Ninja Baseball Batman – Arcade
Platform: Arcade (Emulated via MAME)
Release Date: September, 1993
Genre: Beat ’em Up
Nerd Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Reviewed by: theWatchman
It’s hard for those of us who grew up playing video games during the 1990’s to not look back on that decade with a certain sense of wonder at the variety of playfully ludicrous concepts that gained popularity at the time.
Yes, I do realize that every generation looks back at the decade of their formative years with the familiar “rose-tinted glasses” perched firmly atop their noses. Yesterday will forever be known as “the good ol’ days” once you get old enough to realize that this being an adult business is a load of bollocks.
Nostalgia notwithstanding, you do have to admit that there was something kind of special about some of the stuff we saw in the 90’s. There was still a playful innocence to now iconic franchises like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, Ren & Stimpy, and Earthworm Jim, as well as a ton of other imaginatively experimental properties that came of age during that time.
So in an era where imaginations were running away with wild abandon and finding varying levels of success, one
would think that an idea as outlandish as Ninja Baseball Batman would be certain to claim a foothold on the mountain of profitability.
But alas, not everyone can be a winner; no matter how deserving they may be – and for those enough lucky enough to have played it; Ninja Baseball Batman is certainly a winner.
Released in arcades in 1993 by Irem, Ninja Baseball Batman is a bombastic 2d beat’em up that perfectly encapsulates the eccentricities of the ‘90’s.
Up to 4 players take on the roles of the Ninja Baseball Batman team, a group of four robotic, baseball playing martial artists, each sporting a name inspired by a real-life MLB counterpart of that period:
- Jose – Your typical all-around balanced character named after slugger Jose Canseco. If we were comparing this to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, he’s be your Leonardo.
- Ryno – The fastest, most nimble member of the squad, Ryno carries two smaller baseball bats that do less damage, but hit very quickly. He also has an inexplicable prance to his walk. Ryno is named after the legendary Chicago Cubs 2nd baseman, Ryne Sandberg.
- Roger – Portly Roger moves slowly but does a ton of damage whenever he connects, named after pitcher Roger Clemens.
- Straw – Lanky Straw has a longer baseball bat that resembles a bo staff. This enables him to hit enemies from a longer range than the rest of the Ninja Baseball Batman squad. Straw is named after Darryl Strawberry.
This heroic foursome is called into action by the commissioner of baseball after a beloved golden statue of Babe Ruth is mysteriously stolen. The squad is tasked with tracking down and recovering the missing pieces of the effigy, which have wound up in a number of cities.
While the story is typical arcade-fare; a thin narrative that serves as the impetus for why you have to beat or blow something up, Ninja Baseball Batman shines brilliantly with the goofy nature of its’ premise, which draws players in and keeps them wanting to play through to the end.
The action in Ninja Baseball Batman is fast and fluid. The characters move around the screen quickly and effectively, delivering speedy attacks that are easy to combo. There are only two buttons in the game: attack and jump. These can both be pressed at the same time to deliver a powerful swing which can knock enemies out of the proverbial park.
Graphically, the game has aged quite gracefully. The large sprites are animated very well and exude a quirkiness and charm that’s hard to not love. Everything on the screen feels surprisingly alive and vibrant, giving you the feeling that the characters are ready to jump out of the screen.
No beat ‘em up is complete without an engaging set of baddies to dispatch, and Ninja Baseball Batman’s villains practically steal the show.
Enemies range from the expected walking baseball, to vampire ump’s protected by chest armor, to gangster canine’s complete with tommy guns. Bosses are equally imaginative. Robot alligators vie with haunted slot machines to try and impede your glorious quest.
There is a wonderful sense of humor about the game, which relies on the strength of its’ characters and situations,
and not on forcing scripted gags on the player, which in many cases, end up falling flat. I genuinely laughed out loud after beating the alligator boss in the Florida stage, and watching him turn into a mechanical alligator purse. There are also great little touches that I enjoyed, such as the little baseball dudes that pop up and play a trumpeted fanfare right before you face one of the games level-ending bosses.
It’s those little touches of personality that help a game like Ninja Baseball Batman stand out from a crowded and at the time, stagnant genre, because let’s face it; the core of practically every game in the beat ‘em up genre is the same; fight your way through a number of levels, wallop thugs and end-level bosses, and eventually take down Mr. Big at the end.
There really isn’t too much that can be said disparagingly about Ninja Baseball Batman.
The largest downside to the game that I can pinpoint would be that the music is forgettable and kind of devolves itself into nothing more than mere background noise.
I’d also have liked to have seen a bit more diversity and imagination in the power-ups you come across in the course of your adventure, as the ones available felt surprisingly lackluster. You’ll come across sticks of dynamite that can be hurled at enemies, as well as little home plate’s that can be used like ninja stars. The best by far is the cheerleader summon, which as you can imagine, summons a squad of laser blasting, screen clearing cheerleaders for a brief window of time.
With so much going for it, you would have expected Ninja Baseball Batman to have been at least a modest hit at the time. So I was shocked when researching the title to find out that the game sold a shockingly low 43 units in North America.
That’s right, 43.
This makes the tale Ninja Baseball Batman into a tragedy. Low arcade unit sales eviscerated the chances of the game gaining a wide audience, or any audience for that matter. The nearly invisible release meant that no one even knew that they should have been begging for a console port to Super NES or Genesis.
Thankfully we have MAME to emulate our arcade memories on any decent PC, so what was once shrouded in obscurity, can at least see the light of day and get some of the credit it deserves.
Ninja Baseball Batman is the epitome of the forgotten classic. Its irresistible, goofy nature, and fast-paced action combine to form one of the best titles of its genre.
In baseball terms – it’s a grand slam!
You can check out my blind play through of Ninja Baseball Batman from the January 29th episode of theWatchman’s Retro Weekend, in the video below. While you’re at it, be sure to tune in every Saturday at Noon EST on twitch.tv/nerdbacon
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