Review: Tommy Lasorda Baseball (SEGA Genesis 30th Anniversary Week special)

Today, the Splintering is continuing our SEGA Genesis 30th Anniversary Week by reviewing yet another SEGA Genesis launch title: Tommy Lasorda Baseball!

Most retro sports games aren’t particularly sought-after by collector’s these days. Nearly every gaming convention and retro game store has girthy stacks of football and baseball games collecting dust, begging to be purchased and taken home for bargain prices.

The thing is, there’s a reason why there’s always so many of these types of games. Much like Madden or the NBA 2K series today, they were popular, and many of them were loved just as much as any Sonic, Zelda, or Final Fantasy game. Some of them even hold up pretty well after all these years, such as Tecmo Bowl or the Mutant League series.

So what about Tommy Lasorda Baseball on SEGA Genesis? How does the very first Genesis sports title hold up after three decades?

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I’m told that Esau is one hairy sonuvabitch.

Top of the first

Despite having a 16-bit veneer, Tommy Lasorda Baseball doesn’t play radically different from its 8-bit predecessors. In fact, one could almost describe it as the Genesis version of Reggie Jackson Baseball, SEGA’s previous baseball game on 8-bit Master System. Players can choose teams from two leagues, U.S. League and World League, and there are three modes of play. “Exhibition” is the two-player versus mode, “Open Game” is a one-off match where players can play against any CPU-controlled team of their choice, and League play, where players compete in a thirty game (!) marathon to determine who advances to the World Series. There’s even a password save which allows you to step away from the game when everyday life interferes. Oddly, there is no “Homerun Derby” mode which was a mainstay of SEGA baseball titles to that point.

Tommy Lasorda Baseball does add quite of few “sim” elements to the mix, but not so many that they become burdensome to those looking for a more pick-up-and-play experience. There are several options to manage your team, including pitcher changes, pinch batters and runners, selecting your batting order, and even showing you which way the wind is blowing between each half-inning.

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“Flanderssss! Flanderssss!”

Seventh Inning Stretch

Once the game begins, it’s not much more complicated than other baseball games of the era. Your pitcher has several options of fast, curve, slider and breaking ball pitches, while the batter can bunt, check swing, and adjust his position in the batting box. The batting screen still looks pretty good. The batter’s sprite is a decent size and all the players on the field animate rather well.

When the game shifts into the birds-eye-view of the field, however, the gilding starts to flake off a bit. Not only do the runners and fielders not animate nearly as well as those on the batting screen, but playing defense as the fielding team takes lots of practice. When the batter hits the ball, there is a voice which yells out the position of the player closest to making a play on the ball, which is who the player will control. So if you hear “Short Stop!”, “Center Fielder!” or “Third Baseman!”, that’s who you will control. Even with the vocal tip-off, it’s unlikely that you will ever become more adept at fielding the ball than your CPU opponent. Like other retro baseball games, throwing to the bases is done by pressing a direction plus the throw button – RIGHT = 1st Base, UP = 2nd Base, LEFT = 3rd Base, and DOWN = Home. It’s a perfectly fine way to do it, but it’s not completely intuitive in the heat of the moment if you’re out of practice.

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Those voices? They’re actually not too bad for a first generation Genesis game. They’re pretty clear and devoid of the Genesis “scratch” that some other compressed audio samples produce. As for background noise, the crowd is pretty quiet for most of the game other than home runs and strike-outs, after which the crowd will roar and cheer. There is also music throughout the game, with a main theme that does change as the innings pass. However, simply hitting the ball will revert the music back to the original track, so it can get a bit tiresome unless you really dig the tune.

Bottom of the ninth

Most of Tommy Lasorda Baseball‘s irksome elements can be overcome with enough practice, but there are still quite a few problems – errors if you will – which popped up and will drive you crazy if you’re already having a rough time. First of all, when there is a fly ball, the perspective of the the field and ball in the air don’t match. The field is viewed as a perfectly flat space with no “vanishing point”, but a high-flying ball leans forward visually, and it can be disorienting. The CPU teams don’t have any problems fielding the ball, of course, and they don’t have any trouble hitting anything you throw at them either, even on the easiest difficulty level. Over the hours I spent with Tommy Lasorda Baseball, I only threw a single strike-out, and that was when I finally found a strong combination of a sidearm-throwing pitcher and a home plate-clipping curve ball.

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There’s sometimes little knowing exactly where these guys will land.

I also encountered several glitches in my time with Tommy Lasorda Baseball. Some pitches were called as “balls” instead of strikes even when the batter took a swing, a ball in play would sometimes go straight through a fielder on the overhead screen, and once the game called a “home run” for a ball which clearly landed in the outfield. It was close, but that still shouldn’t happen.

The end result isn’t all bad, though. Far from it. There are a few nice touches to the game including showing a ball go into the stadium parking lot if a home run is hit deep enough, and the home run animation itself is pretty fun to watch as the batter gives his teammates high fives as he returns to the dugout.

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Is that pre-Ultra Slim Fast Lasorda or post?

Extra Innings?

If nothing else, Tommy Lasorda Baseball is completely serviceable baseball game when played in two-player mode, when both teams are subject to the game’s faults and quirks. I’m confident that gamers who got the game back in 1989 would have been able to put the time enough into Tommy Lasorda to regularly defeat the CPU, though I doubt most modern gamers would be willing to put so much work into a three-decades-old baseball game. While it’s no World Series Baseball, you could still do a lot worse than Tommy Lasorda Baseball, particularly for a launch title. A lot worse.

Thanks for reading! For more SEGA Genesis 30th Anniversary Week content, go here!

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Simple, but elegant.

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