1989, Hudson Soft for Turbografx-16 – Sports – 1989 – Rating: 5/10

World Class Baseball was released as part of the Turbografx-16 launch lineup in August of 1989. NEC and Hudson Soft chose wisely to attract buyers at the dawn of the 16-bit era. Sports titles have always been consistent sellers for home videogames, and baseball is immensely popular in Japan. As it so happens, Sega offered their own baseball entry for their Genesis launch, also in August, dubbed Tommy Lasorda Baseball; both titles are strikingly similar, and fans of either system will enjoy defending team over its heated rival.

Unfortunately….yeah, you saw this coming, didn’t you? There always has to be a downside when we’re talking about sports games “B.E,” which, of course, means “Before Electronic Arts.” It’s no real surprise to gamers that EA muscled in and dominated every sport practically from day one. The dirty little secret for this is quite simple: most sports videogames before 1990 were not very good.

You would expect baseball to be the one sport done right, since its popularity in Japan and America would mean no shortage of titles. The growing pains, as well as the technological limitations, that hampered other sports like football, soccer, basketball, and hockey, could be overcome here. Also, baseball has always just been easier to render on the classic games systems, going back to the early days of Atari and Intellivision. Software developers should have more experience with this sport by the end of the 1980s.

Which brings us to World Class Baseball on the Turbografx. To its credit, this was a decent, presentable little game for 1989, and the bright colors and catchy synth music proved an attractive draw for the new system. But it ultimately suffers from the same problems that hurt all video baseball games of the period. Maybe that’s why I’m just as fine with the ancient Home Run on Atari 2600 as anything else. Home Run captured only the abstract, bare essence of the sport, but it was fast, competitive and extremely playable. World Class Baseball does not possess those qualities. It runs sluggishly, painfully slow. S-L-O-W.

I dunno. Perhaps Hudson’s design team consciously made their baseball title play extra slow because it was so difficult to follow the action otherwise. Perhaps the hardware at the time couldn’t allow for faster speed. Perhaps they were just thinking about all those drunk teenagers, too zonked out to follow anything unless it moved at a snail’s pace. Who knows? It’s a mystery for the ages.

In any case, what we have is a baseball videogame that moves at a very slow pace. And it’s not just a matter of the ball dragging along, or the players sleepwalking around the field. It’s the fact that everything moves at the exact same speed. Fielders can never catch up to a ball that’s rolling away. You actually have to wait for the ball to stop moving before you pick it up. Can you believe that? And were you aware that all the fielders move as one? This was another common practice at the time, and it was a real pain. Somehow, I always end up with the ball rolling in between the second baseman and center fielder, and nobody can grab it.

As a matter of comparison, I played around with a few other sports games, including a handful of NES baseball titles. Pretty much the same thing. Graphics would steadily improve over time, but the pacing was always slow, the fielding nonexistent, the tension all but gone. These old games were little more than a glorified home run derby, but without the home runs. Should I be bothered when an infield ground ball still results in a base hit? Should I become frustrated when I can never find my off-screen fielders I need them? Who’s my guy? Where did he go?

Yes, this is probably why the speed of the game has been slowed down. Perhaps I’m just not very good at baseball videogames. Whenever I play World Series Baseball 98 on Sega Saturn, I leave fielding control to the computer. So it could just be me. Temper your own expectations accordingly.

As a matter of comparison, Tommy Lasorda Baseball on Sega Genesis moves at a faster clip, offers “real” (wink-wink) professional baseball teams, more detailed graphics, and a few digitized speech samples. But the fielders still can’t outrun a baseball that’s rolling away, and I still can never tell which fielder I’m controlling. The EA player icon really transformed sports videogames. I can’t fathom why nobody else had thought of that.

Again, these major flaws were common with pretty much the whole genre at this point in time, so perhaps it’s a bit unfair to dump on Turbografx, which only offered this one baseball title in its US library. If World Class Baseball connects with you, that’s great, rock on. I’m a little bit envious.

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