Back in the mid-to-late 80s, when the NES was the dominant force in video games, cyber sporting wasn’t exactly the complex affair that it is now. With modern controllers having about a dozen buttons and joysticks to manage, it’s common for every one of those to be utilized for numerous functions — spanning offensive and defensive play styles — in today’s sports video games. Of course that means the learning curve is steep, and if you haven’t been sinking money into yearly iterations and evolving with your sport of choice, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and distraught when starting out or jumping back in after time away. But, like we said, that’s not how things were back in the 8-bit days.
In Bases Loaded, the controls are intuitive and accessible. Without glancing at a manual or cluelessly pressing random buttons, our thumbs instinctively gravitated to the D-pad and A-button, which are the most significant to play. While the D-pad (or Circle Pad) is, as expected, used for directional purposes – aiming a pitch, swinging a bat high/low, targeting bases – the A-button is, as you also might have guessed, the main action button. The B-button comes into play for more complex moves, like pick-off throws or advancing runners, but it’s still a simple and understandable implementation after a brief glance at the manual. Bases Loaded offers a very friendly game of baseball.
There are two modes to choose from: Pennant and VS Mode. Pennant allows you to select between 12 fictitious teams – based on major US cities – and embark upon a lengthy 132 game season. Given that it takes over an hour to complete a single game, we don’t expect many will ever win the pennant, but if you do happen to be interested in going the distance, Virtual Console save states come in mighty handy. VS Mode also takes advantage of modern technology by utilizing the Download Play capabilities of the 3DS for local two-player matches, and going up against a human opponent resulted in our most enjoyable moments.
When starting our first game, what immediately stuck out to us was the smoothness of the whole visual presentation. Character models and animations, at least from the batting/pitching view, successfully portray actual human-beings. The overhead view that frames the fielding action, however, makes the players look like cartoony munchkins, but it's understandable given the zoomed-out perspective. Even sharp, angled lines feature a very soft pixelation, as opposed to the pronounced jagged presence that 8-bit titles can often have. The visuals don't necessarily look to transcend the capabilities of the system, but they're definitely impressive compared to some other NES games from the time.
Batting is easy enough to get down, and it shouldn’t take too long to get runners into scoring position. It might take a little while to get used to the framing angle from the pitcher’s mound to home plate, which makes it hard to judge the trajectory/height of the ball until it’s in the strike zone, but it’s not too big of a hurdle to overcome. A standard press of the A-button will swing right up the middle, or you can mix in up or down to swing high or low. If contact with the ball has been made, the batter will automatically move onto the bases one at a time, but you can advance them further along if the situation calls for it. It’s probably exactly what you’d expect from a game that can be played with only two buttons and a D-pad, and all the fundamentals are covered.
Fielding suffers from a constrained view and lack of knowledge for player fielder location. This is the case with many baseball games from the era, but that doesn’t excuse the effect it has on play. When following a hit ball up the field, the location of the fielder you’re controlling won’t be revealed until the ball is in the area, often leaving nothing but a second or so time to react. Issues like this could be erased with the presence of a tiny map in a corner of the screen, player indicators/tabs that hug the edges of the viewing radius, or simply a wider view. Unfortunately, none of those things are here to help, so expect clumsiness and mistakes. Fielding is also bogged down by how slow the ball is thrown from player to player, especially outfield to infield. The speed of the base runners seems to match it just fine, but this sluggish pace doesn’t make for the most electrifying game of baseball.
Ultimately, defense isn’t as exciting as swinging a bat for the fences. You would think that it would be, especially taking into account that defensive play offers more to do, but it’s not. This isn’t exactly a feeling that's exclusive to Bases Loaded — it seems to be the popular opinion with most baseball games — but it does drag things down more than usual here. When you mix that with the already lengthy runtime of a game, chances are you won't want to participate in many doubleheaders. Don't get us wrong, fielding isn't entirely bad — it will just require much patience, resulting in a game that won't appeal to all fans of the sport.
During our time with Bases Loaded we were moderately entertained, though we never felt an urge to keep playing. Baseball video games have come a long way since the NES was king of the market, and revisiting them in their most primitive form isn't exactly easy. There are cool little touches — like subbing batter/pitchers and the smooth presentation — that do help, but they're so incredibly dated by today's standards that, even though we appreciated them, we never felt wowed. If nostalgia or accessibility is what you're after, and you don't mind slow-paced fielding, there might be enough here to like; however, everyone else might want to wait for that fastball up the middle, because this isn't it.
Bases Loaded is a game that might be good enough to appeal to those hankering for a nostalgic meeting on the 8-bit mound, but it likely won’t do much for anyone else. Given the technical limitations of the time, it does an admirable job of authentically mimicking baseball, but sluggish fielding can really work to make nine innings feel twice as long as they should — if you plan to play against a human opponent by capitalizing on Download Play functionality, then you can expect this tedium to be mildly subdued. Even still, while it hasn't quite aged gracefully, Bases Loaded isn't completely ready for retirement, either; it's up to you to decide whether or not you're willing to take the risk and renew its contract. You never know — you might find that this old slugger still has enough hits left to win a few ball games.