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Rounding the bases: a look back at baseball's biggest video games

by Robert Workman, shacknews.com, Mar 31, 2014 1:00PM PDT

After a long, strenuous winter, baseball season is just about in full swing again, with teams taking to the field and delivering the kind of summertime fun most of us have been yearning for. Sony has a near-lockdown on the sport, with MLB 14: The Show one of the few options for baseball gamers this season. But there's also the return of R.B.I. Baseball, a game that first debuted on the NES many years ago.

We've seen a lot of outstanding baseball efforts over the years, both modern and futuristic, that have helped set the tone for this year's releases. So, with pitchers taking the mounds and fans buying up the Cracker Jack, we're looking back at some of the best baseball games in recent memory.

R.B.I. Baseball (Tengen/NES, 1988)

NES saw its fair share of great baseball games, but nothing could top R.B.I. Baseball. With its undemanding yet entertaining gameplay, it was hard to resist. We'll see this series return this month, courtesy of MLB's game publishing division, but will it be able to live up to its legacy?

BaseWars (Ultra Games/NES, 1991)

Why play baseball with humans when you can play baseball with robots? Ultra's BaseWars offered a futuristic slant on America's game, with droids hitting fast balls, and actually fighting to take control of bases. This one's still a lot of fun to play, especially if you have a powerhouse team that can blow the opponents into metal rubble.

Super Baseball 2020 (SNK/Neo-Geo, 1993)

Ultra wasn't the only studio that could do futuristic baseball right. SNK also nailed it out of the park with Super Baseball 2020, a game featuring a huge variety of characters, as well as plenty of exciting gameplay, including the ability to use power-ups, including a guaranteed home run.

Baseball Stars 2 (SNK/Neo-Geo, 1992)

Speaking of the Neo-Geo, it got a contemporary baseball game as well, following the heels of the original Baseball Stars. Featuring improved gameplay in the outfield, and a great presentation by 90's arcade standards, it was easily a grand slam for avid fans of the sport.

World Series Baseball (Sega/Genesis, 1994)

Sega made an impressive baseball debut on the Genesis years before with Sports Talk Baseball, but it improved greatly on the formula with its debut Sega Sports title. Featuring dynamic visuals and strong gameplay that covered every aspect of the sport, it would become a legacy for the company for years to come, eventually concluding on the Sega Saturn.

3D Baseball (Crystal Dynamics/PlayStation, 1996)

The 90s were a good decade for Crystal Dynamics, after it moved away from 3DO development in favor of PlayStation and Sega Saturn. There, it managed to make a number of classics, including 3D Baseball. What this sim lacked in official licensing, it made up for with great, contemporary visual design and solid gameplay. It's still a good game by today's standards.

MVP Baseball 2005 (EA Sports/PlayStation 2 & Xbox, 2004)

Before 2K exclusively scooped up the license for Major League Baseball, EA Sports made one of the best baseball games in town with MVP Baseball 2005. Featuring a variety of splendid modes to choose from (including Dynasty and Owner's modes), and a "Batter's Eye" technique that made it a cinch to reach a pitcher's throw right down to the plate, it remains an appreciated classic.

MLB Slugfest (Midway/Xbox & PlayStation 2, 2002)

Considering the popularity of NBA Jam and NFL Blitz, it was a bit surprising that it took so long for baseball to get a turn on the arcade-style front. However, Midway filled the void with MLB Slugfest, with four games featuring plenty of grand-slam hits, sliding-into-base violence and ridiculous commentary. The best of the series was easily Loaded, which featured an unlockable Sub-Zero and Scorpion of Mortal Kombat fame.

The Bigs (2K Sports/Xbox 360 & PlayStation 3, 2007)

Where Slugfest left off, The Bigs easily picked back up. 2K Sports attempted to make the most out of its MLB contract with this silly yet entertaining arcade baseball series, featuring plenty of power-up driven gameplay and exciting visuals to separate the sport from the more-serious MLB 2K games. The gamble paid off quite well, leading to the release of a sequel, The Bigs 2, a couple of years later.

MLB 2K series (2K Sports/Xbox 360 & PlayStation 3, 2006-2013)

After getting its start as ESPN Major League Baseball published by Sega, the MLB 2K series would eventually go over to 2K Games, where it would spend numerous years providing baseball fans with plenty of hard-hitting action. The series would eventually get better over the years, with more dynamic pitching and hitting controls and visuals, as well as in-depth features, including a yearly Perfect Game Challenge tournament for a million dollar top prize. Eventually, the series came to a close with MLB 2K13, the final game under 2K's deal with Major League Baseball.

MLB: The Show series (Sony/PlayStation 3 & Vita, 2006-current)

After spending many years trying to hone the sport with its MLB series on PlayStation and PlayStation 2, Sony managed to make a turn for the better in 2006 with the debut of its annual The Show series. Since that time, each release has managed to get better and better, with added features (like the Road To the Show mode), improved gameplay and significant visuals that bring out every detail in the sport, right down to the official ballparks. This year's edition, MLB 14: The Show, looks to be no exception, as it'll be making its debut on the PlayStation 4 platform.

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