Midway’s NBA Jam and NFL Blitz are two of the greatest sports game franchises thanks to how they both provide fun, over-the-top experiences that require little knowledge of the pastime in question. The company would eventually set its sights on hockey, boxing, and even professional wrestling, but it never quite got around to releasing a baseball game in the same vein. Or did it?
Thanks to the Video Game History Foundation, we now have a first-hand look at (and ROM downloads for) Power-Up Baseball, which was in development by Midway and Incredible Technologies in the mid-1990s. After discovering a prototype for the game among the belongings of late developer Chris Oberth (whose work the organisation is helping his family preserve), VGHF co-director Frank Cifaldi spoke to several former Midway and Incredible Technologies employees about what happened to Power-Up Baseball.
“[Power-Up Baseball] was supposed to be over-the-top and extreme and all those good things from the ‘90s,” art director Alan Noon told Cifaldi. “So, the initial art style that I went with was what was pretty trendy at the time with like, shattered fonts and lots of paint splashes and things like that. That kind of look and feel ran pretty much throughout the game.”
The main goal behind Power-Up Baseball was to give America’s favourite pastime its own NBA Jam, combining the digitised graphics and sense of humour that made Midway’s basketball game such a hit with Incredible Technologies’ trackball expertise. But while the special pitches and swings would have definitely set it apart from the rest of the crowd, baseball’s pace didn’t gel with the fast-paced arcade action the two studios envisioned for Power-Up Baseball as well as basketball had in NBA Jam.
“It was too long,” programmer Brian Smolik explained. “We shortened it down to maybe three innings or something like that. And at some point you could buy one inning at a time. And who’s gonna play one inning, right? It was great if you could be there for a whole game. But that was like the length of two or three [NBA Jam games], and that’s tough for anybody to sit through.”
Power-Up Baseball was tested locally in Chicago, with several cabinets being built and sent to various arcades, but there just wasn’t a market for it. The passion for the project was there, but the developers had overlooked one important factor: how well it would make money for operators. Sadly, Power-Up Baseball was cancelled, and only now is it finally seeing the light of day thanks to the diligent work of video game historians.
Be sure to check out the Video Game History Foundation’s full write-up on Power-Up Baseball for more details on how this recently unearthed project was created, not to mention all the requisite files to check it out for yourself. VGHF is offering full source code and ROM downloads for Power-Up Baseball, and even helped add support for the game to a forthcoming version of arcade emulator MAME. What a helpful bunch!