Quick side note- the reason for this review is because we’ve noticed that the Network now features several old Neo Geo titles (all of which are discounted with a PlayStation Plus membership), and we wanted to turn your attention to that fact. We also wanted to see how a game from 1990 can withstand the test of time… As this is an extraordinarily simple old-school production, the review won’t follow the standard lines. Don’t worry; we won’t make a habit of this; it’s merely for the sake of this particular overview.
Ah, Baseball Stars . For those of you who never had the Neo Geo, you should know it was considered by many to be ahead of its time; it brought straight-up arcade gloriousness to the home and in some ways, it eclipsed the 16-bit consoles in terms of visuals. The Neo Geo itself was marketed as a 24-bit machine, but it was actually only 16-bit with the addition of an 8-bit Zilog Z80, which was used mostly for sound. It produced several beloved titles amongst the hardcore crowd, especially those who were willing to shell out for an expensive home system. Back then, it was the only way to approach the technology we had in the arcade down at the mall. But is a game like Baseball Stars Professional capable of giving us that old rosy nostalgic feeling? Better yet, might it appeal to those who are interested in sampling the golden age of gaming? Well, in short…no. No to both questions.
Sometimes, we forget how far we’ve come. We forget that something like Uncharted 2 was beyond the realm of comprehension 20 years ago. We also forget that besides graphics, we didn’t have half the level of meticulous control we have now, and that goes double for the game in question. Sure, it’s nice to have the simplified control scheme where you really only have to memorize two or three buttons on the controller, but the obvious technological limitation impacts the playability. Then again, it might be that the Dual Shock controller isn’t a good fit for the Neo Geo layout…but that’s sort of a lame excuse. The bottom line is that we just feel extremely restricted when we sit down to play an old-fashioned classic like this one; we just end up going, “wait, why did I think this was so amazing…?”
The premise is simple: you get a Versus or a Tournament Mode, a bunch of random teams to choose from, and the same view on both offense and defense. It’s not so bad on offense because you can see well enough to hit the ball, but on defense, it’s a frustrating guessing game. You never really know where your fielders are and given the limited camera view, you just have to assume you’re running in the right direction. Most times, catching the ball is just a matter of luck, and the game can’t really reproduce realistic physics. Fielders can’t even throw to other bases without bouncing the ball and the eccentricities don’t end there. For instance, even if a pitch is going to hit you, if you swing, you’ll just miss and it’ll be a strike. If the first baseman has the ball and you input the command to throw to first, he will literally throw it over the base. Then there’s the fact that most grounders will result in base hits.
You can control the direction of your pitch in mid-flight, which is sort of cool, but it doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the computer’s ability to hit. I never did manage to win a single game because playing defense feels like a total exercise in futility, and I did recall having to play for a long time back in the day before finally getting used to the gameplay. You do have the option to fill up the entire screen, and there are a few other visual and audio options, but as was the case with most old games, it’s a pretty barebones experience. At first, when I started it, I was filled with that fuzzy, “aw, I remember this ” feeling but within minutes, the fuzziness evaporated. Sorry, but this just doesn’t cut it anymore. That being said, I imagine those who wish they still had their Neo Geo would get a big kick out of the PSN offerings, so I would recommend checking ‘em out.
For everyone else? Nah. Some titles do withstand the test of time, and they do continue to be entertaining quite literally forever. Everything from Tetris to Final Fantasy VII will always be adored and more than playable, regardless of the year. Yes, nostalgia is involved there, too, but because certain productions were such masterpieces, and so borderline flawless, such quality endures. The Neo Geo stuff kinda reeks of limitation more than anything else, and sadly, it eradicates much of the fun factor. Perhaps the biggest problems is that there are plenty of fantastic titles on the PSN and something like Joe Danger or Flower is a completely different universe. I think we’ve just come too far when it comes to certain games, and we all have to realize that. Still, there might be something on the Neo Geo that is worth playing, so don’t give up hope.