Another Sega “Great” sports title, another attempt to compete with Nintendo’s sports library. It goes without saying that baseball is a must for any game system, but in 1987 the only 8-bit baseball title was Nintendo’s paltry Baseball, so Sega saw this as an oppertunity to bring out a superior 8-bit version of the national pasttime on the Master System. Many gamers don’t know this is actually the second game to bear this title; the original Great Baseball (only available in Japan as a Sega Card) pretty much copied its NES counterpart to the letter just with flashier graphics, so Sega deemed it unsuitable for exporting as is and crafted a second version for the American market, with some additional features that haven’t been seen in a baseball cart before.
At first Great Baseball makes a good impression and seems much more advanced than Nintendo’s cart, starting with a nice title screen. One or two players can choose from 26 teams based in MLB cities (though there’s no real difference between them) and can also choose their starting pitcher and specialty pitch as well as two difficulty levels. Once you take the field it’s standard 9-inning baseball, with all the strikes, balls and so on you might expect. However gamers are first greeted with a TV-style behind-the-pitcher view of the pitcher and batter matching wits, something that hadn’t been seen in baseball cartridges up to that point. In fact NES gamers wouldn’t experience it for themselves until the U.S. release of Jaleco’s Bases Loaded a year later. The scene also looks pretty good as the players sport some good colors and smooth animiation. In addition lineup cards are displayed in-beteween hitters, showing the batters with actual (fictional) names and stats, and when you feel your pitcher is getting tired you can call for a reliever from the bullpen. Certainly more advanaced that anything NES’ers had at that point.
However once the ball is put into play the gameplay takes a few lumps. The game switches to a wide view of the whole field as the outfielders slowly go for the ball while the batter rounds the bases, and other than some slighty better and decent graphics, it’s almost just like Nintendo’s baseball. Sadly your fielders must be wearing heavy shoes as they can take forever to get to the ball, often allowing the opposing runners to take several bases and even score runs virtually unopposed. Assuming you can get the ball and throw it to the basemen then action shifts to a closer view for infield plays. Once again it’s very close to Nintendo’s cart, just with slightly better visuals which are actually pretty decent in this view, including players who slide into the bases. The audio, on the other hand, is a mixture of good and bad parts. There’s no background music during the action except for the brief dittys in-between innings and for home runs, and the crowd is silent for the most part but does occasionally sound like a jet engine when they get excited. The sound effects aren’t much to get excited about but you do get some decent audible calls from the umpire, though a few are fuzzy and hard to understand.
Despite being part of the ‘Great Sports’ series, the gameplay is actually decent for the most part. The controls are fairly responsive and easy to learn and the game moves along at a fairly swift pace. The computer teams provide a solid though rarely frustrating challenege, though the issues with the wide view mode can get on your nerves. However, it isn’t long before the game reminds you this is a dated mid-1980s baseball title. Once the game concludes with the last out that’s it, there’s no pennant modes or championship series. You can engage in a somewhat dull home run derby to show off your hitting skills, but otherwise there’s not much here to keep you playing for more than a quick contest. Also the game seems boring at times with little crowd noise and no background theme to punch up the action, making it seem like you’re playing in an empty stadum. In addition there’s no real difference between the teams and the players’ stats don’t really seem to come into play, meaning the innovative pitcher-batter view seems to be the only real thing keeping this cart from being just a better-looking clone of its NES counterpart.
So overall Great Baseball isn’t the worst 8-bit baseball title out there, and it’s certainly better than the other ‘Great Sports’ carts we’ve reviewed so far. The action is nice but the fun wears a little thin eventually, and of course it’s hard to recommend this cart above the superior baseball titles that followed it, including the Master System’s own Reggie Jackson Baseball. This game isn’t a bleacher bum but it won’t be playing in the major leagues anytime soon.