The Best Baseball Video Game for Every Console from Nintendo to PlayStation 5December 29, 2021
The Best Baseball Video Game for Every Console from Nintendo to PlayStation 5
For many kids growing up in the 1990s and 2000s, the holiday season often meant new video games and perhaps even a new video game console.
Unlike football with the long-running Madden NFL series dating back to 1988, or basketball which has rolled out the latest version of NBA 2K since 1999, there has not been one dominant title in the baseball video game space over the years.
While MLB The Show is the current headliner, it was not long ago that EA Sports' MVP Baseball ruled the roost, and before that there were a number of other competitors dating back to the early 1990s when Ken Griffey Jr. was the go-to cover athlete.
Ahead we've taken a look back at the best video game on every major video game console, starting with the original Nintendo Entertainment System and working forward to the present day market.
Nintendo: Baseball Stars (1989)
Our journey through baseball gaming history starts in the summer of 1989 at a milestone moment in sports video games with the release of Baseball Stars.
Some would argue that R.B.I. Baseball with its MLBPA license is the superior game on the original Nintendo console, but Baseball Stars was groundbreaking for its inclusion of a battery backup, which allowed cartridges to store progress from previous gaming sessions. For the first time in baseball games, players could play an entire season and rack up cumulative stats along the way.
It was also the first sports game on NES to feature a "create-a-player" mode, and the season mode was centered around a unique monetary attribute system that allowed players to be progressively upgraded.
In many ways, this game helped lay the foundation for many of the features that are central to sports video games today.
Honorable Mentions: R.B.I. Baseball (1988, 1990, 1991), Bases Loaded (1988, 1990, 1991, 1993), Baseball Simulator 1,000 (1990), Base Wars (1991)
Sega Genesis: Sports Talk Baseball
Released in 1992, Sports Talk Baseball was the first baseball game to feature running commentary, courtesy of former San Francisco Giants play-by-play announcer Lon Simmons.
That helps set it apart in an otherwise underwhelming field of options on the Sega Genesis console.
The game has an MLBPA license, but no MLB license, which means the rosters are made up of real players, but there are generic team names, stadiums and logos.
The gameplay is smooth and fairly straightforward, aside from the inclusion of a 10-run mercy rule that means an abrupt end to games if one team builds a 10-run lead.
If you bought a Sega Genesis to play some original Sonic the Hedgehog and want to add a baseball game to the mix, this is the clear choice.
Honorable Mentions: Tommy Lasorda Baseball (1989), World Series Baseball (1994-97)
Super Nintendo: Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball (1994)
I'm 33 years old, and that means the Super Nintendo was my first video game console.
I still vividly remember the Christmas where I got the system, along with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island and NBA Hangtime, and a few days later we took a trip to FuncoLand and I bought Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball with some of my leftover Christmas money.
Even 25 years later, and with the latest copy of MLB The Show at my fingertips, I still occasionally dust off the old SNES and play this game.
It didn't have an MLBPA license, but the made-up names were creative and followed a theme for each team, and for those with the patience to do it, the player names could be edited to match the actual rosters thanks to the inclusion of each player's real-life 1993 stats.
The gameplay was engaging, the soundtrack was excellent, and the stadiums featured some nice details, including ivy on the walls at Wrigley Field, the Green Monster at Fenway Park and the B&O Warehouse at Camden Yards.
Simply put, it's a no-brainer for a top-five spot on any list of the best baseball video games.
Honorable Mentions: Super Baseball 2020 (1993), Frank Thomas Big Hurt Baseball (1995), Ken Griffey Jr.'s Winning Run (1996)
Sega Saturn: World Series Baseball '98 (1997)
The third World Series Baseball game in the Sega Saturn library, this one was a true game-changer for the entire genre.
"Every once in a while a game comes along that redefines the way a certain genre is done. This elite group includes Doom, Gameday '97, Tomb Raider, Mario, Sonic, and now World Series Baseball '98, which changes the rules of video game baseball," wrote Next Generation magazine in 1997.
The review goes on to praise the game's focus on the batter/pitcher interface, using a four-quadrant strike zone that focuses on a hitter's strengths and weaknesses while also implementing a pitch-guessing system.
While the Saturn console had a shorter lifespan than previous systems and was quickly cast aside by Sega in favor of the Dreamcast, the World Series Baseball '98 game was the gold standard in terms of realistic baseball simulations at the time of its release.
It represented a massive step forward relative to previous baseball games in terms of making the batter/pitcher matchup the focal point of the game.
Honorable Mentions: Frank Thomas' Big Hurt Baseball (1995), World Series Baseball (1995), World Series Baseball 2 (1996)
Nintendo 64: Ken Griffey Jr.'s Slugfest (1999)
Seattle Mariners superstar Ken Griffey Jr. was the face of baseball during the 1990s, and with two well-received SNES games already under his belt, he was undoubtedly the face of baseball video games as well when the Nintendo 64 console launched.
His first game on the system—Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr.—was released in 1998 and is a strong honorable mention pick in its own right.
However, that game was a bit lacking from a graphics standpoint relative to other N64 games, and vast improvements were made in that department when the sequel Ken Griffey Jr.'s Slugfest was released the following year.
The All-Star Baseball series ran for longer and undoubtedly provided a more realistic gaming experience, but both of the Ken Griffey Jr. games offer a more fun experience from a pace-of-play, ease of controls and in-game action standpoint.
When it comes to 90s nostalgia, you can't go wrong with anything Ken Griffey Jr. related.
Honorable Mentions: Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. (1998), All-Star Baseball (1998-00)
PlayStation: Triple Play 2001 (2000)
The perennial MLB game on the original PlayStation belonged to 989 Sports, which released a game every year from 1997 when New York Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams appeared on the cover of MLB 98 through 2004 when Oakland Athletics third baseman Eric Chavez graced the cover of MLB 2005.
Those games were perfectly fine, but they were still lacking compared to their EA Sports counterparts.
The best of the bunch in a handful of predecessors to what would eventually become the lauded MVP Baseball series a few years down the road was Triple Play 2001.
"It's fun, amply realistic, and the variable simulation levels open the game up to wider audiences. Though hard-core fans may scoff at the addition of rewards and cheats, the option to play without them makes Triple Play 2001 an update that both simulation fans and arcade lovers can embrace," wrote Frank Provo of GameSpot in 2000.
If you're looking for a mic-drop moment that truly sets this game apart, I'll offer you these three simple words: Living room stadium.
Honorable Mentions: 989 Sports' MLB (1998-05), Triple Play Baseball (2001)
Sega Dreamcast: World Series Baseball 2K2 (2001)
Initially planned to be a launch title for the new Sega Dreamcast system in 1998, it instead took two years before the first baseball game—World Series Baseball 2K1—was released on the console.
It was a disaster.
"A lack of manual fielding and an unintuitive batting interface were more than enough to nullify the game's stunning graphics," wrote Shane Satterfield of GameSpot.
Sega turned the series over to Visual Concepts to develop the follow-up game, and while it still had plenty of issues, World Series Baseball 2K2 was a major step forward and is an easy choice as the best baseball game on the short-lived Sega Dreamcast.
A wide variety of game modes, including a well-stocked franchise mode, help make up for some frustrating in-game issues and bugs. The lack of manual fielding was addressed, but only to the point that an extremely frustrating defensive interface took its place.
If you're thinking about buying an old-school system and have your sights set on playing a baseball game, it's probably best to just steer clear of the Sega Dreamcast entirely.
Honorable Mentions: None
PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube: MVP Baseball 2005 (2005)
With the launch of the PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube generation of consoles, EA Sports reworked their baseball title from the ground up and kicked off a stellar three-year run of games with MVP Baseball 2003.
The following year, they introduced their game-changing pitching interface that is still more or less what is used in baseball video games today. And after another year of tweaking, they released the single greatest baseball video game of all-time when MVP Baseball 2005 hit the shelves.
With smooth gameplay, true-to-life player animations, a long list of unlockable legendary players, an iconic soundtrack, and one of the deepest franchise modes in the history of any sports video game, it is nothing short of perfection.
EA Sports lost out on an exclusive licensing deal following MVP Baseball 2005, and there has not been an EA Sports baseball game of any sort since they produced a pair of NCAA Baseball games in 2006 and 2007.
However, with the acquisition of Metalhead Software and its Super Mega Baseball series earlier this year, EA Sports is officially back in the game, and one step closer to providing some MLB competition.
Could we see the MVP Baseball franchise rebooted someday soon?
PS2 Honorable Mentions: All-Star Baseball series (2002-04), MLB Slugfest (2002-06), MLB The Show series (2006-11), NCAA Baseball series (2006-07)
Xbox Honorable Mentions: All-Star Baseball series (2002-04), MLB Slugfest (2002-06), NCAA Baseball series (2006-07)
GameCube Honorable Mentions: All-Star Baseball series (2002-03), MLB Slugfest (2002-06), Mario Superstar Baseball (2005)
Nintendo Wii: Wii Sports (2006)
Baseball was packaged alongside bowling, golf, tennis and boxing on the Wii Sports disc that was included with the purchase of the Nintendo Wii console when it launched in 2006.
The game was the perfect proof of concept for the Wii's motion capture controller technology, and while bowling would likely be most people's pick as the best of the bunch, the baseball game was extremely enjoyable in its own right.
The significance of this game can't be understated and that's enough to make it the clear pick on a console that effectively allowed Nintendo to carve its own path in a market where Sony and Microsoft went head-to-head with competing products.
Honorable Mentions: MLB Power Pros (2007-08), Mario Super Sluggers (2008), MLB 2K (2008-12)
Xbox 360: The Bigs 2 (2009)
The MLB The Show series was a PlayStation exclusive until this past year's release, and that meant that for the duration of the Xbox 360's lifespan it was stuck with an inferior baseball game.
Rather than trying to keep pace with MLB The Show, the MLB 2K series more or less phoned it in, repackaging the previous year's game with updated rosters.
"The hard truth of the matter is that there is a rival game out there that schools 2K13 on every conceivable level. MLB 2K13, by comparison, is an embarrassing use of the MLB license, feeling more like a half-assed attempt to rake in a few bucks off fans who haven't read reviews than any real attempt to make a fun baseball game," wrote Jack DeVries of IGN.
With that in mind, we'll take the more arcade-focused The Bigs (2007) and The Bigs 2 as the pick for Xbox 360. It's cut from the same cloth as MLB Slugfest, with power-ups and dramatized action, giving it more mass appeal than the average MLB simulator.
It's not a game for baseball purists, but it's at least a unique gaming experience and far more fun than the inferior MLB 2K series that was the only option on Xbox 360 for several years.
Honorable Mentions: MLB 2K (2007-13)
PlayStation 3: MLB: The Show 16 (2016)
A Sony Interactive Entertainment product, the MLB The Show series was a PlayStation exclusive game from its inception in 1997 until this past year when it was finally released on Xbox for the first time.
The cover athletes during its time on the PlayStation 3 console included Adrian Gonzalez (2012), Andrew McCutchen (2013), Miguel Cabrera (2014), Yasiel Puig (2015) and Josh Donaldson (2016).
After the PlayStation 4 was released in 2014, development of the game on the PlayStation 3 console largely stalled and it was simply repackaged with updated rosters, but it still stands out as the clear choice for best baseball game of the PS3 era.
Matt Vasgersian has done commentary on the game since 2006, with a rotating cast of characters alongside him over the years. During the PS3 run, it was Dave Campbell, Eric Karros and Steve Lyons who handled announcing duties alongside him.
Honorable Mentions: MLB 2K (2007-13)
Nintendo Switch: R.B.I. Baseball 21 (2021)
The release of the Nintendo Switch brought Nintendo back to a more grounded form of gameplay, at least relative to the Wii console. The hybrid controller system allows for some implementation of the motion capture technology, while also accommodating more traditional gameplay.
While MLB The Show is not available, there are a few alternative baseball titles, with the rebooted R.B.I. Baseball series leading the way.
Originally released on Nintendo in 1988, the R.B.I. Baseball series last appeared on the Sega 32X in 1995 before it was rebooted in 2014 and published by MLB Advanced Media as an arcade-focused alternative to MLB The Show.
It has been released on the Nintendo Switch each of the past four years, along with PlayStation and Xbox versions, and has had Mookie Betts, Alex Bregman, Christian Yelich and Tim Anderson as the cover athletes during the Switch era.
Keep an eye out for what EA Sports has in store for the Super Mega Baseball series after acquiring it earlier this year.
Honorable Mentions: Super Mega Baseball 2 (2018), Super Mega Baseball 3 (2020)
PlayStation 4, 5 and Xbox One, X/S: MLB: The Show 21 (2021)
There is no competition for the MLB The Show series right now in terms of a realistic MLB simulator, but even if that changes in the years to come, other baseball games will be facing an uphill battle to catch what is a truly terrific game.
The "Road to the Show" is one of the best "create-a-player" modes around, the franchise mode has everything you could ask for, and the Diamond Dynasty mode provides countless ways to play the game from daily challenges to Risk-style conquest games to a variety of online options.
The graphics are staggeringly lifelike, the animations are spot-on, and the gameplay is smooth in all facets.
It might not elicit the same nostalgic love that the MVP Baseball series does, and I still think MVP Baseball 2005 has the superior franchise mode, but the latest version of MLB The Show is squarely in the conversation for greatest baseball video game ever made.
Honorable Mentions: None