They call him ‘Rocket.’ As it turns out, he earned a few other colorful nicknames during his career with four Major League Baseball teams. Regardless of some questionable lifestyle decisions, Roger Clemens will be remembered for the strikeout king that he was. His 11 All-Star appearances and 7 Cy Young Awards alone attest to a long and illustrious career. When the chucker’s name was attached to LJN’s MVP Baseball at the height of Clemens’ career in 1992, they insured a decent amount of sales. But was this release any better than the other 19 baseball games released on the SNES? Did it have enough ‘Rocket’ magic to outstrip the 6 other SNES titles also licensed by big-name MLB players?
In retrospect, one thing LJN could have done to distinguish MVP Baseball in a cluttered sub-genre would have been to spotlight Clemen’s own position: pitching. Like a quarterback’s ‘hike!’ in football, every play in baseball begins with a pitcher’s nod to the catcher before slinging it across the plate. Though only pitchers in the National League get a chance to bat, the pitcher is still the game’s most important player. It would be improbable to have a mini-game as filled out like in NFL Quarterback Club, but it really would have behooved LJN to feature something out of the ordinary. As fun as homerun derbys are, it’s certainly nothing new. What I want to see is a drill for pitching, or some other method of depth highlighting baseball’s most key position. When yours is one of five baseball games released on a system the same year — including Cal Ripken, Jr. and rival slinger Nolan Ryan — you gotta do something to rise above.
When it comes to gameplay, MVP Baseball is distinguished by its unique method of fielder’s vision. Once the batter hits the ball, the camera does a 180-degree turn to view the outfielder or infielder from behind. Straying from the traditional bird’s-eye view is nice in theory, but a host of problems arise with this approach. While it’s fun and different to see a fielder up close, it’s incredibly difficult to judge the ball coming your way — memorization of flight patterns is often the only way to track a ball down. An outfielder’s throw to an infielder is awkward due to the ball feeling suspended as it melts into the background, instead of the more natural feeling ‘up’ –> ‘down’ progression the traditional birds-eye view provides. Lastly, the camera zips to the infielders once it’s caught by one, and even then we can’t see the whole diamond! While LJN gets an ambition point or two for thinking outside the box concerning fielder’s vision, they get a whole lot more taken away for making a chore of catching the damn ball.
Other than the awkward camera angle once the ball is struck, gameplay is straightforward and sensible. All pitchers, who can slide from left to right on the mound, are given a stable of four pitches to try and strike out the batter. The batter can also slide four directions in attempt to whack the snot out of the nylon sphere. Baserunning is managed by using the ‘X’ button plus directions, and the trigger buttons are used for leading off. Fielders throw to bases using traditional methods, and they can jump and slide to make a play on the ball. Pitchers, fielders and batters can be substituted at any time. For the most part, the gameplay of MVP Baseball is functional and fun.
You’re going to have to really enjoy the gameplay to have what it takes to endure a full season on your quest for the World Series (or ‘championship’). MLB seasons are notoriously arduous and monotonous, as facing the same opponent three games in a row is not uncommon. There is little to season mode to keep one invested: no stadium differentiation, no music alteration, and little to no stat-tracking to record your progress. That being said, like many team sports titles from this era, the experience is heightened once a controller is added. Playing with a friend is the surest way to enjoy this game. If you’re the kind of gamer who enjoys going solo on marathon seasons, there are much better offerings from the SNES baseball library to choose from.
While things look decently polished on the diamond, elsewhere in the game the presentation is spotty. After an animated intro of Rocket striking out one of his 4672 victims, we are brought to possibly the most abysmally basic menu screens of all time. Beginning a game or season starts by choosing a team from the fabled world of MVP Baseball, and that’s where the poor attempts at covering the lack of league licensing comes forth. The American and National Leagues, which are more like conferences in the MLB, are dubbed here as the “American Division” and “National Division.” The outdated East/West Division organization rather than the current East/West/Central can’t be helped, but the fictional teams assembled by Sculptured Software meant to represent actual teams are poorly aged; of them all, the New York Rebels (Confederate flag and all) is probably the prime example. Naturally, Roger Clemens of the Boston Crabs is the only real player represented in the game.
Being licensed by a personality as colorful as Mr. Clemens, one might expect more of an edge from MVP Baseball. As it presents the basic baseball functions of pitch and hit, the game does pass the eye test, but overall this licensed title has aged poorly. Some of its stripped-down qualities can be attributed to being released in the early SNES years, and it does carry some of that new-system charm. I have read online reviews by lifelong fans who swear the game is top-notch, but in reality Clemens’ digital likeness is a negligible addition to his legacy. So if you’re wondering why Clemens threw a bat at Mike Piazza in the 2000 World Series, it’s likely because of the much superior video game the all-star catcher released just a couple years prior to this encounter. One might not think that to be a significant factor, but if you had earned the nickname Rocket, your fuse might be just as short.
Two out of Five Stars
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