Virtual League Baseball is a globe-trotter, bringing together worldwide squads to battle for… well, nothing. The game’s password injected Pennant Race is only a handful of games with no tournament atmosphere to speak of. They play because they love the game, or the loose atmosphere of the main stadium that plays host. Backed by a silent expressway that leads into a mountainous region, it’s never clear where these games are taking place. Dullsville, Anywhere seems appropriate.
Created by Japanese developer Kemco – a total stranger to the sports genre beyond their Top Gear racing titles – is a bit of an offensive oddity. With no license to speak of, player naming took a turn for the racially charged worst. Argentina is made up of players named after obvious Spanish words or at their best, “Tortilla.” How subtle. For shame then that the USA does not have someone named “Hamburger.”
Derivative baseball action is highlighted only by its pitching mechanism, a simple meter that determines ball speed. Go over a certain point and the ball languishes in the air, begging to find the right field wall. Nothing else eclipses 8-bit methods, with the pitch location flung around against logical physics via the d-pad. Cue up a batter who can swing at three levels, none of which seem to matter considering pressing the button sans direction is as effective as anything else.
Virtual League pushes the 3D ante, with an effective, tight batting box that exemplifies how deep the Virtual Boy can push its red and black visuals into the distance. That awkward, bridged highway is there for a reason, to better sell the dimensions these coarsely rendered sprites are a part of. Shame on Kemco for not doing much of anything with the ball, a popped foul behind the plate sitting on an invisible slice of air without so much as approaching the lens.
Talk of 3D distracts from the crusty fielding, as awkwardly done as some of the Atari 2600 baseball affairs. Two, maybe three pixel high fielders limply wander an entirely black field in unison, trying not to fumble the ball when it approaches. Routine fly balls are bungled as the depth becomes a detriment; the field is awkwardly angled with no indicator as to ball position. Catching is guesswork, something even experience cannot conquer. Virtual League is thus composed of two static screens without any motion to speak of. They cannot come any simpler than this.
Virtual League is bound to make the most of its crumpled design choices, utilizing an all-star game as a secondary mode to give “Tortilla” his due in the limelight. The game is a throw-away as no one will have a clue who the stars are, and in a damning hardware scenario, there is no multiplayer.
A ’50s era jig plays over most of the on-field action, a Japanese interpretation of Buddy Holly tunes that tries to liven the not-so-majestic batter/pitcher duel, which strives for awkward realism. Virtual League opens with a super deformed player watching a pitch blow by, more in line with the stuff Konami was pumping out overseas. How the portly guy ended up here in the US version is a development secret, but he fits better. Seeing realistically proportioned players in-game only further displays how weirdly broken the basics are. Cartoon physics can cover a lot, and thus, the Japanese version, with big-headed caricatures, makes for a more logical approach to kooky baseball.