Take your family to the stadium in this rebranded entry from Namco’s long-running Famista series. (It’s baseball.)
There comes a time in any chronology of a Nintendo console’s library at which all men (and women) must brace up and deal with the inevitable: A Family Stadium game by Namco.
Pro Yakyuu Family Stadium, or Famista, has been the longest-running and most enduring video game baseball franchise in Japan. The original launched for Famicom in December 1986 and has since seen dozens upon dozens of sequels, mostly for Nintendo consoles… but occasionally on competing platforms as well. It is one of those seemingly eternal homebound series over in Japan, like Momotarou Dentetsu or Derby Stallion, seeing annual releases in its home market and completely unknown elsewhere. Americans aren’t total strangers to Famista, though. Quite a few have shown up here through the years — it’s just that they’ve done so under different names.
Tengen localized the original as R.B.I. Baseball, which was notable at first for being the first NES baseball game to feature licensed names from Major League Baseball teams. Then it was notable for losing its official Nintendo license after Tengen went rogue, and for its NES sequels not being adapted from the improved Japanese Famista sequels for Famicom but rather built around the original 1986 code base from the first game. Later, the series made it to 16 bits under the name Super Batter Up for Super NES, while its non-Nintendo counterpart World Stadium reached TurboGrafx-16. And then, there was this lone Game Boy release: Extra Bases.
Released under the name Famista in Japan — yes, just Famista, marking a change in the franchise’s branding from its cumbersome original title to its streamlined nickname — Extra Bases had nothing whatsoever to do with the 1980 Midway arcade release by the same title. This was plain ol’ Family Stadium, aka R.B.I. Baseball, aka yet another baseball game in the style of Nintendo’s own Baseball. That is to say: Little squatty dudes square off on the diamond, with players alternating between pitching and batting. You can adjust your batting stance slightly, modify your pitches before and during the throw, and control your fielders when the offense makes a hit.
It’s almost indistinguishable from Nintendo’s game at first glance; though, to Famista’s credit, this Game Boy adaptation of an old NES release plays a lot better than the dire ball game Intelligent Systems churned out back at the system’s launch. It’s also a bit better than Tecmo’s Bases Loaded for Game Boy. These are not particularly high bars to clear, but it is nice to see each successive release in this genre improve by increments. Of the three baseball games to have appeared so far on Game Boy, Extra Bases seems the best balanced in its single-player mode. You’ll still end up getting skunked by the A.I. if you don’t have an aptitude for sports games, but it won’t be the total rout you see in other games.
While Extra Bases does very little to add to what Game Boy’s previous baseball releases offered, it does throw in a few little details. After a few innings, your pitcher will start to wear out and need to be changed for a fresh replacement… a fact they’ll demonstrate with their flop sweat. Otherwise, though, it’s pretty much business as usual. Hold down as you pitch to throw a fastball, fiddle with the D-pad as the ball streaks towards home base for a curveball or changeup, or brush the batter back with an inside pitch. Once the ball is hit, the perspective and control switches to the fielders, all of whom are linked and move in unison. As always, this can be frustrating, since the game automatically determines some of the fielder behaviors for you… which means that at times you’ll intend for one team to go after a ball only to have him remain under computer control, while the rest of the team runs in the opposite direction from the ball.
You can also steal bases, which never works, and the pitcher can check runners, which also never works. And that’s about it — you play nine innings, unless there’s a tie and you need to settle it in a 10th, and all the standard rules of baseball apply.
As a game, it’s fine. It’s baseball, and it does it thing. I’d recommend Extra Bases over Nintendo’s Baseball or Bases Loaded; but like most sports games, it lacks a special something that makes it worth revisiting 25 years later.
Namco — or rather, future Namco partner Bandai — would produce several more Famista titles for Game Boy, but this is the only one that would ever reach the U.S. Never fear, though: American Game Boy owners would have plenty of other baseball titles to choose from, so it’s hard to imagine the series’ continuing absence in the west was particularly grievous.
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