I reviewed the ACA NEOGEO version of Baseball Stars Professional a while back and had some folks disagreeing with my assessment of the game. I can respect people who like it, but it’s never been a game I thought was terribly good and the effective loss of multiplayer on mobile didn’t do it any favors. So how about Baseball Stars 2 ($3.99)? Well, I can tell you right away that I like this game a lot better than the previous title in their original forms, so we’re already off on a better foot. But how much better? Let’s find out.
Baseball Stars 2 released a couple of years after Baseball Stars Professional, which was among the launch titles for the NEOGEO hardware. SNK had clearly learned a lot of lessons in those two years, some of them the hard way. Truth be told, some of the team members from Baseball Stars Professional had already shown some improvements with 1991’s Super Baseball 2020, so it wasn’t just a straight jump from the first Baseball Stars on NEOGEO to this second one. Some of the improvements come from being more comfortable with the hardware, knowing when and where to use things like scaling in service of the game rather than simply to try to wow people with graphical tricks. Some of it was down to some of the team members stepping up to bat for a baseball game for the third time in as many years. I also think the sheer pace at which SNK was churning out games, a necessary pace for a hardware manufacturer in its position, led to a lot of iterative progress in terms of quality.
I’m not saying that SNK in 1992 had everything on the ball, but it was a smarter company with a clearer focus and more experience in delivering punchy arcade hits that pleased the crowds. And indeed, I think that’s what Baseball Stars 2 is. There aren’t a ton of truly great arcade baseball games. Even companies like Midway or Konami couldn’t quite get a proper handle on it the way they did with other sports. SNK pulled it off with Baseball Stars 2. It’s a terrific arcade game, with great graphics and sound, snappy gameplay, and just the right amount of over-the-top silliness to make it feel like a spectacle.
It’s a ton of fun against another human player, but you can also have a rather decent time going up against the CPU. That’s a good thing, because as usual unless you have some extra controllers and a display to crowd around, you won’t be playing multiplayer here. That leaves you with a fifteen-game pennant race against the computer, plus the usual extra modes Hamster puts in the ACA NEOGEO releases, complete with leaderboards. The CPU is still a bit of a rude boy here, as this is still an SNK game. Rubber banding is in full effect, so woe be it to you if you get too far ahead in a game. Still, it’s more manageable here than it was in Professional because it’s a more level playing field.
Specifically, the fielding in this game is a lot better than it was in Professional. The scaling and zooming doesn’t obstruct your view in the same way, so it’s a lot easier to do what you need to. You can also choose automatic fielding if you don’t want to deal with that end of things, but I think the game is lot more enjoyable if you have full control of things. You can beat that silly computer! You have all the coins in the world to buy giant bats with! That fifteen game sprint to the championship offers a fairly meaty challenge for an arcade sports game, and the chase is worth the few bucks you’ll pay for Baseball Stars 2.
Just keep in mind that this is an arcade baseball game. You won’t get anything even remotely resembling sim elements here. No team management, no roster editing, nothing. You step up, you play baseball, you go home. Enjoy the extremely colorful and well-detailed graphics, marvel at all the funny animations, laugh at the repetitive yet charming commentary, and… I don’t know, goggle? Let’s say goggle at the crisp sound effects. I’ll give SNK this: even when the games didn’t play the best they could, they usually looked and sounded fantastic. That was harder and harder to pull off on the NEOGEO hardware as the years passed, but SNK knew how to make that hardware sing. Anyway, this is the best looking baseball game on NEOGEO. Yes, out of all three of them.
Baseball Stars 2 plays a bit better with a controller if you have access to one. The Backbone or Kishi will work a treat, but use your weapon of choice. It was originally designed around physical controls, after all. But the virtual buttons get the job done here quite well thanks to the nature of baseball. It almost helps a little with fielding since it’s less likely you’ll be tilting in any directions when the camera cuts away, ensuring you won’t be marching your little fielder in the wrong direction for a second. These kinds of pick and play sports games usually fare well with touch controls, so I suppose it isn’t a surprise they work well here.
I’ve already gone over the usual ACA NEOGEO bits, but as a quick recap. You can use an external controller. You can only play multiplayer via a single device using extra external controllers, and you both have to look off the same screen. No online or local wireless multiplayer. You can play the Japanese or international version of the game, and there is a score attack and timed Caravan mode available. Each of these modes has its own online leaderboard that will probably have about ten people on it. Good luck and godspeed. You have access to a number of options, including gameplay tweaks and graphical options. You can save your progress whenever and load it later, at least in the main modes. The emulation is top-notch, like having the arcade machine in the palm of your hand. You’re a real hot dog!
If you were waiting for the best NEOGEO baseball game to arrive in the ACA NEOGEO mobile line, congratulations! The wait is over, Baseball Stars 2 is here. This is a very fun arcade baseball game that still holds up really well and has survived the transition to mobile intact. There’s no easy access to multiplayer, and I’m always going to harp on that in these reviews, but otherwise it’s really hard to find much to complain about with this particular release.