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Throwback Thursday: Ken Griffey Jr Presents Major League Baseball

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In celebration of the Cubs' World Series win, this week’s Throwback Thursday focuses on a titanic baseball game that should keep you warm through the winter months.

Background

1994 was a transitional year for baseball video games. On the Super Nintendo alone, gamers could choose from Tecmo Super Baseball, RBI Baseball 94, La Russa Baseball 95, MLBPA Baseball, and Super Bases Loaded 3. Sega Genesis had the exclusive World Series Baseball, and Nintendo shacked up with Ken Griffey Jr. to release a first-party baseball game that became a monstrous success.

Due to hyper competition, no baseball game at this time was truly “complete.” Ken Griffey, Jr. Presents Major League Baseball (herein after referred to as “Ken Griffey”) did not have an MLBPA license, so no real player names were included. However, players had their statistics from the 1993 season, likenesses and skills that mirrored their MLB counterparts. For example, “J. Kirby” on the Astros plays first base, has maximum power and wears #5.

The fictionalized teams were all themed, which made deciphering the rosters all the more fun. For example, the Red Sox had players named after Boston’s history, the Dodgers took their names from Los Angeles-based punk musicians, and the Rockies were comprised of horror movie icons. Ken Griffey, Jr. was the only real player in the game.

What Made It Great

One of the perks of being a first-party title is the ability to utilize the system to its fullest. The game’s soundtrack takes a few cues from Joe Satriani and is one of gaming’s true masterpieces. It is remarkably simple: two long looping songs, the Canadian and US national anthems, a song to celebrate winning the World Series and random arbitrary organ songs that appear during pivotal in-game matchups. The in-game song, a decidedly '90s mashup of pop music, grunge and an accompanying baseball organ, ranks with Bach and Beethoven.

Ken Griffey did not attempt to be over the top or disappointingly realistic with its graphics. Beautiful seas of green grass, burly animated player sprites and bright stadium features were clean and gorgeous. It was simply perfect for its time. Frame rates never slowed down and animations never broke the game.

Controls were clean, responsive and easy. Pitchers decided on speeds by pressing up + B (change-up), down + B (fastball), or just B (all other pitches). They manipulated the ball’s direction after the throw by pressing left or right, which could combine with the pitch speed for nasty sweeping sliders or sharp cutters. Pitchers also had different velocity rankings and fatigue levels. You couldn’t keep your lights-out closer in for more than a few innings.

Batters could either bunt or swing for the fences, and hits depended on what part of the bat struck the ball. Speedy players could beat out dribblers, and power hitters ripped monstrous home runs. Defenders could lay out or jump for fly balls and had independent throwing rankings. For such arcade-style gameplay, Ken Griffey did an excellent job of giving sim purists a reason to play.

Small nuances made the game feel complete. Fenway had the Green Monster and looked nothing like the Astrodome. Players popped bubblegum while they batted, and pitchers took deep breaths as they became more and more fatigued. Different home run and strikeout reactions (including Jim Belushi’s “OH, COME ON!” from The Man with One Red Shoe) varied by player size. Every game was recapped in a stylized newspaper box score with a humorous headline about something that happened around the league.

What Today's Games Could Learn From It

Honestly, not a lot. The game’s features have been improved and built upon tenfold since its release. Ken Griffey’s stat keeping, season length options, Home Run Derby and player-editing feature have all become staples of baseball video games. If anything, today’s baseball games could take a note from Ken Griffey’s ability to play full games very quickly without ruining the experience. This is an unavoidable issue with baseball video games. Thankfully, MLB: The Show has worked to improve this, culminating with the inclusion of Quick Counts.

How Does It Hold Up Today

Some of your humble author’s favorite sports memories came from the summer in which he learned how to put a SNES emulator on his PSP and took his beloved Houston Astros on a portable 162-game World Series run. For many, this game is the very definition of nostalgia, from the stellar music to the 1994 team logos. And, best of all, a full season is still a blast thanks to the fun arcade gameplay and speedy pace of play.

As with other iconic sports games of this time, roster updated ROMs exist. The geniuses at tecmobowl.org have updated rosters for your nostalgic pleasure. Or you can cure your post-World Series woes by heading over to your local used game store to get reacquainted with this beautiful cartridge for cheap.

May Nick Noheart reside in our hearts forever.


Member Comments
# 1 Ruben2424 @ 11/03/16 02:31 PM
Definitely one of my all-time favorite games growing up! I loved when they'd break their bats after striking out LOL!
 
# 2 NYJin2011tm @ 11/03/16 04:02 PM
I really wish Nintendo would rerelease this again with updated graphics. It was the first game as a kid I played a full 162 game season.
 
# 3 Eyeman79 @ 11/03/16 06:40 PM
Nice article, it was a great game, but of the ones you mentioned I was more of a LaRussa '95 fan on the Genesis. (Oh and you forgot Hardball III) But that was what I thought was great about that time-choices! multiple titles of every sport, some good, some lousy but better than waiting a year for the update of the only version of each sports title. Ah the good old days, yeah I know- I'm old!
 
# 4 Tybudd @ 11/03/16 07:52 PM
From the thumbnail to the gameplay, I remember that person was Jay Buhner, I remember because I used to look up the rosters and put in the real peeps names, and the dumb Nintendo at times would erase and I had to do it all over again!!
 
# 5 Tybudd @ 11/03/16 07:57 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by NYJin2011tm
I really wish Nintendo would rerelease this again with updated graphics. It was the first game as a kid I played a full 162 game season.
Hey me too, and for some reason the first Baseball game that didn't seem to take forever to finish a full game.

I remember I thought I was hitting homers with good frequency, and my final numbers were Griffey with like 48, which is a reasonable real life number. I think lower than what he put up that year.
 
# 6 BuckTurbo @ 11/03/16 08:18 PM
remember the cheat code to hit homers each time lol BEST
 
# 7 Badasi12b @ 11/03/16 08:47 PM
I still have this game lol
 
# 8 Majingir @ 11/03/16 09:53 PM
Not as nostalgic for me, but I remember playing this game back in school. One of my teachers brought in his SNES to class and we used to hook it up on the TV and this was one of the only games he owned. I think it was this game and TMNT.
 
# 9 OliDegu2008 @ 11/04/16 12:23 AM
God, I've played countless hours of this game! I love Throwback Thursdays!
 
# 10 Seltaeb9091 @ 11/04/16 05:54 AM
A simpler time when the vintage "RBI" style gameplay was all you needed. I loved the headlines after each season game ("Yankees Manager Fired!"). I ruled the roost with my Giants and then promptly got swept by the Twins in the World Series. I also remember that it included the option of playing with the then-proposed three division format instead of the two divisions. I also took a season end issue of Baseball Weekly and pored through every team's stats to give everybody their actual name. It probably would've boggled my younger self to know I could simply Google this today.

Eventually I sold it for credit at a local used game store for reasons I still don't know. Sure, I can fire it up on an emulator, but actually owning the cartridge would complete it. I wonder what my cartridge's eventual new owner thought when he saw actual player names instead of fake ones? (Except for my name in place of the then-recently departed Will Clark, even though I'm a righty).
 
# 11 speedtrucker @ 11/04/16 11:10 AM
Loved and still love this game. One of the rare baseball games where I actually played a full 162 game season...

Loved the Rangers of the time, there wasn't a soft spot in their lineup back then.

Loved those moments where you could steal a homer by climbing the wall or as I often did for giggles, just running my man smack into the wall to watch him get knocked out.
 
# 12 MMurda @ 11/04/16 12:48 PM
YES! this was one of my fav sports games of all times. We used to call it KGJ. I played this game religiously.. I actually still have my copy and the manual. I never caught on to the rosters being themed tho. im suprised i never did pick that up as much as i used to play this, but then again i was only like 14.
 
# 13 Jtu128 @ 11/04/16 01:27 PM
I've always wished they included stadium tours, I feel like what lies beyond the outfield wall is such a mystery. It was always exciting to see if you would spot anything cool when hitting a long bomb. I've looked around online and can't find anything
 
# 14 pfeifere1 @ 11/04/16 06:51 PM
To this day my favorite all-time MLB player is the Kid because of this game. I started watching games on TV because of this and switched to hitting lefty because of him and specifically this game. This absolutely makes my Mount Rushmore of favorite games ever. Thank you for this blast from the past!
 
# 15 C.J.S. @ 11/05/16 01:48 AM
I was confused at first because it looked like crap!

This is the masterpiece i remember.......
 

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