn’t look like their counterparts, they played like them. Nolan Ryan’s fastball was nearly unhittable. Mark McGwire launched mammoth home runs that were unreal. Don’t tell anybody, but I think that guy may have been juicing. The St. Louis Cardinals were an amazingly fast team that allowed for a fine brand of “small ball.”
RBI Baseball was so much fun, dedicated fans are still playing it today. They update rosters with today’s players. One guy even got a tattoo. There’s a conversation starter.
I still remember the first time my family rented RBI Baseball. It was so much fun that my younger sister, who didn’t care about baseball then and still doesn’t, got sucked into it. At its core, baseball is about the interaction between the batter and the pitcher. To engage fans, a game has to capture this. RBI Baseball got it so deliciously right.
As other publishers got into the game and secured major league licensing, this series faded into gaming history. Its dedicated fanbase hasn’t forgotten it, though. For so many of us, RBI Baseball was our first exposure to the video game diamond. It was glorious.