Taking a popular sport and fusing it together with a futuristic theme is certainly nothing new in the world of video games. Atari managed quite a bit of success with its robotic football release Cyberball, so it comes as no surprise that other companies would follow suit. Back in 1991 SNK took a page out of Atari's book and crafted a rather unique futuristic take on the sport of baseball with the release of 2020 Super Baseball; while this title sticks to many of the more traditional rules of the game, there's still plenty of twists and turns to give it a unique look and feel.
Since 2020 Super Baseball still sticks to the majority of the sport's basic rules, fans should feel right at home from the get go. You're still going to be batting, fielding, and running your way through the game, but when you get beyond the core gameplay functions, that's when it starts to take a different turn.
While many of the players are human you do have the ability to upgrade them, even going so far as to turn them into robots. As you make plays you'll begin to earn money that can be used to purchase such upgrades; these range from increasing your player's abilities to hit, field, and pitch. The more significant the upgrade the more it will cost you, but your upgrades are also limited to the current game and cannot be saved or carried over for future use.
Not to be outdone by the players themselves, the field of play also gets a few futuristic upgrades. For starters the home run zone is now much smaller and right down the middle of the field. Only by hitting a ball over this small section will you be awarded a home run; if you're too far off to the left or right, the ball will simply bounce back into the field of play. There are also Crackers and Stop Zones to deal with that will explode when touched and completely stop the ball in its tracks, respectively, and these are only a few of the interesting gameplay twists you'll encounter.
Much like any other baseball title of this time period, controls are kept simple and do a nice job of allowing the game to unfold without a lot of overly complicated control schemes. There are enough new gameplay touches to make this title stand out, but it does take some getting used to for players used to a more traditional baseball outing. In truth, what you get out of it will depend heavily on how open-minded you are about some of the more obscure features that the game makes use of.
There are certainly a lot of flashy visual touches, meanwhile, to be found. Bright colour palettes, lots of flashing sprites, and a few digitized close-ups make for an exciting visual presentation. While the characters are fairly large in size and feature a good level of detail, their animations are a bit jerky and unrealistic at times. The audio package is equally hit or miss, with some really cool digitized speech that is unfortunately overshadowed by a rather mediocre musical effort.
2020 Super Baseball puts on a good show and does a nice job of conveying a futuristic baseball experience, but at times it feels like the developer tried to toss in a few too many new gameplay functions; it ultimately ends up dragging the overall experience down a little. Retro baseball video game fans should find plenty to like about the game, but only if they're able to deal with some of the more glaring eccentricities. The sport's games have come a long way in terms of gameplay and variety over the years; taking a radical step back might prove to be too much to ask for more modern gamers.