Best Game of 1988: RBI Baseball
Regardless of performance, every kid on a Little League roster in 1988 completed his season with a trip to the local, crappy pizza parlor. In my hometown, this place was called Ledo’s. Forget about the pizza, the only thing anyone wanted to do at this joint was play R.B.I. Baseball on the arcade. Grease up your hands with that pizza and grab the joystick for some real competition. The end of the Little League season left plenty of time to sit in a dark basement and log hours on the NES version of R.B.I. Baseball.
One of the first games to be licensed by a major sport’s players’ association, R.B.I. Baseball allowed you to play as the pros. Dead were the days of playing as fictional teams such as The Dragons and The Pickles. We had real teams (well, real cities at least) and real players. That was a big deal.
A Home Run
Few games have had the operating life of R.B.I. Baseball. An instant hit in 1988, the game was consistently played through the middle 00’s. I’m not quite sure why this was ever popular, but “pitch down the middle” prevailed in the early years. Presumably, we kids were too unskilled at video games to deal with the stinky cheese. Eventually everyone evolved to “pitch anywhere,” which really took the game to a new level of competition: multiplayer. This game was one of the best multiplayer games on the NES. Despite the fact that the NES was a two-player system, R.B.I. Baseball routinely got crowds of people to hang around and wait for their turn to play in a round robin or a single-elimination tournament. Single-elimination R.B.I. Baseball tournaments, a staple of the 90’s and 00’s, could be completed in an evening. Each game took about 20 minutes, which is the perfect amount of time for people to wait without being bored to tears.
In my opinion, the best thing about R.B.I. Baseball is its combination of skill, luck, and fairness. A reasonably high level of skill was required to pitch well and to lay off of bad pitching as a hitter; however, the most skilled player did not always win. This really added to the operating life of the game since it gave a reason for everyone to play. You might have known that you weren’t the best player, but the randomness of the game gave everyone a chance to win. It isn’t like Mario Kart, where the randomness, or “rubber band” effect, feels cheap. R.B.I. Baseball generally felt fair. This usually manifested itself in your opponent capitalizing on your mistake. You’d try to stretch your pitching staff by leaving a pitcher in too long, only to throw one right down the plate to be crushed out of the park. In these situations in other sports games, there seems to be something fishy going on within the game itself, which generates complaints. In R.B.I. Baseball , there just never seemed to be a lot of complaints about the game itself.
The Championship of the Universe Tournament is a great example of the legacy of R.B.I. Baseball. More than 20 years after its release, R.B.I. Baseball is still being played in a high-level competitive tournament with an entry fee of $100. That’s longevity.