The Old Ball Game

My love for baseball video games dates back to circa 1998-9 or so; I don’t really remember exactly when. I was beginning to get into sports earnestly, conveniently enough when my dad was ramping up his interest in home computer upgrades. Before long our recently refinished basement had an old computer I could do whatever with, the primary thing for me being gaming.

It’s important to note that I had a Super Nintendo as a kid, and it was the only gaming console my parents were kind enough to bestow (for good reason). I was playing games on the SNES and my dad’s old PC for many years, at least until I bought a hand-me-down Sega Genesis from a buddy in high school for like $30 and much later an Xbox when they were still newish. So if you’re reading this wondering why a 12-14 year old is playing old games on old stuff, that’s why.

I used every part of my available gaming buffalo.

One of the games my dad had, probably included in some random junk mail campaign, was Hardball IV, a relatively good (for the time) baseball sim that was unlicensed by Major League Baseball, but had the sponsorship of the MLB Players Union. This strange combo meant that you could view the Chicago roster and see Glenallen Hill and Jose Hernandez, but the team themselves was called, uh, the Chicago Bats or something, complete with a generic C logo. The team even played in Wrigley Field.

The great Al Michaels even called the action, lending credibility to the game, and even though Hardball 4 went to great lengths to recreate every team’s home ballpark and rosters, there wasn’t the familiar uniforms (player models were crude), logos, etc.

Roger Clemens pitching to Craig Biggio. HB4’s menu/interface was solid for the time.

Thankfully, if one was so inclined, you could go into the team editor and change everything. Player names, attributes, pitch types, as well as team logos. In addition to my burgeoning interest in sports, this was a major boost to my appreciation for sports logos and uniforms. I was desperate to give the Cubs their proper logo, and with the logo editor in HB4 I could pixel-by-pixel recreate the circular red and blue “C” emblem of my family’s favorite team.

In addition I would change the roster up to include family members, Reggie Miller, myself, Jeremy Roenick, and other figures I wanted to have a place on the team. I’d play through entire seasons, tracking the statistics, imaging narratives, and overally enjoying the little sports universe I’d created for myself.

Around the same, for reasons I’m not terribly sure about, we had in our family’s possession a series of games from Humongous Entertainment. They were all extremely cartoony and simple. Put the CD-Rom in the disc drive, open it via the DOS menu, and boom – you’re playing as a convertible named Putt-Putt along with a dog named Pep, and your whole life’s mission is to pop balloons as the dog, using the car as a sort of trampoline.

Humongous also was behind the release of a very popular series of kids sports games under the Backyard _____ brand. These were simplifies kids games that had a roster of made-up characters that were in every Backyard title, but included not only licensing from the NFL/MLB/etc, but kid-versions of noteable big leaguers were featured.

Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Kenny Lofton, all of them were nothing compared to Pablo.

The gameplay was exceptionally simple, of course, but unlike Hardball 4, the style and arcade-ish nature of the game was a glorious blend that 12/13 year-old me could go nuts for. I couldn’t do much with the names and logos, but the Backyard Sports games had great presentation. Sunny Day on play-by-play was a reliable presence in every game, and along with Vinnie The Gooch (?!?!?!) on color commentary, it felt like way more of an experience than simply the rather lifeless simulations of the time. The Backyard Football game was a far superior one than their baseball release, but I digress.

In the midst of all this, I played on a friend’s PlayStation (and later acquired a used copy for my PC) of Triple Play 2000. Not only did TP2K have Sammy Sosa on the cover, it was a tremendous blend of simulation and arcade. Due to the transitional nature of gaming platforms and engines at the time, the graphics aren’t great, but it had an extremely satisfying gameplay that is still referenced to this day.

The commentary was a ton of fun, but the best part of the game, bar-none, was hitting a home run. First there was the sound of hitting – it was a hammy, cartoon explosion sound effect that let you know you fucked that ball right in the ass, hitting not merely some pedestrian home run, but perhaps demolished an entire city with a superhero swing.


The successor of Triple Play was perhaps, even to this day, the greatest baseball game ever created: EA’s MVP Baseball.

Few games since have had the overall package that MVP did.

MVP was a short-lived franchise that blended all worlds seamlessly. Arcade-style gameplay with a harsh bend toward simulation, great overall presentation and experience, franchise mode with profound depth, player creation and customization, bounfiful extras, and a bitchin’ soundtrack.

It lasted all of 3 games before MLB withdrew their licensing, and while games like The Show have proven to be good, even those loyal to that franchise would tell you they still pine for the glory days of MVP Baseball. It was a beautiful thing.

For many, many years, MVP ’05 was the last baseball title I played with any real interest. I’d become much more interested in hockey and basketball games before those too became the same old dreck every year (props to NHL 14 for still being the best hockey game yet made). I was browsing Steam for a new sports game awhile back when I stumbled upon this game called Super Mega Baseball.

The player models are…interesting.

It was a ridiculous looking game that promised arcade-style baseball, and like most games on Steam was on sale when I gave it a shot. 300+ hours of gameplay later…

The Moonstars were my team of choice, and while the uniform choices were static, the player customization was great. You can rename and edit genders, faces, hair, skin shades, etc for every player on your roster.

The gameplay, however, is what made Super Mega Baseball stand out.

This is a good glance at what SMB: EI is all about, if you’re interested!

While the graphics and player models gave many pause, once you actually play the game, it becomes clear that you made a great purchase. A super-smooth blend of simulation and arcade, it was the game I had been waiting for. At least until the sequel came out.

SMB2 is, as of this writing, the best baseball game I’ve played.

When MetalHead Software unveiled Super Mega Baseball 2, I got it day one and haven’t stopped playing since it debuted in April 2018. Through 500+ hours and counting, I’ve enjoyed the game in a way I haven’t since the days of Hardball 4.

I’ve created and customized dozens and dozens of teams, entire leagues, numerous players, and played several full 162 game seasons. The customization options for this game are, at least to my knowledge, the most in-depth I’ve ever seen in a sports title. You can create logos and uniforms, choose your team’s full color palette, and modify each player’s name, body, position, attributes, and equipment.

IGN’s review felt pretty fair.

It is the best-playing baseball title since MVP 2005, in my opinion. There are some flaws – too few stadiums to play in, no pick-offs, no DH, too small a bullpen, and the customization options could be expanded greatly – but the gameplay. Man, the gameplay is good. So good.

I’m honestly finding it difficult to express how much I enjoyed SMB2, and while it’s not a masterpiece or anything, sports titles have a very low bar to hurdle, and this game definitely overachieved. I hope they branch out into other sports.

Unfortunately, the latest game, Super Mega Baseball 3, was so poor that I got a same-day refund after a few hours of disappointing play. There’s numerous issues with sound and performance that should’ve been rectified prior to launch, player models and textures have been re-rendered and improved in a way that looks more uncanny valley than I’d like, and controls were changed for the sake of change.

It broke my baseball game heart. I hope to re-purchase SMB3 in the future once they’ve (hopefully) hashed out and rethought a number of their decisions, but until they do, Super Mega Baseball 2 will continue to be my go-to.

I wish there was a larger audience and demand for unlicensed sports games that utilize fictional leagues. These games can often do so much creatively since they’re unshackled by image-sensitive corporations that often oversee too much of what goes into the titles put out by EA and 2K.

Some do exist – “Slapshot,” an extremely crude yet strangely addictive/difficult hockey game has a promising sequel in the works, and it’s free for everybody to enjoy. Mutant Football League, an update to an older franchise, has been out for a few years now and while I haven’t played it, it seems a bit too abstract to be considered a true sports title. There is a soccer title, Kopanito All-Stars Soccer, that is pretty enjoyable, but as somebody who has never liked soccer, I found the gameplay fun, but not enough to make me a soccer fan.

Basketball doesn’t have any options as of right now, and the only other sport-like game out there is Rocket League, which is an amazing franchise, but not the same, since there’s no single-player experience, no franchise, no real simulation-y experience. It’s pure, amazing multiplayer arcade.

Anyway, I hope if this post interested you at all that you’ll try Super Mega Baseball 2 for whichever device of choice.

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