It’s been a while since I played an arcade game sizzling enough to inspire a new Scanline City. The original plan was to just keep a running dialogue going about the games Pat and I were playing, but arcade nights are few and far between and typically full of disappointment, with one or two gems sticking out of the crumbling concrete.
This past weekend, however, was Beat ‘Em Up bliss, and I may have discovered one of my new favorites:
Ninja Baseball Bat Man (Yakyu Kakuto League Man) is a brawler in the vein of The Simpsons, or something similarly goofy, but it wasn’t developed or published by a company I previously considered king of that arena. Nope, it’s not a Konami or Capcom concoction, nor is it a mighty scream from Data East; NBBM hails from the halls of R-Type, Irem. Call it a lack of exposure on my part, but I feel like I discovered an entirely new world of wackin’ wastoids and crunchin’ quarters.
There are four different Ninja Baseball Bat… Men to choose from, ranging from The Fat One to The Short ‘N Spunky One, covering all the bases of life as we know it. As established in the long-running mythos of sentai shows, the red one is without a doubt the “main dude” with the most balanced power. Are you really surprised? After all, his name is CAPTAIN JOSE! Of course he’s awesome! The combat is completely frantic, and this is just with the two players (myself and Pat) that were around at the time. I can’t imagine how wild it would get with four PS2 controllers jammed deep into the PC (sorry, no authentic experience here), but this was plenty insane.
The plethora of special moves and baseball-themed attacks (knock fools around with grand slams, throw home plate in their faces, etc.) aren’t wasted on your usual punks with biohazard symbols on their jackets. The enemies are as cartoony as the main characters, starting with little baseball men and growing increasingly deadly… like a dozen baseball men combined into one. The rapid-fire rhythm of knocking sense into them with your fists is broken up at the end of each stage by, what else, big freakin’ bosses.
And, as if the game was yanked from my dreams, these bosses are announced with the bom-boppa-bom pomp of a trumpet chorus that peeks out from the floorboards.
Boss battles are where the already stupendous graphics of Ninja Baseball Bat Man really show their stuff. The first boss, Windy Plane, is just that: a giant walking ramshackle jet with a shark face and a whole lot of punch in his propellers. They get better and better as the game goes on, and the energy of it all doesn’t dissipate until the final curtain draws on New York City, which is yet another accurate depiction of what was probably going down in Yankee Stadium circa 1993.
There’s plenty of variety and, unlike lesser beat ’em ups, Ninja Baseball Bat Man is fun and fresh from beginning to end. As all the competent genre contenders know, doing the same stuff over and over again is just part of the game. The action diverges from beating people up hand-to-hand right when that starts to wear thin, and takes the player into short segments of beating people up… in a snazzy car! The music throughout is just as hectic as the fighting, and while that might not suit everyone’s tastes, it works within the confines of this buck wild world.
Ninja Baseball Bat Man is an absolute must-play arcade game, and I’m more than a little sour that I missed out on it as a young impressionable mensch. That Sour Patch Kids cloud has cleared slightly now that I know I can revisit this classic any time I want, and I can only dream that some day it will be reissued as a downloadable title. If this sounds fun to you, seeking out the ROM might be a better solution than holding your breath for that magical day.