Top 11 NES Games, Part III (2-3)

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We are coming down to the wire! I’m counting down my Top 11 favorite Nintendo Entertainment System games. This is the third installment of my the series. Here are Part I (7-11) and II (4-6).

Here’s where we left off…

11. Marble Madness
10. Tecmo Bowl
9. Contra
8. RC Pro-Am
7. Mario Bros. 2: The Lost Levels
6. Excitebike
5. TMNT 2: The Arcade Game
4. Super Mario Bros. 3

These two games are the reason this list is my Top 11 games and not just Top 10. In retrospect, I probably should have prepared you all for ten games and then slipped in a combo-bonus game at this point.

Oh well. Can’t do anything about it now.

Let’s keep the countdown going with number 3…

3. RBI Baseball


Oh c’mon. You didn’t really think I’d get through this list and not include this one, did you? Really?

There were a lot of baseball games for the NES – Baseball Stars, Legends of the Diamond, Baseball, Bases Loaded, Baseball Simulator 1.000, Bo Jackson Baseball*, Major League Baseball, Tecmo Baseball – but in my opinion the RBI Baseball series takes the crown for a few different reasons.

* – Shockingly, this is the only one I just listed that I haven’t played and that I do not own. One of my two favorite players has his own baseball video game and I don’t own it. Embarrassing.

The most obvious reason: real MLB player names.

RBI Baseball got the rights to use actual player names and their skill sets (more on that in a minute), but they didn’t get the rights to the MLB logos and team names, so the 10 available teams are known only by their city and not their team name.

There are 8 division winners from 1986 and 1987. Amazingly, there were no repeat teams between those years, which in the 80’s happened way more often than it ever would today. With only two teams making it from each league, along with the much less outrageous payroll disparity (ranging from $9 (Astros) to $19M (Yankees) compared to the $24 (Marlins) to $254 (Dodgers) last year). In fact, between 1980 and 1990, only 4 teams made it back to the League Championship Series after making it the year before:

  • 80-81 Yankees
  • 84-85 Royals
  • 88-89 Athletics
  • 89-90 Athletics

The fact that the Royals are on that list tells you just how dominant they were once upon a time. Sad to think they haven’t made the playoffs since.

But anyway. I digress.

The 1986 and 1987 divisional winners were…

86: California, Boston, Houston, New York*
87: Minnesota, Detroit, St. Louis, San Francisco

* – Mets. Not Yankees. Took me about 15 years before I figured that out. Daryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden make it even more confusing since they played on both NY teams.

And you got their actual rosters from those years too. Eight starters, four pitchers (2 starters and 2 relievers), and four bench players.

And with the addition of player names comes all sorts of emotion, frustration, excitement and anger that just didn’t exist before. Suddenly the players feel real.*

* – At some point I’m going to write a review on one of my favorite books I read this past year: The Universal Baseball Association Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. The main character (Henry) creates an imaginary baseball league and gets attached to the players and starts picking favorites, essentially God with the game results. Not coincidentally, his initials are JHWH – the Hebrew spelling of Yahweh/God. It’s silly, but deeply theological…but that’s not what this blog is about. It’ll definitely make it into my book.

With actual rosters you could play as your favorite players. Plus, with the AL and NL All-Star teams, you could play as George Brett, Fernando Valenzuela, Mark McGuire, Don Mattingly, Tim Raines and other players that weren’t on postseason teams.

This also meant that certain player skill sets were better than others just like they were in real life. Abilities you could count on.

For example, Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens threw the hardest, but Valenzuela had the best movement on his pitches.

Vince Coleman was by far the fastest. In fact, I don’t think it is possible to catch him stealing second base, and it was very difficult to catch him stealing third. If Coleman got a lead off hit, it was basically a run scored. If you play the speed game, St. Louis is the way to go, because otherwise they don’t have any strengths. Raines was a close second, but playing as the AL/NL teams is cheap.

The real powerhouses in the game are Detroit, Boston and California. In that order. Here’s how I’d rank the 8 division winners in the game…

  1. Detroit
  2. Boston
  3. California
  4. St. Louis
  5. New York
  6. San Francisco
  7. Minnesota
  8. Houston

Detroit has by far the best lineup: Trammell, Gibson, Evans, Nokes, Herndon, Lemon, Whitaker and Brookens are all capable of going yard. Boston and California both have decent lineups – CA might have the edge with Reggie Jackson – but not as good top to bottom as Detroit’s. And Boston has Clemens pitching, so they get the edge over California for 2nd.

The next five are debatable. I’m biased on St. Louis, of course. New York has a decent lineup anchored by Daryl Strawberry’s big bat, but otherwise they’re average. Houston is by far the worst. Even with Nolan Ryan pitching, they’re terrible. I’d love to know how they ever made the NLCS in ’86.*

* – Here’s a fun fact: I was born in Houston in 1986, and the first game I ever went to was as a newborn in the Astrodome. My dad could probably fill me in on how those ’86 Astros did it.

The final reason why this game is terrific: you could actually feel the ball off the bat and know which way it was going to go with your fielders.

As the screen switched from batter view to field view, there was a half second pause where you could actually feel like you knew where the ball was going to go. Contact off the bat was true to the physics of the situation. If a lefty was behind on an outside pitch, it was headed to third base. If a righty was behind on an outside pitch, it was headed to first base.

Just like in actual baseball, playing the right angles to the ball was crucial. Know which fielder should take the ball off the bat. Call for it in your mind. Taking the wrong angle or going with the wrong player could be the difference between a fly out and a triple in this game.

One compliant: Every player was white and fat. Willie McGee and Rick Reuschel, while both equally hideous men – i mean, woof! – could not look any more different. And yet, RBI Baseball makes them identical twins. C’mon now.

Also, it should be mentioned that playing this game against the computer barely counts as playing it at all. The computer makes tiny huge mistakes.

For example, when I would play as St. Louis, I would single with Vince Coleman, and then steal second and third. Then I could bunt with the next two batters and the computer, afraid that Coleman was going to bolt home if the throw went to first, would toss it to the catcher and just wait as the batter legged out a stand up double.

After I’d bunted the bases loaded, Jack Clark would hit a bomb and the score was quickly 4-0.

Also, if you were pitching, you could stand on the far edge of the rubber and throw a curveball across to the other side of home plate and the computer would swing at it every time. And every time it’d be three straight whiffs. If three straight lefty/lefty or righty/righty match ups came up in an inning, I could quickly strike out the side.

It was the best baseball video game at the time. But then they went and made it even better with…

2. RBI Baseball 3


Reasons why RBI Baseball 3 is better than the original:

  1. You could play as all 30 MLB rosters (1990) plus all the division winners from 1983-1989…
  2. …which means you get way more players (including Bo Jackson & Ken Griffey, Jr.).
  3. You could dive/jump for the ball with your fielders.
  4. Homeruns and stellar defensive plays showed instant replays.
  5. Players weren’t chubby anymore (but they were all still white).
  6. You could play a whole season with a single team.
  7. Expanded benches and bullpens meant more strategy every game.
  8. Complete statistics from the actual season, not just AVG & HR.

There are so many different teams to choose from – 56 of them – I don’t really even know where to start, so I’ll simply list my favorite teams to play with.

1985 Kansas City Royals
– Gotta play with the champs

1990 Kansas City Royals
– Bo Jackson
– Bo Jackson
– Bo Jackson

1989 Oakland Athletics
– Rickey Henderson leading off
– Canseco/McGwire just destroy the ball
– Possibly the best team in the game

1990 Montreal Expos
– What might have been if there’s no strike in 1991?
– Tim Raines is so fast
– National Anthem = Oh, Canada

1987 St. Louis Cardinals
– One of my favorite teams ever
– Better than the original RBI Baseball Roster
– Jose Oquendo

1990 Seattle Mariners
– Ken Griffey, Jr.

These teams probably weren’t the best in the game (well, besides Oakland, which I literally just said was “probably the best team in the game”), but they were the most fun to play as. I especially liked bringing in Marquis Grissom off the bench to pinch hit late in the game for the Expos.

Poor Expos. They don’t deserve to be in D.C. today.

Welp, there you have it. The list is down to the last spot – the Best NES Game Ever. Lots of good options out there – stay tuned and comment with your pick for what you think #1 should be.

11. Marble Madness
10. Tecmo Bowl
9. Contra
8. RC Pro-Am
7. Mario Bros. 2: The Lost Levels
6. Excitebike
5. TMNT 2: The Arcade Game
4. Super Mario Bros. 3
3. RBI Baseball
2. RBI Baseball 3
1. ???


Check out Part IV of this series.

6 thoughts on “Top 11 NES Games, Part III (2-3)”

  1. Claimers and disclaimers: I own and have played in my adulthood all of these except #7.
    I’m not a huge sportsball guy these days, so games the Ribbies and Techmos haven’t held a ton of pull for me since grade school. Been waiting for more list to comment.

    My guess for #1 is Zelda and has been since the first post. It is a good, but has the problem that its “exploration” aspect is obnoxious and often required a subscription to Nintendo Power because the translation left out most of the little clues. Still amazing, and I’d stil down and play it. But I cannot see how a game as amazing and wonderful and innovative and woah like Mario 3 isn’t above everything. Well, Kirby’s Adventure rocked out almost as hard, but that’s not on the list for some reason. Also, Marble Madness is infuriatingly hard after level 5. And by that, I mean level 6. Which is the last level. And I used my Game Genie to get infinite time to beat, and still struggled. Wouldn’t be on my list. Also also, Excitebike is terrible except for the fact it has a level editor. Which makes it awesome in a historical context, but maddening now. Wait, you didn’t put Bad News Baseball on this list. And it’s the best baseball game on the NES, even without the license. Is that your #1, sir?

  2. Baseball for both #2 and #3–should have guess. RBI 3 was great though.

    Have to agree that Super Mario 3 maybe should be a little higher. Also Zelda has to be #1, has to be, right? I still find myself humming that music sometimes….so good.

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