The year 1988 was the tipping point in the history of baseball video games. In the early eighties there were generic baseball titles for the Atari, Intellivision, and Colecovision, while the Commodore 64 and Apple II had simulation games like Micro League Baseball. After Nintendo’s Sports Series title Baseball launched with the NES domestically in 1985, sports gamers waited years for another real option. Sega’s self-proclaimed Great Baseball was released for the Sega Master System in 1987 and it wasn’t until Tengen published R.B.I. Baseball in 1988 that a follow-up NES baseball game was released. With a slew of sports games ready to flood the NES 8-bit hardware, Sega fired their last baseball bullet on the Master System with the color-clashing and somewhat novel Reggie Jackson Baseball.
At the time, there were no baseball titles that had the luxury of both Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Player’s Association licenses. While R.B.I. Baseball had real players (using city names), and Major League Baseball (another NES title) had real teams but just numbered players, Reggie Jackson Baseball had neither. Fortunately, we used a thing called “imagination” back then so having fake players and stats wasn’t as impactful to a game’s review as it would be today. I would also argue that Major League Baseball could have probably won a lawsuit with how the likenesses of their teams were represented in this game. While just city abbreviations were used, the uniform colors and pixeled logos were pretty darn close to the real thing. It’s also important to keep in mind that Reggie Jackson Baseball was the only show in town on the Master System, and while indirectly competing against the Nintendo software-wise, the Master System itself had little market share in the United States.
If you thought the pink title screen is eye-grabbing (I also chuckle at the hyphened “Base-ball”; you really couldn’t redesign the layout so you could spell that out?), you really start to question the sanity of the programmers when you take the field. Every game is a random infield color, which contrasts with the outfield wall and stadium to differing degrees. It doesn’t matter if you play multiple home games as the same team in the same gaming session either. While you may get the industry standard green grass once, there’s a good chance one game will be on a blood-red infield to simulate what games would look like in purgatory. These gaudy schemes aside, the actual player sprites are decent for the time, and certainly an upgrade over the Fisher-Price like figurines pitching in R.B.I. Baseball.
Reggie Jackson Baseball plays like most baseball games when it comes to controls but throws in a few wrinkles too. Holding up while swinging is a power swing and holding down projects the opposite. Down + pitch = fastball has been around since the dawn of baseball gaming and here you get a little extra speed the longer you hold down before the pitch. Holding left or right indicates a curve but rather than the standard up = change-up, pressing up is a “special pitch”, which the manual notes the pitcher may or may not execute correctly (it’s usually a slow change or slider). That’s a pretty cool element for 1988. The game also gives you the option for auto or manual fielding. With auto fielding, the CPU just directs you to the ball – you still get to make all the throws. While this may be an ok bet for a first-time player, the CPU A.I.’s decision-making often leads to pop-ups turning into triples and generally bad reads to the ball.
There are a number of unique features to Reggie Jackson Baseball that caught me by surprise. In addition to your typical exhibition, playoff and watch modes, Sega also offers a Home Run Derby where you can pick your player (complete with fake stats to pick from) and opponent to face. Also, if you lose control of a curveball and plunk someone, both benches clear and 8-BITMANIA RUNS WILD ON YOU. They even bring out a stretcher, although miraculously, the player still takes his base after the beaning and scuffle at the pitcher’s mound. Reggie Jackson Baseball also busts out the bullpen cart for any mid-inning pitching changes and in between innings will either show your mascot dancing (usually chickens) or this guy:
I love parts of the music of this game, namely some of the pieces during at-bats that sound like you’re trying to storm the alien stronghold in Contra. Conversely, the “music” when the ball is in play is horrific and the crowd sounds like a grenade exploded every time they cheer. I found the game pretty challenging – especially in the playoff mode. It was impossible to catch the CPU stealing and they just creamed anything I put near the plate. This was a stark difference to my experience with R.B.I. Baseball; almost any hit to the outfield goes for extra bases in R.B.I., while Reggie Jackson Baseball was a bit more judicious with where balls landed.
It is not a stretch by any means to say Reggie Jackson Baseball is the best baseball game on the Sega Master System. It is arguably the best sports game PERIOD on the system. Against its contemporaries, despite not having real players or teams, the game brought some unique features and nuances and is worth experiencing in its rich, colorful glory.