Tuesday, February 1, 2011

REVIEW: The First Meaningful Simulated Game Ever Thrown by a Pitcher in Rehab: Super Baseball Simulator 1000 (1994)

Every time I look at my first SNES, I remember the first game I ever played in it (Super Mario), the countless winter nights I'd make up my own games in Mario Paint (because, living in a trailer park, swatting bugs and killing bees was more regular chore than fun pastime), and of course, my first foray into sports games with Super Baseball Simulator 1000. This sappy portion of nostalgia is coupled with the incredible frustration that the feats I could perform in a video game couldn't be duplicated on a real baseball field, leading to frustration boiling over into anger and eventually to my infamous exile from Wisconsin Little League back in the 1990's (one of the very few perma-bans in Little League history, and probably the only one that didn't deal with forged birth certificates, performance enhancers, or some kind of now-illegal racial or sexual preference discrimination). But I digress.

What SBS 1000 is to baseball is what Grand Theft Auto is to rush hour traffic: the virtual ability to take something difficult and blow it up with missiles. Don't like the pitcher jamming you inside with junk 88mph curveballs? Turn on your Ultra Power and knock him to the outfield wall with a Torpedo Hit, or drop a Quake Hit ball on the infield and watch the infielders freeze in place--just like the Pittsburgh Pirates! Or, on defense, chuck the hitter a slow wobbly Iron Ball and laugh when their bat shatters like Joe Theismann's shins or toss a Photon Ball (180mph) across homeplate, through the second row and into the parking lot.

A lot of old baseball games lacked a certain element called "fun." Most attempted to be real-life sims, and that was as interesting as C-Span is to a high school student. SBS 1000 is wacky, arcade-style game loaded with useful power-ups, a 162-game schedule (with statistics) and sort-by-stat league leaders for batting and pitching. Basically, it makes counting baseball cards in your mom's basement obsolete. It was the early 1990's solution to having fun for hopeless baseball dorks.

While the graphics don't quite hold up to games 20 years newer, SBS 1000's playability is off the charts. You can not know anything about the game (or baseball) and still knock a few dozen home runs out of the park (or dome). Modern arcade-style baseball games just aren't accessible enough for the non-sports gamer, and try too often to appeal to realism so that actual sports fans can enjoy it. Older sports simulation games toss that aside for the underrated "game experience." SBS 1000 was a game that I could play against my brother, my mom (who can barely navigate a cell phone and can name two players in pro baseball, both retired), my neighbor (a girl who had the world's largest Barbie collection), or my cat (because he could mash buttons and be more competitive than my brother).

What makes a game great even 20 years later? The ability to dust off the cartridge, pop it in on a Saturday night when you've got nothing but an all-Rush mixtape and a 2-liter bottle of Shasta, and proceed to have much more fun than you would have had going out to the same bar with the same Midwestern-types and the same crappy autotune dance music. Trade your iron liver for an iron ball and toss nasty curves that can literally move in an S before crossing the plate. Knock a meteor hit so far up that it reaches orbit and finally knocks Howard Stern off the (satellite) radio. Baseball in real life is 3 hours with the chance to be excited maybe five times a game. SBS 1000 is 3 hours of sound barrier-breaking pitches, home runs that dent jetliners, and more spilled cola than an 8-year-old's birthday party.

5 out of 5 bits


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