Spring 2006 will be an interesting time for japanese baseball fans, as the genre’s two historic series plan to seduce them with different approaches. With over 13 million games sold since its Super Famicom debut, Konami’s Pawapuro series is by far the most popular baseball series in Japan. Yet its sales have been suffering in comparison with Konami’s other major sports franchise, Winning Eleven. The Japanese professional baseball league keeps fading in popularity. Younger generations are more attracted to soccer and most of the talented Japanese baseball players have left for the (North-American) Major League Baseball. As we said in June 2005, it was therefore inevitable that the studio in charge of the Pawapuro series, PawaPuro Production (ex-Diamond Head), has ended up working on a Major League version of Pawapuro. Jikkyou Powerful Major League (already nicknamed “Pawamajor”) will feature all teams, stadiums and players of the MLB. It will include the series’ trademark Success Mode, a very popular adventure mode with a different scenario in each episode. Though there is almost zero chance of it happening because of the game’s peculiar aesthetics and the current exclusive deal between TakeTwo and the MLB, this is also the first time a Pawapuro game has the potential to be localized in the US market. Pawamajor should be released in japan this spring, though no precise date has been confirmed yet.
In early April, PawaPuro Production will also release Jikkyou Powerful Pro Yakyuu Portable on PSP. It will be compatible with the PS2 versions of Pawapuro 12, Pawapuro 12 Ketteiban and the forthcoming Pawapuro 13 (to be released in Summer 2006). This version is quite anticipated by fans because it seems to follow the evolution of the main series, whereas previous handheld episodes developed their own gameplay and modes under the ‘Pawapoke’ (Power Pro Kun Pocket) license. From the Gameboy Color to the Nintendo DS, the Pawapoke spin-off series created its own audience and legacy. Two episodes were released on DS in 2005, Pawapoke Koushien and Pawapoke 8. They both sold poorly (and were rather disappointing), and as a consequence Konami is coming back on GBA with their newest episode Pawapoke Dash. This one will be released at the end of next march. Aside from two Saturn games and one Dreamcast edition, the Pawapuro games have traditionally been released on Sony and Nintendo machines. At the last TGS, Konami announced they would pursue the main series on Playstation 3 but held no announcement concerning the Revolution.
Before Pawapuro kicked in, the most popular baseball series in Japan was Namco’s Family Stadium series. The “Famista” games on Famicom pretty much set the basis for how to turn baseball into a videogame, and Pawapuro took a lot from the series. Though Nintendo’s Baseball on Famicom is actually the most successful japanese baseball game of all time with 2.35 million copies sold, Family Stadium is considered by japanese consumers as the grandfather of modern baseball games and the only other series to have had passed the million mark with a single episode – and did so three times. Famista totalled over 2 million copies sold, Famista’87 did around 1.30 million and Famista’88 ended just above 1 million. Yet unlike Konami, Namco has had issues with its series and failed to keep it highly popular over the years. The publisher has progressively switched to a more realistic approach (both in terms of gameplay and representation), mostly to set itself apart from Pawapuro. Since 2002, Nekkechuu! Pro Yakyuu has been Namco’s main sports series on PS2. Its solid sales make it the second most popular baseball series behind Pawapuro, though it is tailed by Konami’s own “realistic” representation of japanese baseball, Pro Yakyuu Spirits (which is actually an offspring of a long series of games that one could argue began with the excellent Yakyuu 68 on Sharp’s X68000, which itself was inspired by Jaleco’s popular Moerou!!Pro Yakyuu series on Famicom, but I don’t want to bother you with too many anecdotes).
After a first attempt at changing the series name in 2005 with Baseball Live! 2005 and its tepid sales, Namco decided to finally revive the legacy of Famista. Celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the original game, Pro Yakyuu Nekkesta 2006 will feature a “Famista 2006″ mode that will go back to the gameplay and sprites of the Famicom version. You can see some examples on GameWatch. In contrast, the other modes will feature some of the most realistic character models on the PS2. To be released in march, it will compete with Konami’s Pro Yakyuu Spirits 3, released around the same period on PS2 and Xbox 360.
I personally don’t care about baseball.