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Patrick Hope: Requiem for ‘RBI Baseball’

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Patrick Hope: Requiem for ‘RBI Baseball’
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There are a few sports games out there for which everyone gets nostalgic. Off the top of my head, the short list includes “Tecmo Bowl,” “NBA Jam,” “NHL ‘94,” and today’s entry, “RBI Baseball” on the Nintendo Entertainment System.


“RBI Baseball” is the anglicized version of Family Stadium, a baseball series developed by Namco. And if if were only a ported version with no extra frills thrown in, no one would have batted an eye, considering the relatively high number of baseball games on the system.

But “RBI Baseball” had one thing that made it special. It was licensed by the Players’ Association.

That meant, for the first time ever, real players were in a Nintendo game. Now, Tengen couldn’t secure the Major League Baseball license, so real teams couldn’t be used, instead being replaced with generic place names like Minnesota and Detroit. But the rosters were there, and that’s what mattered.

Now, due to space constraints on the cartridge, “RBI” only had eight teams, which were the division winners from the 1986 and 1987 seasons, but in an effort to include players who were popular, but on bad teams, like eventual Hall of Famer Andre Dawson and pitcher Bret Saberhagen, American League and National League All-Star teams were also added. Each team was given a full accoutrement of hitters, a four-person bench, and four pitchers — two starters and two relievers. It was the closest you were going to get to the real thing on the NES, and again, it used real players.

The gameplay in “RBI” is about as basic as you’ll get while still effectively mimicking most of the functions of real baseball. Your pitchers have three pitches — a regular pitch, a fastball, and a knuckleball. Yes, everyone can throw a knuckleball. Even Doc Gooden and Roger Clemens.

But throwing the fastball or the knuckler chips away at your pitcher’s stamina, so don’t do it all the time. And don’t try to start your closer, either, as the relievers have way less stamina than the starters.

The simulation is far from perfect, but it gets the job done. The fact that relievers are even in the game is a pretty big deal considering most games at the time had one pitcher who threw one pitch.

That there are even substitutions or multiple pitches, even if they are inaccurate at times, is a pretty big deal.

On the hitting side, it really does all boil down to “see the ball, hit the ball.” Of course, some of your players are going to be more effective at hitting than others, so there you go, especially as most of the best players in the league are in the game.

It’s also worth noting that you can steal bases, a feature that wasn’t always available in 8-bit baseball. Again, as the players do have individual stats, Tim Raines is going to be substantially better at stealing than, say, Kent Hrbek. Don’t expect to be able to execute squeeze plays or tag up, but it gets the job done.

Aside from the real players, which are now more a historical curiosity for people who really want to play as Kirby Puckett or reenact the Bill Buckner error that Boston still won’t shut up about even though they’ve since won three World Series, the primary appeal of “RBI” today is how easy it is to play. Modern baseball games can be seen as going overboard with trying to simulate the game. “RBI” is about quick fun.

Anyone can play it. Seriously. It’s that easy. You can’t really go wrong with it.

Obviously, as there’s only been one game that I’ve ever discussed here — Daikatana — that isn’t actually good, I recommend “RBI Baseball,” or any of its numerous sequels. They’re all fine games, though the best is probably the original for nostalgia and fun value.

It has enough cachet that MLB is even making “RBI Baseball ‘14” for release this spring. Based on info released this past week on Deadspin, the new version is going to be pretty much an updated version of the original, albeit with all the teams this time around. They’re even eschewing realistic player models in favor of having all players look like one of “slugger,” “regular guy,” or “little guy.” Way to adhere to tradition, guys.

So go get yourself a copy of “RBI Baseball” if you’re unsure of the reboot or are disappointed that the latest “MLB The Show” game won’t be out until the season has already started and you need your baseball fix NOW.

Hope is a Dickinson attorney and video game enthusiast. To read more of his video game columns, visit