Over the years, video games have evolved from simple pixels to hyper-realistic displays. Baseball games have done much the same, going from a white pixel that was probably a ball to the games on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
There have been some great baseball games during the past 30-plus years, whether it's due to great realism, a certain charm or just the way they were made.
Here are the top 50 baseball video games in history, ordered chronologically.
In 1978, we got our first real taste of baseball video games. Atari came out with Home Run, and the Magnavox Odyssey 2 came out with Baseball!
While I'm sure Home Run was more frequently played, Baseball! was definitely superior. You could shift the outfield, the pixels actually looked like people and the game was played realistically with a ball-strike count and nine innings.
Of course, things have changed over the years, but for the time it was a great game.
After 1978, there was a gap where we didn't see much of anything in the way of baseball games. Atari gave them another shot with Super Challenge Baseball in 1982.
It was better but still didn't feel right, perhaps thanks to a light grey baseball diamond. That being said, at least it was clear where everyone was meant to be and it could be played through like a regular baseball game.
After Home Run, Atari waited a few years before releasing their next game, and one that was in that next batch was RealSports Baseball.
RealSports Baseball in 1983 looked nicer, and the background actually seemed like a diamond. The graphics were good enough that it seemed like it went to the limits of the 2600.
It had its flaws and would rank near the bottom of this if I did the order by awesomeness, but for its time, it was better than SCB and way better than Home Run.
In 1983, every company with a game system seemed to try to make a baseball game, or at least three did. Intellivision's foray into baseball was titled Intellivision World Series Baseball, no relation to a later game on the list.
There's not much out of the ordinary to mention with this game, with perhaps the exception of the camera angle, as it's probably the strangest of any baseball game on the list.
While the Atari 2600 began to compose a few more baseball games in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Nintendo released a baseball game immediately upon production of the NES.
Instead of the two default teams, you now had six to choose from, and the graphics were noticeably improved, giving us a taste of things to come. It was about as simplistic as you could get, but perhaps that was better; it was no-nonsense and it made it fun.
While the NES was gearing up with a slew of new baseball games, there was a void on the market in the mid-1980s. As a result, computer systems jumped in to fill that void with Hardball!, which was released on the Apple II, Commodore 64 and many other systems.
The series lasted on the computer until 1999, and the original in particular got rave reviews. It helps that the game was the first to have play-by-play commentary, which was done by Al Michaels, and had such detailed rosters that you could even send players to the minor leagues.
There was another lull on consoles after the release of Baseball, but in 1988, we got perhaps the best baseball game of the 8-bit era, and for the nostalgic folk, like myself, a game that remains the one to pick up on a rainy day as opposed to the current stuff.
That game was R.B.I. Baseball. Made by Namco, the game had eight teams, but more importantly, it had the real names of all the players since it had an MLBPA license. Each player had their own strengths and weaknesses as well, giving the genre that dose of realism.
Graphics have improved over the years, but anyone who played this knows that it has a certain charm that's tough to find in games. The series continued through the mid-'90s, but the games weren't quite as good as this one.
Now we go to the opposite end of the spectrum. Bases Loaded did not have the licensing or charm R.B.I. Baseball did, but it did have realism in spades.
One of the few games to play behind the pitcher instead of the batter (though, this was a theme in the late 1980s), the teams were all balanced, it controlled very well and Jaleco made sure that the feel it had when the ball is moving is more akin to recent games rather than anything on the NES at the time.
One of the earliest Sega games was not on the Genesis, but instead on the Master System by the name of Reggie Jackson Baseball.
It's one of the stranger games on the list, as the graphics were off-putting and while the gameplay itself was solid, bench-clearing brawls and yelling umpires are animated into the game. It added a sense of realism, even if it was in a rather surprising spot.
It took until the late 1980s, but Atari did manage to hold their own in the baseball game market with Pete Rose Baseball.
Did it pale in comparison to the classics I just mentioned? Yes. Still, the controls were a lot better, and Absolute Entertainment certainly made a better game than Atari. The 2600 graphics were stretched to the limit, and the 7800 ones looked good as well.
With the exception of the crows noise sounding like static you couldn't turn off, the Atari system had at least one game they could smile about, even if the NES had more to come.
Something about the NES made it the ideal platform to create great baseball games, as they gave us another one in late 1989 by the name of Baseball Stars.
The gameplay itself was simply nice, but what set it apart was its simulation and create modes. It was the first game to let you create your own team and player, something games even 10 years later struggled with, and it could simulate an entire season, a staple of gaming nowadays.
In 1989, the Sega Genesis was already churning out baseball games to compete with the many that were on the NES. Having a 16-bit console gave them an advantage already, but they still needed to have a good game.
That's where Tommy Lasorda Baseball comes in. The graphics were far better than the NES or Atari could muster, and they were even better than some of the early SNES games. Beyond that, it was simply a solid baseball game.
At the end of the NES era and the start of the SNES era, we have Baseball Simulator 1.000, a game which was thankfully one you actually played rather than just a simulation.
The Baseball Simulator series provided all the basics of the game of baseball (at this point it goes without saying that games do), but what it brought to the table were upgrades. Pitchers could throw super-fastballs, or baserunners could have super speed.
The SNES version, Super Baseball Simulator 1.000, came out a year after the NES version, allowing a create-a-team option on top of the many upgrades.
Interestingly enough, one of the NES's last grasps in the baseball circuit was probably one of the weakest baseball games on the system, even though it was still better than what Atari brought out.
Bo Jackson Baseball had nice graphics, especially given that it was an 8-bit game, but the gameplay and options were average enough (one of the many games with fictional characters) that it would be most likely to start off a top 50 list rather than be ranked high.
How can a game that combines cyborgs and baseball be bad? As long as it combines the two properly and keeps the soul of both intact, it can't be.
That's what Base Wars did in 1991, near the end of the NES's life. It took the controversial calls of typical games (bang-bang plays) and turned them into fights, making this as much an action game as a sports game.
While the Bases Loaded game continued on the NES throughout its life, the games weren't that good. It simultaneously moved to the Super NES with Super Bases Loaded, and it swiftly made its mark on that console.
Sponsored by Ryne Sandberg in North America, the game brought much of what we take for granted nowadays. Players had their specialty positions and hand preferences, and the game felt more like a simulation than anything else out at the time.
While most games at the time were striving to be as realistic as possible despite any limitations, Extra Innings tossed that out of the window, instead going for a cartoony feel and the sheer fun value.
It worked out, as the game was one that could be picked up nearly immediately by a newcomer, and factored in things such as wind into the game. Having a create-a-team and player mode is helpful as well, especially since there's no excuse not to have one when fictional teams and characters are used.
Nolan Ryan's Baseball was not all that far off from Extra Innings. Both had fake teams and characters (sans Ryan himself, of course), and both went with simply giving solid baseball rather than adding anything to it.
This game was actually very stat-based, especially for its time, and during a season you could accumulate stats to help build the team or one of the players on it.
I find it interesting that Cal Ripken Jr. Baseball was one of the few games that ended up on both the SNES and Genesis. Why could that be the case?
The same was simple, but it didn't really add anything to the table. In other words, it was very much average. Not good enough to keep from the other system but not bad enough to just get rid of.
If I had to pick one baseball game in the 1990s that I played nonstop and that I put personally above all others (not necessarily the best, objectively), it would be this gem, Sports Talk Baseball.
It helps that it was the first console baseball game to have play-by-play commentary. It wasn't customizable, but with all 26 teams and players, it was great to be able to actually play as the guys on the diamond, which we saw little of in the early 1990s.
The original R.B.I. Baseball was the only one in the series Namco worked on with Tengen, and a few years after it was released, Namco went solo with Super Batter Up.
The similarities between the two are certainly there, and it was regarded as a run-of-the-mill baseball game. It was nice, but compared to Sports Talk Baseball or future SNES baseball games, it didn't hold up.
In the future, the game of baseball will be played using robots, and monetary figures will be granted depending on what plays are made. At least, that's what Super Baseball 2020 tells us.
The game went out of its way to be incredibly different, so naturally, there are those who either love it or hate it. The powering up option was big here, and that part is a big piece of a later series.
The previous SNES games on this list you could either take or leave. They had their good points, yet they had their bad points as well. Ken Griffey, Jr. Presents Major League Baseball, however, was easily the best game on the system at that point.
It didn't have real players, but stat lines were detailed enough that you could figure out who everyone was, and the gameplay was very realistic. You even had a home run derby option, which at the time was simply amazing to see.
The SNES and Genesis war is well known, and when you look at the baseball games, the SNES has the edge in quantity, but quality-wise, the two systems were neck and neck thanks to games like World Series Baseball.
The graphics itself weren't quite as good as the SNES games, but the gameplay was great, and you had a first-person view of the strike zone rather than an eagle-eye view, making swinging that much easier.
The series changed very little in its three installments, sans for some graphical improvements, but all three games were still very good.
Like the NES games, a lot of the baseball games released for the SNES had their own niche additions to separate themselves from the pack. Nowhere was this more clear than with Relief Pitcher.
It was a very simple game in a scenario style where you actually came into games late as the reliever. It lacked replay value, but I have to give credit for going in an entirely different direction than what typical games were doing.
1994 was an extremely busy year for baseball developers, if you've noticed. My guess on that is that due to the strike, there was more time to play games rather than actually watch it. Then again, maybe it's just when companies decided to make them.
How was EA Sports' debut game, MLBPA Baseball? In short, it was effective. The graphics were quite nice, and they felt like they were from an arcade game more than anything. Since it had just the MLBPA license, it had player names but not team names. Of course, if you know all the players, you could figure out the team names.
Tecmo Super Bowl was perhaps the best football game ever, and Tecmo NBA Basketball had its moments as well. Did Tecmo Super Baseball follow suit? In short, it did not.
The gameplay was rather simple, as were the graphics, but it still had the addicting factor that Tecmo sports games seemed to have. It's a game you can just pick up and play without having to worry about mastering different controls.
What makes ESPN Baseball Tonight stand out is mostly the fact that ESPN got behind it, so people such as Chris Berman make appearances, and it even had some in-game advertising with Little Caesars.
The game itself was only average, and the lack of player names did not exactly help. A lot of great baseball games came out in 1994, most of which were better options than this.
Frank Thomas was one of the few, alongside Ken Griffey, Jr., to get on the cover of his own baseball game. While it didn't have the well-rounded excellence Griffey's had, it had its own great stuff going for it.
The main part of the game was the clutch scenarios, where you had to achieve certain tasks, such as keeping a no-hitter alive or rallying back from a deficit.
One of the earliest titles of the Playstation era for baseball is also perhaps one of the least known in 3D Baseball. It's a shame, as it's one of the better games.
The graphics were top-notch for 1996, and despite the lack of real teams and players, the swings felt very realistic, and the game had great commentary as well.
After providing the SNES with one of its best baseball games, Ken Griffey, Jr., combined with the help of Rare, made another of the best games in Ken Griffey, Jr.'s Winning Run.
It was one of those types of games that was tough enough yet easy enough to pick up. Much of what made its predecessor great was brought up, and much was fine-tuned to make it another great baseball game.
Now we move on to the 3D systems in the late 1990s, where baseball would naturally thrive. After all, the greatness found in earlier baseball games could certainly translate over, right?
The Triple Play series proved that it could. The games were released on the original Playstation between 1997 and 2001, and at the height of its run, the series was very highly regarded, showing that EA knew how to make baseball games.
Perhaps the only baseball series to jump from a console to a computer, VR Baseball was a series that was slow to start. The first game in 1997 really wasn't any good, and it was clunky compared to others at the time.
Then again, the Playstation was rather new at the time, and after the move to PC, the game improved. There's no pitching/batting interface, which either added to the realism or was painfully annoying, but it did give the game a different feel.
There's a lot of baseball games out there that many people can just pick up right away, but what about a young sibling or cousin who isn't quite ready to delve into that yet? For them, there's Backyard Baseball.
The series takes sandlot kids and combines them with young versions of great current players to give the game a simple sandlot feel, compete with occasional power-ups. It's a bit on the easy side, but a nice game to just pick up.
While the SNES games were different enough that I felt I could separate them on here, Ken Griffey, Jr.'s foray onto the Nintendo 64 gave us two great games that were nearly the same.
The first was Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey, Jr., and the second was Ken Griffey, Jr.'s Slugfest. Both had very crisp hitting, the actual players and teams and they even had a soundtrack by Griffey himself.
During the late 1990s and early 2000s, 989 Sports was huge on the sport games market, and one of its best franchises was the simply titled MLB series.
The question of whether Triple Play or this was better can be debated forever, but both were great series, with MLB consistently putting out great games, just as Triple Play did. After 2005, the series folded, but it became something better later on.
High Heat was one of the many game franchises to pop up during the early 2000s, and it actually had clear strengths and weaknesses when compared to the other games.
Its batter/pitcher interface was considered perhaps the best of any franchise, and it felt more like a simulation than its competitors, though, whether that's a good or bad thing is up to the player.
You may have seen a trend at this point. Once games moved to the Nintendo 64/Playstation generation, baseball games became more franchised with yearly installments, and All-Star Baseball was no exception.
The graphics in the games were top notch, and it felt like they were a bit ahead of when they were released. And most of what was available in the game is, for the most part, what we're used to in baseball games nowadays.
While I have gone my best to hold to keeping a series to one slide, I'm making an exception for the MVP Baseball series, as there's only three games.
The first one was MVP Baseball 2003, which had its flaws, as EA was getting everything back on track after Triple Play ended. Nonetheless, it was still a very good game, even if it paled to the next two in the series.
After a successful production in 2003, EA Sports upped the ante with MVP Baseball 2004. The game was the first to actually license minor league teams to go along with the major league teams and players.
Everything was refined from the previous year, and with improved controls, it was regarded as the best game in the class of 2004. Of course, EA was not done quite yet.
If there's one game that probably stands above the rest as the standard bearer for baseball games, MVP Baseball 2005 is it.
The game ranked slightly lower with critics than 2004, but if you ask any fan, then they know how great that game was. Everything seemed to flow perfectly, and franchise had both dynasty mode and owner mode, allowing players to play the game however they liked.
What do you get when you combine baseball, NFL Blitz and a dash of arcade play? You get MLB Slugfest, a game unlike most that have appeared in video game history.
The game took a street approach, and went so far as to include in-game fights. They take away from the game, but at the end of the day, the arcade styling of the game made it fun to pick up every once in a while.
Baseball is America's pastime, and Mario is the biggest figure in the world of video games. Surely, combining the two would create a great game.
Sure enough, that's what happened with Mario Superstar Baseball. There is a challenge mode rather than any sort of season or franchise, but that disappointment is kept to a minimum thanks to how fun the game is. Then again, Mario is always able to boost the fun rating up.
Wii Sports is what helped put the Wii on the map, and it's only natural the top-selling game would make it on this list. Yes, it has nothing to do with MLB, but the baseball game in Wii Sports is very fluid, and it's hard to get any more realistic using a controller.
It's great to have a nice simulation and franchise mode when playing by yourself, but with friends, sometimes the best baseball games are the ones where you can just clobber the ball with the game having an arcade feel to it.
The Bigs is that game. Developed by 2K Sports, it's almost like a street version of baseball, or like MLB Slugfest without being ridiculous. This, combined with the rookie challenge and home run derby additions, make this an exciting game, as it remains authentic despite the arcade overtones.
Mario first made his foray into the world of sports with Mario Golf and Mario Tennis, two of the most fun sports games I've played. Does Mario Super Strikers hold up to those two, or Mario Superstar Baseball for that matter?
Personally, I don't think it does, but that doesn't make it a bad game. The Wii is an ideal system to play a game like baseball on, after all. Besides that, it was a slight improvement over its predecessor, though still the go-to next-gen game if you're not a fan of realism in the games.
As with the first installment of the game, The Bigs took the arcade feel that we remember from earlier games and ran with it, making a great game.
The sequel built on that, allowing players to hit huge grand slams, and it added in a legend mode as well. The series proved that it doesn't always have to be about hyper-realism.
For all the console games we've seen over the years, computer baseball games have remained rare in comparison, especially in the MMO market. That's where MLB Dugout Heroes comes in.
The game was heralded for being accessible, if a bit tactical, and most importantly, entertaining. The MMO aspect has since ended, but I can easily see another game like that pop up in the future, so long as it balances the realism and entertainment.
The latest in the series of great Major League Baseball games over the years has been the 2K Series. They are the kings of the basketball court, and without football to keep them occupied, it gives them more time to work on baseball as well.
It gradually improves from year to year, giving top-of-the-line graphics and everything else you would expect in a baseball game. I'm a bigger fan of The Show myself, but for those that do not have a Playstation 3, this series is the one to go to.
2K Games' contract with MLB expires after the 2012 series, so the future of the series is uncertain. Hopefully, baseball won't end up with one franchise like Madden. After all, look at all the great games we got with some competition.
We now end with the top series on the market for those who have a Playstation with MLB: The Show. Started in 2006, the first installment often ranks near the top of baseball video game lists with how great it was.
SCE San Diego Studio has stuck with MLB and NBA games, though, they are now focusing exclusively on the baseball product sports-wise, and it shows.
The learning curve is high compared to early games on this list, sure, but that's what adds to the fun, as there is more than enough to do and enjoy in this generation's baseball games.