The Major League Baseball season starts Sunday, and what better way to get excited about the upcoming season that waxing nostalgic for some great MLB video games of the past.
Today, we start with the game that I probably played more than any other baseball game growing up, and the one MLB game I still own: MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. on the Nintendo 64.
For those who never played it or haven’t played it in a long time, MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. was released in 1998, and was an arcade-style MLB game, not in the sense that there were crazy power-ups or wild plays, but that the game was very simple to pick up and play and very fast-moving.
Seriously, I have timed myself play games before and you can get complete 9-inning games in, in under 20 minutes.
The game was very simple, pick one of four pitches using A, B, Z+A or Z+B to throw, then a cursor appeared on the screen for the batter and the ball. As hitter you tried to line up your cursor on the ball one, press A to swing and hope you hit it.
And of course the cursor changed depending on how good your hitter was. Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Piazza, Edgar Martinez, Paul Molitor and others all had giant cursors, while terrible players and pitchers all had cursors that were about the size of the ball.
(Skip to about 1:30 if you want to get right to the game action)
Once the ball was in play, the C-Buttons each corresponded with a base to throw, and the A and B buttons made you dive or jump.
While running the bases, R advanced all the runners, the C-Button was for an individual runner, and Z+R retreated all runners.
Again, this was a very simple game that pretty much anyone could pick up and play, even if they didn’t play video games that often.
Now, the game wasn’t without its problems. Again, this was a very simple game, almost to a fault in some instance.
There were roughly three player models, and everybody wore their jersey the same way: pants all the way down and a long sleeves. On top of that, there were only four different batting stances (except for Griffey who of course got his authentic one), and everyone wore a traditional tan fielders glove, including the catchers and 1B. So even if you got to play as your favorite players in name, on the field they all looked the same, something the graphically superior All-Star Baseball series did a much better job of.
And the simplicity also affected the games, mainly against the computer. It became very easy to run up the score, because most pitchers didn’t move their pitches with the cursor, basically making it like batting practice.
Base-running had no momentum, as players stopped at each base and then had to be advance. And on defense, players never hit cut-off men, even as they stood out there, as every throw went right to the base it was intended. Seriously, there were no throwing errors in the game, the only errors were the occasional booted ground ball, and dropped pop-up.
The game did have a surprisingly good number of game modes, including Exhibition, Season, World Series and Home Run Derby, as well as all the MLB teams and players at the time, plus two hidden teams.
But again, if you wanted to play a simple baseball game with other people and have the game last less than a half hour, this was your game.
The game received mostly positive reviews, ranging from OK to very good, including a 7.7 from IGN way back in June of 1998.
19 years after its release, the game brings back a ton of memories, especially after I fired it up last night.
It’s crazy to turn this game on and not just cycle through the teams and see which have moved or changed jerseys, but to see just how many stadiums in 19 years no longer exist, or have had upgrades so that the park doesn’t even look the same.
Another fun thing: Remembering old players and trying to find out if any from this game are still active in MLB today.
After searching through the fantasy draft option, there is one player I can think of that still plays today that is on this game: Bartolo Colon, of course.
It’s also fun to see players who recently wrapped up their careers to see what they were thought of very early on. In 1998 David Ortiz was in his first full season in MLB, here were his ratings in the game:
Not exactly someone you thought would go on to have a Hall of Fame career, but in fairness, he did put up pretty decent numbers in his 15-game stint in 1997.
So yeah, 19 years later MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. is still a fun game to play in short burst, and would probably be a blast to play with friends who also had it growing up. You can get a game finished in less than 20 minutes, and the nostalgia factor, from the players to the stadiums, to the teams is always fun to re-live.
MLB Featuring Ken Griffey Jr on N64: 8/10.