The mid-90s were the golden era for 2D sports games and a time of huge progress throughout sports gaming in general. We had Madden ’95 removing the passing windows and finally having the NFLPA’s license to have real names. NHL ’94 is arguably the best hockey game ever (and NHL ’95 incorporated the first hockey season mode ever), making huge leaps from ’93 and is still played in online leagues today. NBA Live ’95 had the most significant jump from its predecessor, NBA Showdown ‘94, and changed basketball games forever with its camera angle and game play. Tack on your Bill Walsh College Football titles, Coach K College Basketball and the introduction of FIFA Soccer and it was a great time to be a sports gamer. Sega’s World Series Baseball franchise kicked off on the Sega Genesis and Game Gear in 1994 and went head to head with Tony La Baseball (and to a lesser extent – Tengen’s RBI Baseball series) on the Genesis. World Series Baseball was revolutionary with its new batting camera angle and had great control and feel. As with most sports gaming entries, it was the follow-up that really hit the ball out of the park (baseball pun intended).

World Series Baseball ’95 set the standard in 2D baseball games and is fun and enjoyable to play still today. In 2001, a college roommate and I played an abbreviated baseball season with different custom teams. We had a team draft against the CPU (who ran all the other teams) and then played through until we met in the World Series. Was this game Triple Play 2000 or something next-gen on the PlayStation or Nintendo 64? Nope, it was a Sega Genesis game that was six years old! In 1995, pre-internet roster updates or downloadable content, we had a baseball cart that could handle this kind of league setup – on top of a ton of other features.

The cart for the Genesis was ramped up to 24 meg to allow for more saving and the graphics built upon the original with full stadium details and was the pinnacle of pixel baseball graphics (the animations of diving for balls was unsurpassed). You had tons of modes – multiple season length options, playoffs, a home run derby and a classic home run derby (where you play three outs in each half an inning and continue to switch sides). On top of this you could play as AL/NL and MLB Legends teams also. This was really big for the mid-90s. The game also boasted 6-button support but it was limited to specific sliding techniques (hook slide, etc; interesting but not significant) and also an additional celebration during a home run trot.

While the game is easy to pick up and play, there are a lot of strategic options that set the game apart from more arcade-like fast-paced baseball games. Between each batter the game goes to the pause screen to show the next batter’s splits and gives the player the option to adjust fielders or address the bullpen or lineup. This can slow the game down a bit, but the extra step of hitting the “c” button to resume isn’t too daunting. The process of selecting a pitch or getting ready to swing, however, is very deliberate. Before each pitch, you select the pitch type and then the pitch speed (slow/medium/fast) before fiddling with the location. Very similarly, when hitting you are selecting contact/normal/power before each pitch (lending to different strategies depending on the hitter and count). Needless to say, today’s games have these options streamlined as you use a different button “in the moment” assigned for each swing type.

The difficulty and game AI set World Series Baseball ’95 apart also. The pitch speed and batting level options can make this game very challenging. Pitch speed affected both teams (in case you wonder when you first start a game and Curt Schilling is only throwing 86 mph) and everything was faster as you increased the setting. Increases in batting level meant aiming the outline of a bat as the pitch as it came in. This was difficult enough on the veteran setting (slightly larger bat outline) – the all-star level of batting was off the charts hard with how small the bat and contact area was. For the most fun, we would crank the pitch speed up to all-star but kept batting on rookie (just left/right/up/down and swing). It led to a number of home runs, but the fun factor was there. Speaking of difficulty, the AI in this game has a batting eye that would make Barry Bonds blush. While your friends will chase sliders and splitters slightly out of the zone, the CPU is a stone cold killer when it comes to laying off pitches. Unless it’s in the strike zone, they aren’t swinging. It takes a good amount of switching up pitches and location to get a strikeout, but it’s satisfying when you pull it off.

Overall, with a bevy of game modes, detailed stadiums and great game play, World Series Baseball ’95 stands on its own as one of the best Genesis games ever. The portable Game Gear versions are excellent as well. Also in 1995, Sega released World Series Baseball starring Deion Sanders for the 32X and the debut of World Series Baseball for the Saturn. While the series would go on for several years on both the Genesis and Saturn (and then to the Dreamcast, Xbox and PS2), the 16-bit goodness of the ’95 version could not be duplicated in the blocky offerings of the next generation’s attempts at 3D models and a TV presentation-style emphasis. I’ll take the monotone stadium announcer’s “Next up….number…33” and the oddly toned shriek of “It’s a long drive….this one leaves the yard!” any day.