The Kid’s SNES follow-up a guaranteed home run
There are a few things Rare, the bastion of all that is unholy in retro gaming, has done correctly. One was GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64. And another is the Ken Griffey Jr. MLB series.
Ken Griffey Jr., for the uninitiated, is one of the best major league players to have ever picked up a bat and glove. There was once a time that folks believed that Griffey would beat Hank Aaron’s home run record in the ’90s. Alas, once Griffey left the Seattle Mariners after the 1995 season, he was never the same thanks to numerous injuries. He’s still “that guy,” though, and it remains that his game series is one of the best in arcade baseball. The first game was good, but the sequel — Ken Griffey Jr.’s Winning Run — is absolute fire.
Let’s start with the premise, because there actually is something of a story here. The opening cinematics show Griffey Jr. at the plate doing what he does best: Smack the ball. Already beloved by fans and teammates, his heroics in the bottom of the 11th inning of the 1995 American League Division Series’ final game that year cemented the city’s love for “The Kid” and led to the birth of this sequel title. He was so beloved that when Griffey Jr. started thinking about retirement, Seattle actively campaigned for the Hall of Famer to simply “come home” and reclaim his title of King of the Kingdome. This setup is lovingly crafted in just the intro, and the rest of the game is favorable because of it.
So, what’s inside the package with a slick outside? A lot, for a SNES game. There are several ways to play, depending on if you want a quick game or if you want to make a full 162-game season of things. The MLB League mode is a greatly appreciated feature. In it, you can choose to play three types of seasons: A short 26-game season, a medium 52-game season and a full 162-game season. There’s also an option to play an exhibition game in the MLB Challenge mode. I like the ability to choose between those options, because maybe I don’t want to sit through an entire season. I can’t do that in real life, so I know I don’t want to do that in a video game version. There’s even a mode to resume a previously started game.
If you’re not so inclined to be a player, there’s a decent manager mode included. Ever the non-traditionalist, if you’re like me and you want to skip to the end, you can run through a World Series mode where you play out the Series to crown your champion. There’s also an All-Star mode where you can play through the titular game and participate in the Home Run Derby.
With the wealth of options in how to play, it’s easy to actually play. Winning Run doesn’t reinvent the wheel of baseball video game mechanics, which is a good thing. That means that even if you’re not a sports nut, you could probably pick up the game and learn how to play baseball. Base running, fielding, pitching and batting are easy to understand here, and the mechanics all come naturally.
While Winning Run doesn’t have the MLB player’s license — neither did the original game, either — it does have a flavor that competing games at the time didn’t have: Charm and charisma in every detail. The graphics are clean, crisp and outright beautiful. They are so well done that even 26 years later, as a SNES game, they hold up. Even the menu graphics look great. Rare was killing it in the late portion of the SNES’ lifespan, and Winning Run is a stunning example.
And, for a moment, let’s talk about the soundtrack. This is one of the few sports soundtracks that I own. Rare’s sound team continuously makes up for the surrounding mess with quality sound, and this is one of the best from their catalogue. The main theme was fantastic, and the menu theme is outstanding as well. Both themes add to the overall package and get things started off right. The in-game ambience is nice as is the play announcer. Everything ultimately creates a good arcade baseball feel, which you’re going to need if you’re going to slog through an entire pennant.
Technically, aside from the lack of the MLB player’s license, there’s nothing wrong with Winning Run. The lack of player names and likenesses is a bummer, but it doesn’t really take away from the core strengths of Winning Run.
Excellent options, easy-to-understand mechanics and a fantastic soundtrack make running the bases fun in Winning Run. The Kid’s sequel effort paid off and bats high in the order of great sports games.