Once upon a time, Atari (or Tengen as they like to be known these days) produced a baseball game exclusively for the Nintendo console, and as is the wont of software people, they subsequently got round to producing a sequel. Now their friends at Domark have produced a version of said sequel for the Amiga.
Thus we have something a little strange - a sequel without a predecessor (on this format anyway). Mind you, considering the limited scope of baseball, I don't expect we've missed out on much - I mean, just how different could they have been?
Once upon a time (part two), I loathed sports at school, but at least when the summer came around, and the old baseball equipment was dragged out, I could savor a welcome respite from football and bloody rugby. Ah, happy days.
But enough of this - you want to know about the game. It's not exactly simple, but I'll give it my best shot...
BASEBALL IN THE MAJOR LEAGUE
Leafing through the bits and pieces bunged into the RBI Two box, the first thing to hit me was the amount of background stuff included. not only is there a baseball cap (though it did actually look more like a cycling cap, but it's cool anyway) to get you in the mood, but the manual goes so far as to give fourteen pages of player statistics (that's the actual player rosters on twenty eight teams!) and even includes a lowdown on what task each guy (the batter, the pitcher, the baseman etc) actually performs in the favourite sport of our American friends. Very handy for heathens like me.
These aren't dodgy trinkets designed to disguise a dismal game - they help the game shine even more. From the 'Back To The Future' inspired theme music and the presenter, with his cheesy grin fixed for the camera, to the in-game sequences with gruff speech samples, RBI Two Baseball oozes class.
The game offers the usual one player against computer options, but it really comes into its own when there are two players, making it much more of a social affair.
Okay, I admit it - it's very good.
The standard 3D view from behind the catcher is used for the main pitching batting sequence (with some pretty nifty animation), but once the ball is actually whacked, the view changes to an aerial one, panning over the pitch to follow its progress.
Should this leave the main diamond pitch thing (or whatever the technical term is) out of view, the game helpfully super-imposes a little scanner which charts the progress of the runners as they head for a home run. Although the characters are small in this view, they still move in a surprisingly fluid manner, sliding into home base and such like.
For practically every occurrence (home runs, being caught out, reaching a base safely, and so on), there's a cute scoreboard display, just to give that stadium feel. thankfully these can be skipped by a swift press of the fire button (handy after you've witnessed them for the zillionth time) or tuned off completely (much more preferable).
In play, the success or failure of RBI Two Baseball kind of hangs on the various control systems used (as indeed most of these team control simulations do). Batting is simply a matter of moving the guy, then pressing the fire button when the ball is thrown. This leaves it all down to timing, which works quite effectively (after about fifteen minutes practice).
Still, the chance of some extra directional control would have been nice, and the hit rate is unrealistically low (for human players anyway). Pitching is a little more interactive, allowing for curve balls, fast balls, slow balls, and combination pitches. Then there's the fielding and running (which is where I really begin to have problems) but more of that in a minute. All fielders run corresponding to joystick movement, so the trick is to work out just which fielder you should be directing. If it turns out that he's not going to reach the ball in time, then chances are you've moved any other fielders several miles away. So, until a kind of latent instinct surfaces, actually getting hold of the ball in a reasonable amount of time proves a maddeningly tricky task.
Running between bases is another fairly automated affair (rather inevitably really). Other than getting the chance to force runners back to the previous base, or onwards to the next, things pretty much take care of themselves.
It has that baseball 'feel' to it, but as a game in itself it just didn't click with me.
LET'S CALL A TIME OUT, BOYS
Time in fact for some gripes, the biggest of which has to be the lack of intuitiveness in the control system, particularly the fielding. Working out where the bleedin' ball is going to land is bad enough, but it's once you've actually got the thing in your mitts and try passing it to a base that the real nightmare begins.
Frustrating? The concept of playing baseball with the disk was very tempting for a few fleeting moments. This may be down to personal taste, but a choice between this and a more normal (to my mind anyway) point-in-the-general- direction-of-the-base and throw system would have been a boon.
My second gripe concerns the actual game time (though I admit defeat on finding a better alternative which addresses the proper rules). With each game lasting a marathon nine innings each, and an even more daunting seven games per series, it would probably be less exhausting and time consuming to find a field and play the damn game for real. Seasons come and go, but the series still goes on (yeah, I'm exaggerating just a little bit). Now to me, these gripes seem fairly important, and they've coloured my overall opinion of the game somewhat, but I'll be the first to admit that they are things which aren't simply defined in terms of good or bad, but are perhaps more down to the tastes of the individual.
PITCHED AT THE SPORTS FAN
Much as I like idea of playing out sports on a computer, there seem to be precious few which not only capture the flavour and underlying concepts behind a sport, but which are also very playable. Sure, RBI Two is slick, and it has that baseball 'feel' to it, but as a game in itself it just didn't quite click with me, particularly in one player mode. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it. And that's not to say that it doesn't really excell in some areas.
But it comes across as more of one of those luxury games (you know, the ones you ask your Granny for at Christmas) than one on which you'd be ecstatic about forking out £29.99. I freely admit that it could well be down to me rather than RBI Two (I know several people who think that it achieves what it sets out to do perfectly), but for £29.99 I expect to get a game which will not only be fun to play for an hour or two, but one which I'll come back to for weeks, maybe months to come. One which I'll run around telling my friends about. You know the kind I mean.
It's good. Okay, I admit it - it's very good. But it could never be mistaken for a classic. Me, I think i'll find myself a nice shoot-'em-up to while away those hot summer nights.