Sunday, May 8, 2011

Eight Bits of Baseball Fun: RBI Baseball

I realized recently that one of my most prized possessions is a mint condition eight-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. It's in mint condition because my brothers and I have always taken good care of our stuff, and it's a prized possession because sometimes you just get the urge to play a video game that has only two main buttons and a directional pad.

There's something magnificent about the fact that I got in on the ground floor of the Nintendo revolution and that the same small gray box that brought me so much joy throughout the 1980s is still alive and kicking, giving me the (Nintendo) power to face Piston Honda in the Punch Out ring, smash Koopa Troopas with Super Mario and hit a home run with George Brett.

That last example is the one that brings me back to my eight-bit roots most frequently: the original RBI Baseball. In a world of baseball video games that offer photo-realistic stadiums and computer-generated players who share the same facial expressions and superstitious tics as their real-life counterparts, I still crave the simplicity of this 1987 classic. The players don't really even have faces.

Aside from the nostalgia of using players who are now already inducted in or eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame, the controls are surprisingly nimble and a deft tap of the directional pad can yield a knee-buckling strike. The ability to steal a base with the push of a button always resulted in a devilish game of cat and mouse that allowed my brother and I to play out our sibling rivalry between the foul lines. The game also features a style of defense usually reserved for t-ball teams: When you move your left fielder to go after a ball down the third base line, your entire team moves in that direction along with him. Give me the simple life.

Adding to the nostalgia factor is RBI Baseball's MIDI soundtrack that is permanently etched on my soul. I just found a website that has all the game's greatest hits, including such favorites as "introductory game music," "game music with runners on base" and my personal favorite, the immortal "game music with empty bases." That one even has a techno remix. I think I just found myself a new ringtone.

Some people need their MTV, but I need my NES. If it ever dies of natural causes, I will not only bury it in the backyard, but also immediately hop on eBay to find a replacement. How else is Rick Sutcliffe going to throw a no-hitter these days?

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