(Originally published in Issue #2 of Cobalt Magazine at Warwick University, released in November 2014. Read that version here, on pages 40-41.)
No, I’m serious. There is a game that exists with that combination of words in that order. Just let that sink in for a while. This really is the kind of reboot Batman needs, but unfortunately this is just ninjas and baseball, which is clearly an inferior product to a latex personification of capitalism.
Ninja Baseball Bat Man (or Baseball Hand-to-Hand Fighting League Man if you’re Japanese and love ridiculous rambling titles) is an arcade side scrolling beat-em-up released in the 90s, similar to classics like Final Fight and Streets of Rage. If you’ve ever played a game like this before you’ll be right at home, punching endless amounts of dudes in endless amounts of alleys, except here you punch with a bat and the dudes are all anthropomorphic baseball paraphernalia. There are still alleys though, so at least something remains.
Honestly, the game begins and ends with the title. It sounds like they went through some deep scientific study to find the single coolest sounding title possible and reverse engineered a game out of it; the whole thing is essentially ninjas with baseball uniforms wielding bats and fighting the contents of the New York Yankees merchandise booth. I say essentially as despite being conceived in America the game was made in Japan, and so has been filtered through all the craziest parts of Japanese culture with elemental super moves, giant planes with eyes and flying stadiums all showing up at various points. This is like if the creator of Samurai Pizza Cats started flicking through American TV channels with his head lodged in a mountain of cocaine and looked up for long enough to catch a glimpse of the World Series out of the corner of one blood stained eye, before slumping back into his powder and shouting the design document to a group of confused interns who’d never heard of sport. If baseball was more like this I would probably watch it.
There are four main characters to whack people with, each a different colour and silhouette to make them stand out from the psychedelic orgy on screen; a tiny fast hitter, a long reaching poker, a big fat bloke with a baseball jammed halfway down his bat and a boring all rounder who looks like the red Power Ranger and plays like a digestive biscuit. They’re different enough to want to actually use all of them, especially since the core gameplay can get quite repetitive. There’s only two buttons, one to jump and one to hit, so naturally the movelist is a bit limited despite some supers looking powerful enough to shake the Earth from orbit.
While the act of hitting stuff can get old, the stuff you hit is so packed with character the game never gets actively boring. Mischievous looking baseball bats carrying other smaller baseball bats, spider droids conceived from an affair between a baseball and a Droideka, squids in scuba gear that hit you with squeaky hammers and what appears to be the Beagle Mafia are all enemies here, and special mention must go to the boss battles. I won’t ruin the surprise too much, but when one of them gets made into a sad looking handbag at the end of the fight you want to keep playing just to see what they can come up with next. Pity that most of them are cheaper than your mum on a Friday night, randomly taking half your health whenever they feel like it as if you’ve forgotten to pay your taxes this month.
This brings me to the main sticking point with the game; there are more spikes in its difficulty than on the bottom of its shoes, and really isn’t very long to boot, clocking in at just over an hour. This was almost certainly due to it being an arcade only game, designed to steal quarters from kids who want to know what being on drugs feels like. The only way to play the game nowadays is on an emulator, and since you can put infinite coins into an emulator without costing yourself anything, the artificial difficulty is gone and you can just run headlong into things over and over again, like a man trying to break down a wall with the bridge of his nose.
Happily, however, this makes the game much less frustrating than it would otherwise be. I can’t imagine how much money you’d need to spend to see the spectacularly anticlimactic ending, but the constant threat of random death would take its toll after a while. So instead of potential brain haemorrhaging you get to just enjoy the wackiness, which due to the length doesn’t outstay it’s welcome.
So overall, it’s an enjoyable if short experience that’s much less annoying than it would’ve otherwise been, even if the emulation can get spotty and potentially cause an epileptic fit or two. It’s also called Ninja Baseball Bat Man. I can’t stress that enough.
Now for something completely different; while researching this article I noticed there was a Kickstarter campaign for some kind of Ninja Baseball Bat Man comic. Having checked it out, it looks pretty damn suspect. A total of 24 backers pledged $1278 over its 45 day period, despite meeting its goal of $1000 within 4 of those days. The spread of pledges is bizarre with everyone contributing $40 or below apart from two people who gave $300 each.
And then there’s the art. It’s godawful. I mean just look at it. It looks like one of those early internet flash games where nobody had any talent, or something from a particularly crap preteen deviantART profile where they only have access to their own eyes once every fortnight to work out what shapes and colours are supposed to be. This has even worse proportions than some of Rob Liefeld’s atrocious contributions, although at least there aren’t a zillion pouches cutting off the blood supply to every part of the body.
Confused and aghast, I looked further into the history of NBBM. Apparently it was originally the vision of one American bloke called Drew Maniscalco and designed to be a competitor to Super Mario Bros. of all things, but was given to the Japanese arm of the company who actually knew what they were doing and promptly redesigned basically everything. It seems that this guy always wanted a shitty Batman knockoff where everything is baseball themed, and genuinely thinks it’s the best thing ever (seriously, a veteran baseball player living a dual life as a baseball related superhero is something DC would’ve laughed at back when they were doing fucking Kite Man storylines). If this is seriously what he always wanted then I’m glad the Japanese took it off him. I don’t want Dragon Ball Z redone by someone who’s only artistic tools are crepe paper and a photocopier.