Colossus steps up to the plate…
Is there any ball this anthropomorphic baseball glove can’t catch?
PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous
RELEASE DATE: 8/17/87 – (Pro Yakyuu: Penant Race – JP)
1987 – (Great Baseball – US and EU)
Sega’s confusing sports game history continues unabated with Great Baseball and The Pro Yakyuu: Penant Race. In 1985, Sega released Great Baseball for the Mark III in Japan. The game came out within a couple months of the system’s launch and both looked and played suspiciously like Nintendo’s Baseball for the NES and Famicom. When the Master System launched in 1986 in the United States, a number of Sega’s other sports titles launched alongside it, but no baseball game emerged until 1987’s Great Baseball. Despite having the same name as the Mark III version, Great Baseball was, in fact, an entirely new game. This version was released in both the States and Europe, but not in Japan. So to recap: Japan has a Great Baseball, and the US and Europe have a Great Baseball, but both games are different. Later in 1987, though, Japan released an enhanced version of Great Baseball titled The Pro Yakyuu: Penant Race. As far as I know, this is where the Great Baseball saga ends, unless there’s a future game in the series entitled Pro Yakyuu: Penant Race 2: Greatest Baseball. Stranger things have happened.
“And it’s a pop fly down to Margaritaville! Ooooh, doctor, what a play!”
If you grew up with Master System sports games, you know that Sega can be chintzy with content. Great Football only provided the last quarter of a football game while World Soccer gave players a seven minute soccer match. Rest assured, though, all nine innings made it into Great Baseball, which makes the game the most fully formed of the more recent titles in the “Great” series. Along with honest-to-goodness innings, you’re also able to pick your team based on city, like Cleveland, San Francisco, etc. The teams don’t have legit names – no Cleveland Indians or San Francisco Giants here – nor are there any real player names, but the fake players listed do have stats, so presumably, certain teams are better than others. I couldn’t tell a difference in the teams I played with, but I’m not a baseball fan, so I wouldn’t be surprised if subtleties eluded me. The pitchers, however, are easily distinguished by their style and stamina. Styles of choice include Fastball, Slowball, Sliders, and Knuckleballs, all of which effect play in some way. For example, fastballs are hard to hit, but if the player does hit one, it’s guaranteed to fly out of the park. You can choose either high or low stamina for your pitcher, though I’m not sure why you would choose any less than the maximum setting; if you do choose a lower setting, the pitchers will eventually get tired and you’ll have to switch ’em out.
It’s the first inning and Stan “The Semi” Taylor is already getting the wobbly ‘bow.
For Sega’s second attempt at a baseball game for the Master System (and first attempt at an original baseball game for the Master System), Great Baseball is, was, and ever shall be, just ok. The pitching is sharp, responsive, and fast, but batting is inconsistent because of the camera placement. Most 8-bit baseball games tend to place the camera behind the batter because it allows you to adjust your batter’s stance and properly take in the angle of the thrown ball, but Great Baseball places the camera behind the pitcher. Putting the camera behind the pitcher, particularly in a quick game like this, makes it hard to tell which way the ball is headed. Several times I thought I hit the ball – my bat and the shadow of the ball came in direct contact – but nothing happened. Other times, I accidentally swung, thinking I would miss, but ended up getting a home run. Perhaps you get used to this style eventually, but I found it too erratic for my tastes. Outfield play is ok, as well, though the outfielders could use a couple Red Bulls or some better motivational speeches to get them moving quicker towards balls.
Sega, you’re sure to be fined for these underage cheerleaders.
The Pro Yakyuu: Penant Race takes the All-American hot-dog-and-beer stained Great Baseball and gives it a smooth Japanese shine. All the American teams and players have been replaced with teams and players (fake or not fake, I do not know) from Japan. Go Nippon-Ham fighters! The in-game baseball plays about the same, only harder (Japanese games more challenging than their American counterparts? I’m shocked!), while the viewpoint after the ball has been hit was changed from an isometric view to a bird-eye’s viewpoint. This is very cinematic when someone’s gotten a home run and slightly inconvenient when you’re trying to direct an outfielder to catch the ball. There’s also an additional All-Star Game option which seems to take players from the two best leagues and pits them together. Lastly, there’s the ability to watch the computer play a game with itself. It’s a charitable inclusion, but it’s sad to think that there might exist a gamer who’s so lonely and bored, he would watch two virtual baseball teams duke it out of his own free will.
“I’ll show them belly-itcher…”
So Sega’s Great Baseball or Pro Yakyuu or whatever you want to call it is a wonderful example of technical expertise trumping legitimate baseball. I’ve experienced every single damn NES baseball game, and none of them ever looked as good or played as smooth as Great Baseball. If only the pesky behind-the-pitcher camera angle didn’t ruin the game’s batting scheme, then we’d be talking about an 8-bit baseball game even your Communist, baseball-hating buddies could rally behind. Unfortunately, being able to tell the direction of the ball as it approaches the plate is essential to the batting experience, and if that isn’t possible, then what you have is half a baseball game. To summarize in baseball terminology, Great Baseball is a double in home-run clothing.