Platform: Atari 2600
In a previous entry we talked about the imprint Realsports from Atari, an interesting effort trying to improve its line of sports videogames for its home consoles. Specially for the Atari 2600, being the first sport with the Realsports makeup the one dedicated to the King of the Sports, Home Run, because was a particulary panned title.
This was the first baseball videogame for a home console, be it the Atari 2600 or the Intellivision (the only ones available in my hometown during my childhood) that I played.
It was funny to see the really well-drawn field, and with the 9 players in it. WOW, that was to be expected in a videogame with the word Realsports in its title, even with the cheers sounds when the players enter the field. The control schema is simple, but unpolished. I say this, because if you are batting, the direction with the joystick indicated how will be the swing: down is bunt, left or right is groundball, up is fly. The most interesting is that all the hits looks exactly the same, being the only distinguishable feature the sound (so, hearing to judge the hit is an essential skill to play this videogame) with a twist: if the fielding team do not catch a fly ball it becomes an automatic homerun.
With runners on base, it’s possible to steal, and you do it pressing right on the joystick to steal, and left to backtrack, which can become quite counter-intuitive considering that in baseball the runners advance from right to left.
Now, let’s see how do you pitch the ball, which also is not very intuitive. First you select with the joystick the kind of pitch: fastball, sinker or curveball, then the fire button, slightly tapping the joystick to down. The problem is that if you took too much time between pressing the button and moving the joystick down, the game thinks it’s a pitchout (yes, even if it’s towards home plate and does not count as a ball). Naturally, there is no way for the batting player to distinguish a strike from a ball, specially if the pitching player do not press any direction from the joystick, it’s always a ball. If the catcher receives the pitch, it must explicitly return the ball to the pitcher pressing the fire button, meaning, it’s no automathic and after a while it becomes very annoying, specially if you don’t have the instruction manual at hand, thing really frequent in my hometown during 80s.
A very reallystic feaure, and ahead of its time, is that the players entering and exiting the field takes a really looooooooooooooong time, now we know who were the culprits that current baseball pro players do the same like divas waiting for the cheers from the public, which in the videogame do appear.
To differentiate themselves from the titles of the Intellivision, the sports videogames for the Atari 2600 allowed a videoplayer to compete against the Artifficial Intelligence. But this particular videogames goes to lengths that allow the player to hone its patience skills. The evidences provided for the prosecution:
- When the AI is batting, never tries to hits balls, only strikes. So, you can be in deep trouble if you have not mastered the pitching technique.
- The AI never tries to throw out a base stealing attempt. That includes trying to steal home plate.
- The AI constantly throws badly trying to force out a batter or runner.
- The AI catcher takes a really long time to return the ball to the pitcher.
Well, we can understand why Atari never shined in its own sports titles. However, the matches between two human players became really nice, specially applying some special rules, discussed a bit later in this entry.
There was a port for the second home console for Atari, the Atari 5200, which deserves its own entry, because the differences with this title are from day to night.
Atari had a third iteration of a baseball game for the Atari 2600, Super Baseball, but I still not decide to make an entry or not about it. Because aside from a few slightly changes to graphics and playability it’s the same game as this one.
This was the first baseball videogame for a home console that arrived to my hometown, which was really a baseball town back then, so at first the title was very disappointing for all the reasons mentioned above… Until we started to play two-human players matches. You see, we kind of developed a few metagame rules being the first one, to play with the sound muted, so any match in this videogame was suddenly with a whole new element of strategy: Which kind of hit is? or pitch? it’s a flyball or a ground ball? do I have to swing at the pitch or not at a 3-2 count? to which base do I have to throw the ball? because scoring from a sacrifice fly was allowed. Only the change of inning was annoying, but any match became epic.
Even if it’s a notorious improvement over the first baseball videogame from Atari, it still has flaws. Only recommend to play between two humans (with no sound coming from the gaming device) because it’s quite boring playing against the AI.
Console Icon created by Ciro Alfredo Consentino for the program EmuLoader.
Datafile image taken from AtariAge