We begin 100 days of mega shock with Baseball Stars Professional. Launching with the Neo Geo AES, Baseball Stars Professional is a sequel to the Famicom/NES classic, Baseball Stars. The original NES Baseball Stars is considered one of if not THE best Baseball game on the system due to its excellent presentation, deep simulation options (such as hiring players, creating & managing teams in a career mode etc.) and great controls in batting, pitching, and, unlike some other titles on the NES, fielding. It all amounted to a really fun game to play. Baseball Stars Professional enhances many of these features thanks to the added Neo Geo horsepower, but loses the deep simulation options (naturally being an arcade title means it’s hard to do these long-term based career modes).
The first thing to notice is the cool intro, which boasts that the game is REAL and DYNAMIC while showing exciting plays in still frames. When you start the game, you “MAKE SELECTION” between either VS or TOURNAMENT modes. Then you choose your team. There’s a creative selection of teams here, each with their own mascots, logos, and most amazingly, detailed portraits specific to each player in the game. There’s ones based on nationalities like the American Dreams or Japan Robins. There’re all-female teams with The Lovely Ladies & The Wild Flowers. There’s SNK Crushers, presumably based on SNK staff (their logo is of Ralf & Clark, also previously known as Paul & Vince in the international versions, from Ikari Warriors. And their Mascot is Athena from Psycho Soldier. A cute self-reference). There’re some teams based on historical figures. There’s Ghastly Monsters, based on classic monster movie characters (sort of a mainstay in the series). Then there’s the Fabulous Superstars, a team based on popular movie characters such as Rocky & Rambo (appropriately, both look exactly the same aside from Rambo having a bandana), Batman, Spock, Darth Vader, Freddy, Jason, Bond, Indy, Madmax, and a few more, each with a pretty accurate portrait picture. It’s probably safe to assume none of these were licensed. But it’s pretty fun just to go through and check their portraits in the player stats menu.
As for the game itself, there’s not much to say. It’s baseball. As pitcher, you can pitch & curve your ball at different speed. As batter, you can swing or bunt. If you have players on bases, you can make them run for the next base & as pitcher you can throw the ball at different bases to tag them out. Fielding controls are straightforward and effective, all standard good stuff. But I noticed that it’s very easy for the batter to hit the ball, on both the CPU & player ends. This in turn makes strikeouts very hard no matter how manipulative a pitcher you are. This means that, on the pitching side, you just depend mostly on catching balls in flight or get lucky with tag outs. This aspect was fixed in Baseball Stars 2 with pitchers having a depleting stamina with each pitch.
While the visuals in Baseball Stars Professional do look nice, it’s the audio that gets the higher praise. The announcer commentates constantly throughout the game, describing current happenings of a game in a very detailed and elaborate way. He even spouts funny quips when you hit a homerun. SNK utilized that extra added memory in those huge AES cartridges by storing lots of sampled voice-overs, a technique SNK continued to do in other Neo Geo release after the launch of the system.
Finally, Baseball Stars Professional represents the debut of one Mr. Michael Beard. He is a native English-speaking gentleman hired by SNK to voice as the announcer here and additionally lent his voice on so many other Neo Geo games. His Yamaha YM2610 sampled voice is pretty recognizable and gives many of the early-era SNK titles a sort of unifying hallmark. Be sure to keep an “ear’ out for him in future games.