Bases Loaded 96: Double Header

Bases Loaded 96: Double Header
Jaleco for Sega Saturn
Release Date: 1995

I recently saw a copy of Jaleco’s Bases Loaded 96: Double Header at an Exchange store in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, and was very curious to see if it was any good. The game was selling for $25, which is a bit too rich for my blood–especially when I own the spectacular World Series Baseball 98–but somebody ended up buying. Heck, complete copies on eBay are selling for at least $80, so I assume it must have some fans. Everybody loves someone, everyone has their reasons, nobody’s perfect. Pick yer catchphrase.

The Bases Loaded series is best remembered on the 8-bit NES, where it was among the best baseball videogames of the 1980s. It then continued on the Super NES, retaining the classic arcade feel and its cult status, yet never quite made the same impact. This seventh and final entry in the series was released on Sony Playstation and Sega Saturn in late 1995, where it quickly found itself outpaced and outdated by more modern renditions of the sport.

Today’s retro gamers, I think, would be much more receptive to a videogame such as this. They’re not looking for a comprehensive simulation or a game that requires a long-term investment. They just want to pop in the disc and play a friendly game every now and then. In that regard, I think Bases Loaded 96 works pretty well. It plays very much like an arcade sports game from 1985, and if you go in with that mindset, I think you’ll have a very good time.

You choose from 29 teams across two leagues of three divisions each. There is no official MLB license, but all of the cities are present in true wink-wink fashion, ensuring that fans will be able to play their favorite. Interestingly, the Players’ Association license is included, which means over 700 real players are included in the game, complete with digitized photos as they take the plate and a bonus gallery of baseball cards. Gameplay options include exhibition play, a complete 162-game season and playoff tournament, as well as a player trading option to customize your favorite teams. Baseball stadiums are modeled similarly to their real-life counterparts, with the usual changes needed to keep lawyers at bay, and this includes the usual mix of indoor and outdoor fields.

The visual design is highly saturated, almost overflowing with colors. The batter/pitcher interface features pre-rendered CG models that are drawn in that abstract geometric style common to computer animation in the 1980s, all bulbous spheres and doll parts, and it only adds to the retro charm. They animate smoothly and perform their actions easily and I never feel like I’m watching a series of canned movements. It’s an interesting design choice that contrasts against the more common use of digitized player sprites, and while it must have feel embarrassingly dated in 1995, it feels fresh and charming today. If anything, it is the flat-toned digitized look that has gone painfully out of style.

When the field is in play, players are drawn as 2D sprites straight out of the 16-bit era, and they do a good job of running and throwing when told. There could probably be a few more animation frames, but the key drawings work and that’s the important thing. One interesting contrast between the Playstation and Saturn versions of this game is the viewing angle. The PSX Bases Loaded uses a high-angled overhead view, reminiscent of classic games like RBI Baseball that depict tiny players at a distance. Saturn Bases Loaded places its camera much closer to the ground, and makes dynamic pans to follow the action. This makes for a more “modern” look, but also results in players looking larger and more pixelated. Personally, I prefer the Saturn approach, but both are useful and it’s very interesting to see such a key difference between the two consoles.

A special note should be written for the audio, which includes rich, echoey stadium sounds of engaged crowds and full-bodied, bass-toned organs. I don’t recall many baseball videogames where the stadiums themselves feel so alive (and I can’t recall any organ music outside of NHL 94), and it adds a sense of presence to the experience. It’s enough to make me reach for my stack of Shirley Scott jazz records and whip up a batch of popcorn.

Beyond this, there isn’t much to say. The gameplay is identical to nearly every baseball videogame ever made, which means that players will almost immediately dive into the action and enjoy themselves. There aren’t any depths or strategies to plumb, only throw ball, hit ball, catch runner before he reaches the next base. Bases Loaded 96 holds onto its NES roots for dear life, and while this must have frustrated more serious sports fans during the Gen-5 era, I find myself thoroughly enjoying it today as the retro time capsule it truly is. Among baseball games on the Saturn software library, its closest peers are Konami’s Bottom of the Ninth and, of course, the Jikkyou Powerful Pro Yakyuu series, which is probably the best of the bunch.

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