PL Video Game Tournament Round 1: Super RBI Baseball vs. Ken Griffey Jr.’s Slugfest
Who doesn’t love going back to some of those oldie-but-goodie games? I recently got my hands on a Super Nintendo again, and I’ve had a blast playing games like the original Mario Brothers, NBA Jam, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games. Some games still remain fun, even after all these years, and even though these old systems that house my favorite games are outdated (N64 is what I grew up on), you can still look past the limited capabilities of the vintage graphics and sounds and have fun. Not all games hold up perfectly though, which is unfortunately the theme of today’s matchup with two beloved titles from the mid-’90s. Super RBI Baseball is one of the first baseball games I remember playing as a kid, and apparently a lot of people had love for this game as the fine folks over at MLB brought it back in 2015. I used to play a lot of Ken Griffey Jr.’s Slugfest with one of my older cousins (he always beat me). These games were a lot of fun at the time, now… well, I’ll let you decide for yourself how you feel about these games.
Super RBI Baseball (1995)
Gameplay: As this game came out on the Super Nintendo, I was not surprised in the least to see very simplistic controls. There was a button to swing the bat and another button to bunt. While pitching, I only found one button that would actually do anything, and fielding was as simple as pointing the arrow in the direction of the ball and then pushing a button to throw the ball. Not a whole lot going on there, but that was to be expected of the time. What does disappoint though was the game’s seeming lack of differentiation between players. The only rating I ever found in the game was a speed rating, and to be honest I didn’t see much of a difference in the player’s running abilities. The game did have the stats of each player from the year before, but it made no indication to me whether or not those factored in to gameplay at all. It seemed as though this game went too simple on the mechanics, making even one game a chore to play through.
I did find one hilarious glitch while playing though: You can bunt your way to winning fairly easily. It’s pretty easy to beat out a bunt with any player, as the catcher for some reason doesn’t do a dang thing, and the pitcher has to run down to the ball and throw it over, and I was safe on bunt hits about 90% of the time. That’s just with the bases empty though. If you bunt with a runner on first, you’re going to be safe about 99% of the time, no matter what else is happening on the field. That’s because the AI will always throw the ball to second to try and get that runner out. Bases loaded? Sure, let’s throw the ball to second instead of going home to stop the runner from scoring. Why would we get an out and stop a run when we could give up a run and not get the out at second either? It’s foolproof. I scored seven runs before getting my first out when I tried to just bunt everything (mostly out of boredom), and the game made absolutely no indication that it was catching on to my strategy. So if you ever need to win a game of Super RBI Baseball for any reason, just bunt.
Replayability: I award this game zero stars here. There is a league mode, but it is just playing one game after another. There’s no roster management, there’s nothing in between games. You just play game after game against “different opponents” that look and feel exactly the same. That’s the other problem of this game, since there’s no ratings (that I could find anyway), I never felt like any of my opponents were different. I had just the same amount of success against Greg Maddux as I did against Kevin Appier. There are a handful of other game modes including editing the roster (which is the only amount of roster management I could find in the game), stadium tours, and my personal favorite, sound test, where you can listen to each individual sound the game has recorded. It’s a hoot.
Graphics: I can’t knock the graphics because it’s a product of its time. The graphics in other games at this time were roughly the same as the graphics here, so that’s just the way things were in the early 90s. I do have to point out though, that the outfield was ridiculously huge, as was pointed out in a recent Reddit post. They did the math based on the infield size, and estimated that the outfield walls are located at 450′ straight down the lines and 636′ to dead center. I don’t know if the graphic design team made that decision or what, but boy were they off on that one.
Sound: So as I pointed out above, there is a sound test feature, and so you’d think there are some good sounds in this game right? Not really. There’s very little in the way of sound, mostly an organ playing various baseball songs (Seventh Inning Stretch, the National Anthem) in between innings or before the start of the game. There’s an ump, and an announcer who lets you know that the ball was hit to the shortstop or left field or whatever, and that’s about it. The crowd sounds aren’t really there except for when they randomly start the wave; there’s no menu music, so the game just feels dead until something happens. And even then it only feels half alive. Like a zombie-baseball game.
Ken Griffey Jr.’s Slugfest (1999)
Gameplay: If I’ve learned anything playing all these baseball video games, it’s that simple controls generally work better. What could be simpler than aiming your bat and pushing A to hit the ball? Or aiming your pitch and pushing one of a few buttons to pick your pitch? The N64 version of this game makes great use of the weird C-buttons on the controller by making them the buttons to throw to a certain base, or advance your runners accordingly. However, the simplicity of the game does work against it just a little bit. I didn’t have the ability to try and direct my swings in certain directions, and while you are shown your pitches at the beginning of the game, you don’t see them again until you change pitchers. I definitely threw some curveballs when I meant to throw a changeup, because it had been a while since I saw which button corresponded to which pitch. At least I’m able to aim my pitches, and even slightly change where I’ve aimed them after the pitch, giving me a modicum of control as a starting pitcher. I was also able to hold the pitch button down to determine how hard I wanted to throw it, allowing me to go from throwing a 95 mph fastball to an 85 mph fastball to a 50 mph changeup. And for the hitting, it may sound simple to aim your bat and hit the pitch, but it did end up being surprisingly difficult as that pitch will move from the spot you think it’s going to. That did give it a bit of a skill gap as I’m sure there were players out there who were very good at getting both parts of hitting down. It is still easy to pick up and play, which is definitively a good thing.
The menus are a bit difficult to maneuver around, especially in the season modes, where making trades and seeing how good players are is pretty much next to impossible. There’s no easy way to see what a player’s ratings are, let alone evaluate multiple players for a trade. There’s technically a fantasy draft feature, but there’s no way anyone has ever sat through that. You can’t skip picks, and the picks don’t go by quickly either, making it a long and arduous endeavor. I gave up on drafting after two picks, especially considering there’s no way to sort batters by ratings. You can sort them by position (alphabetically), or by certain stats, like home runs or strikeouts, but that still left me wanting more.
Replayability: I’m not going to say this game isn’t replayable, because it’s a baseball game, and there’s always fun to be had when you can play baseball. But there weren’t any extra features that made me want to explore them, the Season and World Series modes aren’t special outside of the actual gameplay, and the Home Run Derby is fine. The fun of this game all takes place on the field, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t get any bonus points for that.
Graphics: Oof. There are few things more terrifying than some of these player models. Obviously they are limited by the technology of the time, but let me tell you, it does not hold up at all. The N64 was the first console that could handle 3D graphics, and so what we’re seeing is the first attempts at making 3D player models. Pitchers often look like they have broken wrists with the way their hand sits in their glove on the mound. At least the graphics are clear when it comes to where the ball is headed, where you are pitching it, and where your batter is focusing his swing. Those kinds of things can make or break a game, and this game does make it easy for the player. Outside of that though… it’s not great.
Sound: There’s really not much here. There’s no commentary, the in-game sounds are acceptable, and the menu music is generic and forgettable. Actually, there is one announcer, but he only ever popped up when I hit a home run, so he’s easy to forget. Also, every now and then you’ll get a random sound byte from Griffey himself, usually something after a strikeout or a home run about that play. But he sounds like he’s reading off a script, which he surely was, and so it’s not really anything worth getting excited over. The sound just sort of exists in this game, no more, no less.
Miscellaneous: You can create a player in this game, which is pretty cool, since they allow you to edit everything from appearance, to skills, to even the player’s temperament. I have no idea how that factors in to gameplay, but you can do it. This game also reminded me of a time before memory cards, when data was saved in the cartridge itself. I had long lost my old copy of this game, so I bought a used copy off Amazon for this review, and the game came pre-loaded with Stone Cold Steve Austin and Tupac Shakur for me. Shout out to the previous owner for putting a couple of legends in there.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)