As regular-season baseball winds down, players can start to take on mythic qualities. When Max Scherzer recently pitched 8 perfect innings, not allowing a single runner to advance to first, it was easy to imagine flames circling him on the mound, part of some dark magic spell recited to leave the San Diego Padres helpless.
But what if there was a baseball game that allowed for its pitchers to actually bring forth a summoning circle of flames? That would be pretty cool, right?
That’s the hyperbolic promise of the hyperbolically titled 1991 SNES game Super Baseball Simulator 1.000. If you’re a paid Nintendo Switch online subscriber, can be played right now by downloading the Super Nintendo Entertainment System app.
One time and place where baseball undoubtedly lost were the video game arcade wars of the ‘90s. Games like NBA Jam and NFL Blitz told players that their lack of realism was a feature, not a bug. Recently, a 1996 version of a baseball equivalent, which experimented with dual trackballs, was recovered by the Video Game History Foundation.
The Midway recovery is an incredible find. But it’s fascinating to watch Super Baseball Simulator experiment with similar ideas five years earlier.
The game has three imaginary leagues—the Atlantic, the Northern, and the Ultra league. These teams have some gorgeous logos, including a 16-bit Texas desert sunset with cacti, and a Boston logo even more colorful than the real team’s City Connect jersey. These teams are all customizable to an extent, although it’s hard to tell what exactly is going on.
Super Baseball Simulator was probably a game that would count on either an arcade box or manual to explain to players how to play, so without them it can be kind of confusing. What are those graphics of bombs and arrows doing, and why do they have numbers attached? How do I throw to a proper base? Glancing through an FAQ can lower the learning curve considerably.
Even with an FAQ, the game still acts oddly. When fielding a ball, for example, all of a team’s fielded players move with one control. So if you’re moving an infielder back to catch a ball in the shallow outfield, only to realize that your outfielder would be better positioned for the catch, he’s actually been running to the outfield wall the entire time.
There’s also the thankless task of catching pop-ups, which only works if you are exactly under the ball’s shadow. Hitting makes more sense, requiring a basic sense of timing and placement, but even then does not really feel like something that can be perfected or even improved.
These are frustrations that keep Super Baseball Simulator from being a truly “good” game. But there is much more to it than that. It is extremely fun, even in the middle of these frustrations that make the Switch Online’s rewind button look more and more tempting.
When reviewing The Show 21, as polished a baseball game that exists, I couldn’t help but feel turned off by all that polish. For all its intricacies, baseball remains a very weird game, where a pitcher can wiggle his foot at an opposing hitter to try and make him laugh and it counts as actual strategy. Could a video game be as weird as the people who play baseball for a living?
Super Baseball Simulator 1.000 offers players Ultra powers, which can primarily be found in the Ultra league. These powers allow players to enter mystery dimensions, given their batted balls velocity at the speed of rockets, summon flames to the pitching mound for 185 MPH fastballs, split a ball into three, have a grounded ball create earthquakes, remove a ball’s shadow, turn a ball into a falling leaf, make a ball explode when caught, and more.
They can only be deployed after a certain number of ultra points have been acquired. So they create a strategy game within a strategy game, deciding when to utilize these potentially game-changing moments. And on top of that, they’re as fun as a Vlad Gurerro Jr. home run. Watching a shortstop get thrown all the way into left field have after catching a ball is something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
Baseball Simulator definitely does not bat 1.000. But as retro games go, it is an undervalued minor leaguer that just hasn’t been given a chance to shine. Adding a version of Ultra moves to The Show any modern baseball game would make for a fascinating option, but there’s something special about a 16-bit game that throws logic out the window to make playing baseball really fun.