Hardball II for the Amiga Review

How well does Hardball II hold up in December 2021 and did it compare favorably to it’s competition in it’s own time (1989–90)?

NOTE: This retrospective and review was written for the Amigos Retro Gaming podcast, with an upcoming episode on Hardball II for the Amiga. This article was condensed down significantly to fit the format of the. Definitely check them out: https://anchor.fm/amigospodcast

Image from Ebay auction at https://www.ebay.com/itm/174676346065.

Personal History with Baseball Games

Baseball was never a favorite sport of mine, always trailing significantly behind American football, basketball, and hockey. I lack the hand-eye coordination to hit the ball, and my lack of serviceable fine motor skills results in many dropped catches with the awkward (to me) baseball glove. Despite my lack of any ability play baseball or even stay awake during a game, I found baseball games quite enjoyable. Much like golf — another sport I lack the coordination to succeed at in real life but the video game versions are quite relaxing when executed properly.

Original box for Baseball Simulator 1.000 for the NES.

My earliest memory of playing a baseball video game is from 1991. I rented a title called Baseball Simulator 1.000 for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and loved the ability to edit players to include your friends, completely inappropriate names, and bizarre celebrities. The game itself is even quite enjoyable. I also rented numerous other baseball games for the NES from 1990 to 1992–93 but never actually owned any baseball games until I purchased Baseball Simulator 1.000 from the rental store in 1993 and picked up a $4 mail order copy of Tommy Lasorda Baseball for the Sega Genesis. I actually enjoy the game but many find it to be a relic best left in the past. There were many, many options for playing video game baseball at the time and surprisingly, many of them hold up quite well over 3 decades later.

My favorite baseball title of all-time: MVP Baseball 2005. Image from GameSpot.

There are ten key baseball games that were most memorable and influential in my more than three decades as a gamer. The most recently released is Super Mega Baseball 3 for PC/Steam. My all-time favorite is MVP Baseball 2005 for the Nintendo GameCube. The oldest title is Baseball Simulator 1.000 for NES. Ken Griffey Jr Presents Major League Baseball and World Series Baseball ’95 both blew me away during the 16-bit generation, with the Sega 32x port of World Series Baseball ’95 being quite impressive given the hardware limitations and rushed development. The concept behind Super Baseball 2020, as well as the graphics of the Neo-Geo version specifically, are interesting and quite brilliant. Even if it’s not a top 6 of all-time baseball game, it’s still one of the most important 6 that I’ve played. Baseball Stars (Neo-Geo), Softball Heaven (NES), College Pro Baseball ’90 (TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine), and Mario Super Sluggers (Wii) round out the list of most influential games of my youth and early adulthood.

Brief History & the Other Contestants

It’s a code wheel copy protection game. Luckily, pirates of yesteryear already defeated this nonsense and it’s quite easy to find a cracked version if you lost your original code wheel.

Hardball II was released in 1989 for MS-DOS PCs and 1990 for the classic Motorola 68k-based Macintosh and the Commodore Amiga. It’s focus on management, statistics, and simulation of baseball made it an ideal game for microcomputers of the time, at least by comparison to the available consoles and peripherals in 1989–1990. Distinctive Software developed all three versions, and Accolade acted as publisher.

MS-DOS Release

The MS-DOS version, unlike it’s critically-acclaimed prequel Hardball!, did not have much critical acclaim. Aktueller Software Markt (ASM) scored it 7 out of 12 (58%) in January 1990, Issue #38. Generation 4 scored it 57%.Tilt 39–113 scored it 15/20 (75%). According to Universal Videogame List (uvlist.net), the average score for Hardball II, based on the compiled official reviews, is 63.3% — a low-range “D” that just barely passes but definitely isn’t a must-have. There were quite a few reviewers who rated this game in the 8+ out of 10 range, including Brian Walker of Games International (June 1990 issue).

Screenshot of Orel Hershiser’s Strike Zone Baseball for MS-DOS.

Compute!’s Arcade Baseball, Baseball by Russell J. Yuma (1989), Tony La Russa’s Ultimate Baseball, and Orel Hershiser’s Strike Zone Baseball are noticeably weaker than Hardball II in both feature set and gameplay.

The good ol’ friendly days of shareware registration!

Budget Baseball is a unique take on computer baseball, playing more like a strategy and role playing title than a typical video baseball game. However, I have not played enough of it to compare it to Hardball II in quality. It definitely looks more simplistic, though.

Screenshot of MicroLeague Baseball II for MS-DOS.

MicroLeague Baseball II (1989), Earl Weaver Baseball II (1991), R.B.I. Baseball 2 (1991), and MicroLeague Baseball: The Manager’s Challenge (1991) are four titles from three highly-regarded classic video game baseball series. The general consensus is that all 3 of the sequels are somewhat disappointing albeit completely playable and fun. It doesn’t matter if you pick Hardball II, MicroLeague II, Earl Weaver II, or RBI II — the reviews definitely trend more negative than the original game of each respective series, with the occasional outlier praising any of the aforementioned games for their brilliancy, and the much more rare complete bashing by an overzealous reviewer.

Classic Macintosh (68k-based) Release

Hardball II actually looks pretty decent for a 1990 game in grayscale.

The classic Macintosh version requires a Motorola 68k-based machine and a black & white monitor. It comes with all of the same goodies. Releasing approximately a year after the Macintosh releases of Best Baseball, Earl Weaver Baseball, and MicroLeague Baseball II, it had to play catch up in sales. Best Baseball is a solo developer (Charles Best) baseball simulation title that had a small but loyal following. Earl Weaver Baseball is a critically-acclaimed port and MicroLeague Baseball II typically received scores leaning in a positive direction. If you can pick up all 4 titles for a low price, I definitely recommend giving all 4 a try for the classic 68k Macintosh.

The Amiga Release (The Reason for this Article !!)

An Amiga OCS version of Hardball II released in 1990, with many of the coders, designers and other team from the MS-DOS and classic Macintosh versions on-board. Releasing in 1990 placed it about 2–3 years after the releases of Championship Baseball, Earl Weaver Baseball, the original Hardball!, and MicroLeague Baseball, and at least 6 months prior to launches of R.B.I. Baseball 2, Bo Jackson Baseball, MicroLeague Baseball: The Manager’s Challenge, and TV Sports Baseball. Not many titles, but are any of these titles competent and worth your time? Let’s take a look.

Championship Baseball (1987) is a bargain bin knockoff of Hardball! with much simpler mechanics, ideal for a novice to the baseball gaming space. Reviews ranged from as low as single digits out of 100% to as high as 9 out of 10, with most of the scores falling in the 50–70% range.

By 1990, Championship Baseball was essentially irrelevant to the market, at least when compared to Hardball II’s 100,000+ sales.

Earl Weaver Baseball (1987) is the most frequent answer to the question, “What is the best baseball game on the Amiga?” In my experience, Earl Weaver Baseball is provided as the answer more than twice as often as Hardball! or Hardball II.

Earl Weaver Baseball, while sharing a lot of the arcade and simulation gameplay options in common with Hardball! and it’s sequel, it’s much more than a clone. It’s a game geared for the strategist.

A 1987 advertisement for Micro League Baseball (bottom third).

MicroLeague Baseball (1987) is the third and final release of 198 7 (not counting the original Hardball!). It’s a game with many overlapping options and design implementations as Earl Weaver Baseball and Hardball, but the end result is a rather difficult-to-play and buggy variant of either title, with lots of glaring examples of abandoned potential. There’s an updated version, MicroLeague Baseball: The Manager’s Challenge (1991), that should be obtained for fans of the series. Avoid this one.

R.B.I. Baseball 2 for the Amiga, released 1991.

Only one baseball title released in 1991: R.B.I. 2 Baseball. This game is often considered a classic baseball title, but I wonder to what degree that is related to nostalgia versus this being a legitimate Big Dog of the Diamond in the early nineties. Over two dozen print reviews of this game are available from the first three years of the 1990s, including the high score of 91% from The One for Amiga Games.[1] Less than two years later (March 1993, issue #54), R.B.I. 2 Baseball dropped to a 73%. The lowest score is a 61% from Amiga Power #24 , released April 1993. R.B.I. 2 Baseball is OCS and ECS compatible.

The various items in the Cinemaware-released, boxed-copy of TV Sports Baseball.

The TV Sports series of games is a bit controversial, with that approach to sports games design really clicking with fans, and really turning off others who seek pure arcade action. The range of scores for TV Sports Baseball is what you’d expect form a divisive game: a 40% on the bottom of the range by Jonathan Maddock of Amiga Computing[2] and an 88% on the top of the range by Gary Whitta, a writer for The One[3]. TV Sports Baseball went by the name Bo Jackson Baseball in the United States and other locales.

Bo Jackson Baseball [1992] concludes our discussion of Hardball II’s primary competition on the Amiga. At least four magazines reviewed it, with scores ranging from as low as Amiga Joker’s score of 60% up to Amiga Games’s score of 78% — a quite small range of only 18% from lowest to highest score. A TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine port of TV Sports Baseball / Bo Jackson Baseball was planned, and TurboPlay reviewed it in issue #11 of a February 1992 magazine.

Check out the Appendices A, B, and C for more baseball games that released during the 1989–91 period.

Finally — Let’s Get to the Review!

Hardball II for the Commodore Amiga felt quite aged initially, likely due to the bulk of my baseball gaming experience taking place on consoles at this time. Console baseball games tended to be more arcade-focused (faster-paced) than simulations or strategy-focused in the late eighties and early nineties. After a few innings, the game grew on me. While it’s definitely not my favorite baseball title of all-time, it’s definitely above the game I measure all baseball games against to decide whether it’s good or bad: Tommy Lasorda Baseball for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive.

Content & Originality

Hardball II builds upon it’s predecessor by adding the ability to update and store statistics in virtually every category imaginable, fine-tuned statistics tracking and updating, pickoffs as a mechanic, league play, a team editor, increased animation frames, ability to shift in-field and out-field based on the hitter, seven new stadiums, five new views, a television replay feature, and streamlined pull-down menus to make navigating the game much easier.

Unlike the NES and other console baseball titles of this time period, Hardball II had numerous options for types of pitches and hits, as well as a chart where you could fine-tune the location of the swing or pitch. It’s definitely a feature that seems strangely ahead of it’s time in an Amiga title from 1990.

Graphics & Sound

This game includes higher detail sprites, increased detail on stadiums, and voice sampling for at-bats and other events in game. The sound of a pitch or bat hitting the ball aren’t terribly great, but they are sufficient for recognizing what is happening in the game.

Controls

Keyboard, gamepad / joystick, mouse for certain actions are all supported. While unable to test on actual hardware, all worked through FS-UAE and WinUAE emulators.

Gameplay & Game Design

This game was designed for a specific niche portion of the baseball gaming marketplace. It’s a bit more accessible than Earl Weaver Baseball and allows for tinkering with options to really customize the experience. It’s a mix of serious simulation and mild arcade action, with the choice of whether or not to increase or decrease the simulation or arcade components being mostly left up to you.

There’s two player PvP and league play. When you select your type of pitch, it highlights the option. It also shows a ball in which of the nine spaces on a grid you are aiming your swing or pitch. The first person to choose their pitch or swing is at a disadvantage as a result of this. It should allow for blind entry of pitches and swings.

Overall

I expected Hardball II to exceed the two games I reviewed for ARG Presents last week (Indy 500 and Monopoly, both for the Game.com), but I didn’t expect it to climb into my top dozen favorite baseball games of all-time

Appendix A: Computer Baseball Games Released from 1989–1992 [LIST]

MS-DOS Baseball Releases (1989–91):

  • 1989: Arcade Baseball, Baseball, MicroLeague Baseball II, Orel Hershiser’s Strike Zone Baseball.
  • 1990: Budget Baseball.
  • 1991: Earl Weaver Baseball II, MicroLeague Baseball: The Manager’s Challenge, R.B.I. Baseball 2, Tony La Russa’s Ultimate Baseball.

Macintosh Baseball Releases (1989–91):

  • 1989: Best Baseball, Earl Weaver Baseball, MicroLeague Baseball II.

Amiga Baseball Titles (ALL):

  • Championship Baseball (1987), Earl Weaver Baseball (1987), Hardball! (1987), MicroLeague Baseball (1987), RBI Baseball 2 (1991), Bo Jackson Baseball (1992), MicroLeague Baseball: The Manager’s Challenge (1992), TV Sports Baseball (1992).

Other Computers (1989–91):

  • 1989: Earl Weaver Baseball (Apple IIe), MicroLeague Baseball II (Atari ST), Sporting News Baseball ’89 (Apple IIe).
  • 1990: Doki Doki Card League (MSX2), Doki Doki Card League (PC9801), Doki Doki Card League (X68000), MicroLeague Baseball II (C64), Doki Doki Card League (PC8801), Eikanwa Kimini (PC9801), World Stadium (X68000).
  • 1991: Eikanwa Kimini 2 (PC9801), Konami Baseball ’68 (X68000), R.B.I. Baseball 2 (Atari ST), R.B.I. Baseball 2 (Amstrad CPC), Tony La Russa’s Ultimate Baseball (C64).

Appendix B: Baseball Games Released for Consoles and Arcades, 1989–91 [LIST]

Consoles (1989–91):

Nintendo Entertainment System:

  • 1989: Tecmo Baseball, Baseball Stars, Little League Baseball: Championship Series, Baseball Simulator 1.000, Dusty Diamond’s All-Star Softball, Major League, Bad News Baseball, I Love Softball, Famista ’90, Emoyan no 10-bai Pro Yakyuu, Famicom Yakyuu-Ban, Kattobi! Warabe Ko (Famicom Disk System), Meimon! Daisan Yakyuubu, Famista ’89: Kaimaku Han!!, Kyuukyoku Harikiri Stadium: Heisei Gannenhan, Shin Moero!! Pro Yakyuu, Home Run Nighter: Pennant League!!, Ganbare Pennant Race!.
  • 1990: R.B.I. Baseball 2, Bases Loaded 3, Nantettatte!! Baseball, Mizushima Shinji no Daikoushien, Nippon Ichi no Meikantoku, Home Run Nighter ’90: The Pennant League.
  • 1991: 4-in-1 Quattro Sports, Base Wars, Bo Jackson’s Baseball, R.B.I. Baseball 3, Roger Clemen’s MVP Baseball, Baseball Fighter, Bases Loaded 4, Famista ’92, Battle Stadium: Senbatsu Pro Yakyuu.

Sega Genesis/Mega Drive:

  • 1989: Tommy Lasorda Baseball, Super League.
  • 1990: Tel Tel Stadium.
  • 1991: R.B.I. Baseball 3, Super League Baseball ’91, Kyuukai Douchuuki, Kyuukyoku Harikiri Stadium III, Nikkan Sports Pro Yakyuu Van, Hardball!.

Super Nintendo:

  • Super Professional Baseball, Super Baseball Simulator 1.000, Super Bases Loaded, Nolan Ryan’s Baseball.

TurboGrafix-1 6/PC Engine:

  • 1989: Power League II, Rom Rom Stadium, Kore ga Pro Yakyuu ‘89.
  • 1990: Naxat Stadium, Kickball, The Pro Yakyuu, Power League III, Kore ga Yakyuu ‘90.
  • 1991: Power League IV, Pro Yakyuu World Stadium ‘91.

Game Boy:

  • 1989: Baseball.
  • 1990: Pocket Stadium, Extra Bases!, Baseball Kids.
  • 1991: Bo Jackson’s Hit & Run Baseball and Football, Higashio Osamu Kanshuu Pro Yakyuu Stadium ‘91.

Game Gear:

  • The Pro Yakyuu ’91, Batter Up, Clutch Hitter..

Other:

  • Pete Rose Baseball (Atari 7800, 1989).

Arcade (1989–91):

  • 1989: Bottom of the Ninth, Capcom Baseball, World Stadium ’89, Super Champion Baseball, MVP Base Ball, M.V.P., Jitsuryoku!! Pro Yakyuu, Dokaben.
  • 1990: Dynamite League, World Stadium ’90, Baseball Stars Professional, Kyuukai Douchuuki, Ah Eikou no Koshien.
  • 1991: Clutch Hitter, Super World Stadium, 2020 Super Baseball.

Appendix C: Aun Egg’s Top 30 Favorite Baseball Games of All-Time

  1. MVP Baseball 2005 [GameCube]
  2. World Series Baseball 2K2 [Dreamcast]
  3. Ken Griffey Jr Presents Major League Baseball [SNES]
  4. World Series Baseball ’98 [Saturn]
  5. Super Mega Baseball 3 [PC:Steam]
  6. Baseball Stars Professional [Neo-Geo]
  7. World Series Baseball ’95 [32X]
  8. Super League Baseball ’91 [Genesis]
  9. Softball Heaven [NES]
  10. Baseball Simulator 1.000 [NES]
  11. 2020 Super Baseball [Neo-Geo]
  12. World Series Baseball ‘98[Genesis]
  13. Base Wars: Cyber Stadium Series [NES]
  14. Neo Pocket Pro Baseball [Neo-Geo Pocket Color]
  15. Wonder Stadium ‘99 [WonderSwan]
  16. Power League III [TG-16]
  17. The Pro Yakyuu [TG-16]
  18. Bad News Baseball [NES]
  19. Baseball Stars 2 [NES]
  20. Bases Loaded 4 [NES]
  21. Earl Weaver Baseball II [Amiga]
  22. Hardball II [Amiga]
  23. Mario Superstar Baseball [GameCube]
  24. Mario Super Sluggers [Wii]
  25. RBI Baseball ’95 [32X]
  26. Dusty Diamond’s All-Star Softball [NES]
  27. Little League Baseball: Championship Series [NES]
  28. Tommy Lasorda Baseball [Genesis]
  29. College Pro Baseball ’90 [TG-16]
  30. Star League Baseball [C64]

References / Footnotes

[1] Review article is from issue #33 of The One for Amiga Games, released June 1991.

[2] Issue #35, August 1992.

[3] Issue #46, July 1992.

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We are a game preservationist, archivist, design and writing collective, focusing on multiplayer and massively multiplayer games. Also music preservation!

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Aun Collective

Aun Collective

We are a game preservationist, archivist, design and writing collective, focusing on multiplayer and massively multiplayer games. Also music preservation!

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