The Neo Geo sports games that have so far appeared on Switch offer up simple quick-to-play arcade experiences, but 2020 Super Baseball is a bit different. It’s not because it’s predicting some radical rule changes in a couple of years time (we’ve already had futuristic takes on football and volleyball), but because games here are lengthy affairs with a playthrough of the single-player mode likely to be played across several gaming sessions.
Whereas other games look to speed things up, ditching half-times or dropping you into the final set, 2020 Super Baseball takes place across nine innings with a 10th if required. Even if the three outs are achieved quickly in an inning, there’s still going to be lots of ball throwing/hitting involved in the game. There are two leagues of six teams and after picking your team you compete against the other five, playing each three times. Playing through fifteen games takes some time and while there’s no in-game save function, like all of HAMSTER’s ACA Neo Geo releases you can use the 'Create Interrupt Save Data' option to split up the game as required.
Whether you win or lose a game, you proceed to the next one with the ultimate goal being to be top of the league at the end of it all. You will still find yourself inserting credits, however, as the game limits you to five minutes of playtime. Luckily, the credits are unlimited, but the continue prompt can pop up at awkward moments, including when the ball is in midair. In the options menu the time limit can be adjusted up to just under 30 minutes, but while this changes the onscreen display, you’ll still get asked to continue after five minutes.
Gameplay-wise this is a lot like regular baseball with the aim being to score more runs than the other team. Differences include a smaller home run zone down the middle of the field (anything outside this will roll back into play) and a couple of small “Ball Stop” zones on the field that stop the ball dead in its tracks should it land on them. Other additions are the Jump zones scattered along the edges allowing players to jump higher than normal to catch a ball and the use of Crackers (basically landmines). More and more Crackers are introduced as a game progresses and of course are to be avoided when fielding. Step on one and you’ll have to wait for your incapacitated player to recover or get another to run and collect the ball.
When batting you can shuffle about a little in four directions and hitting the ball is a matter of timing. Players will eventually run to the next base, but if you have any interest in scoring runs you’re better off manually instructing them. Each base is represented by a direction; press in conjunction with the B button to send someone scurrying towards it. This simplicity works well, but scoring runs are tricky as the ball often flys off straight into the arms of a waiting fielder. With these positions being fixed, you quickly learn to recognise which ball arcs will result in you being caught out and can at least save yourself the bother of directing others players to bases.
A lot of this applies when it is your turn at fielding and consequently it is an easier to play portion of the game as you know when you are going to catch a ball without doing anything and when to make slight adjustments. Pressing directions leads to a variety of different pitches and players can be moved to catch balls; the game does a good job of recognising which one you want to control. Jumping up or diving to catch balls can be tricky to judge (naturally the CPU never fluffs this), but you only really need to master the jump for when the ball is hurtling towards the home run zone. The rest of the time simply aligning a player with the ball’s shadow and waiting for it to drop will work just as well.
The teams are a mix of female, male and robot players with a variety of different stats. You can swap out pitchers and batters as required if you have someone more suited to the task at hand or if they are visibly fatigued. In addition to this, money is earned as you play and this can be used to purchase upgrades for your players (only for the current game) if you feel in need of an extra boost.
Visually the game is competent enough with typical (for Neo Geo) large sprites for the batters and closeups of for catches, dives and those close calls when running to a base. Sound effects work well as balls are hit and things such as, “Strike!" and, "You’re out!” are announced, but the music is less impressive, being comprised of various warbles, whines and bloops. It’s not always annoying, but it’s unlikely you’ll be cranking up the volume.
Getting enough runs to win a game can be tricky at first, but you have 15 games to get the hang of it. Should you win the league, you’ll get a World Series match against the winner of the other one. After all those games you could try again, this time aiming to win more with the number of wins determining your place on the online leaderboard. Placements are of course limited, but at the time of writing only one person has managed the full sixteen wins.
For an alternative way to play, the usual ACA one credit Hi Score and five-minute Caravan modes are available, this time challenging you to score as many runs as possible. However, due to a credit only giving you five minutes of playtime these two modes are very similar; Hi Score gives you a little bit longer due to its use of the in-game timer. One final mode of play is the two-player versus, allowing you to compete against a friend should you have twenty minutes or so to spare.
2020 Super Baseball is a simple to play baseball game, with a few twists to shake things up. At times it can feel quite limited due to the way many hit balls end up in the hands of the opposition (and naturally it's not as fully-featured as games the followed in subsequent years), but it's still satisfying to hit a home run and amusing to watch someone chase after the ball only to then be sent flying by an exploding landmine. With a surprisingly lengthy single player mode and the always fun option to have a match against a friend, 2020 Super Baseball is not a bad choice for those seeking (slightly off-kilter) ball hitting action.