With MLB The Show 17 under two weeks away, this week’s Throwback Thursday appropriately focuses on one of the inspirations for Retro Mode, Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr.
After two excellent releases on the Super Nintendo (the other being Ken Griffey Jr.’s Winning Run, which, as mentioned above, is not this week’s focal point), Nintendo turned to Angel Studios for the Nintendo 64 version of the extremely popular baseball series. Angel Studios, the studio would later become a little place called Rockstar San Diego, previously had only one other game under its belt: the bizarre Mr. Bones for the Sega Saturn. Nevertheless, the developers slowly but surely delivered a fast-paced, arcade-style classic that boasted considerable depth.
What Made It Great?
Does the phrase “Call me, call me Junior” mean anything to you? Have entire decades passed since the last time you heard that symphonic masterpiece? Are you momentarily teleported to a lost Gushers and 3-D Doritos-filled summer of playing Nintendo 64?
Ken Griffey built upon its SNES predecessor and crafted another masterwork of a theme song. Angel Studios made use of a console plagued by its sound limitations and crammed every player’s name into the cart, which was hardly a common experience in 1998. Furthermore, the announcer said the correct name and position when they came up to bat! Hearing “now batting, the second baseman, Craig Biggio” when Craig Biggio actually stepped up to the plate was a remarkable achievement considering the last game in the franchise did not even have real MLB players.
At the time, improvements reached far beyond the improved audio and licensed players. The game also tracked season stats, had a full season mode and even offered a fantasy draft. Seasons could yield comically unrealistic stats -- over 100 home runs in a single season was a routinely attainable feat for a single player. Stadiums looked good (for the time), and multiple camera angles created an engaging experience.
Pitching and hitting were entirely new experiences compared to both previous series entries and other baseball titles on the market. Hitting was simple in concept: move the cursor to where the pitch icon moves to, time it correctly and press the hit button. Pitching was just easy: players chose a pitch, moved the desired location, and pressed the pitch button. However, pitchers could dramatically alter the break of their pitches right after they released the ball. To make matters worse, an arsenal of a 106 MPH “Super Fastball” and a 65 MPH “Changeup” were commonplace and difficult to square up, making strikeouts and hits equally rewarding. Ken Griffey aided a host of gamers’ transition from the D-pad to the analog stick, demanding pinpoint accuracy and lightning-fast reflexes.
What Today's Games Could Learn From It
Outside of a delightfully campy theme song, today’s baseball games have built upon all of Ken Griffey's innovations. Arcade-style gameplay, however, is hard to come by in sports titles these days. Thankfully, MLB The Show 17's inclusion of Retro Mode acknowledges that developers hear fans’ nostalgic woes and are taking them into consideration.
It will be very interesting to see what components and Easter eggs make it into the full Retro Mode. Will there be random quirky cheats and secrets? Can we carry a full season in Retro Mode? Will Ken Griffey, Jr. call me “Kid” every time I get a big strikeout or make an otherworldly diving catch? We can only hope.
How Does It Hold Up Today?
As with many Throwback Thursday entries, Ken Griffey Jr. still offers players plenty if they have a friend who knows how to play and is available for local multiplayer. Additionally, the unique hitting and pitching have a bit of a learning curve that discourages impatient newcomers. Those who played it back in the day will find it easy to return to once they get their timing down.
As fun as it would be to take a collection of legends across an entire season, season mode does not allow you to sim games and takes a remarkable amount of time. For those well versed in modern baseball titles, this game is still very easy even on the hardest difficulty and is best served when human error creates opportunities.
This is best played with a friend in World Series mode. This will provide enough strategy and intensity to keep the gameplay fresh. The joy of going through the teams of legends feels like going through an old stack of baseball cards and is best enjoyed with a fellow baseball fan. Just do not be surprised when your head-to-head battle is 17 to 24 in the 4th inning. Griffey himself might call you “Kid” a dozen times as well, but that is completely fine with us.
For now, we’ll leave you with this: