Baseball Slugger (and another review from Big Albie)

25 06 2009
Throughout the history of video games, a multitude of casual mini-sports games have littered the landscape. Many of you know that I’m talking about games that focus on specific mechanics of a sport rather than a complete, full season/tournament offering. Whether it’s making a number of shots in basketball or completing passes to receivers in football for example, these types of games tend to be short on content and low in replay value, having held my disdain in the past. Then, I come across Com2uS’ Baseball Slugger which frankly is an example of how a casual sports game should be made that not only appeals to sports and non-sports fans alike, but exhibits the entertainment and fun of a great game.

Baseball Slugger is a simple-in-concept, difficult-in-practice game where the goal is to hit as many homeruns as possible within a limited number of opportunities. Where Baseball Slugger differs from the rest is the polish of the overall presentation, the terrifically designed gameplay mechanics, the use of unlockables and customization, and the well-executed use of online real-time multiplayer functionality. The 3D graphics and animation are smooth, and I experienced no lags on my iPod Touch 2g, and sound effects (crowd cheering, crack of the bat) add to the immersive experience. Baseball hitting is all about timing and bat speed—swing too early and you’ll foul off pitches, swing too late and you may whiff—and those dynamics are well incorporated in Baseball Slugger. The one thing that could use work is the camera angles which can be random. For example, on basic hits, the view will automatically change to an overhead perspective, while homers stay with the faraway view without rhyme or reason. The camera angle should be an option left to the player to set.

The game offers three modes of play: Training, Arcade, Classic and Matchup, and you can set it up to play your music in the background just like real baseball players do in the parks when they come to bat. You have the option to choose from a variety of parks, day or night settings and online scores. Also by tapping the information bar at the top of the screen, a pop-up menu appears with options for the various settings.

One of the things that Baseball Slugger does extremely well is creating a sense of satisfaction when connecting on homerun. The controls take some practice, but they allow for strategy in how to approach each swing so you’re not randomly swinging. A white frame represents the hitting area over home plate, and within is a shaded bat head spot to show the swing-through area. Using tilt, you maneuver the shaded bat head spot to control the swing of the bat based on where you expect the pitch to cross the plate. Then you touch anywhere on the screen to hit. The mechanism is spot on, and I can only hope future baseball games use this scheme because it works really well.

Baseball Slugger also has 50 Achievement milestones that can be earned. These are based on things such as number of career homers, homers in a single game, scoring points, and homerun distance among others. In addition, statistics include rank, power and accuracy.

In Training mode, you can practice hitting and even select to face specific types of pitches from fastballs and curveballs to sliders to screwballs. There is a variety of pitches to choose from and experiment with since you’ll be facing a similar barrage of pitches in gameplay. Also unlike the other modes and since no points are gained or lost, there isn’t a limit on outs so you can swing away indefinitely.

In the actual game modes, there are numerous ways to score points (which adds to overall rank and winning points), and in order to choose and purchase from more than 114 items, you’ll need to earn Gold Balls. The customization allowed is intuitively presented, and by customizing, the player increases in strength and conditioning. You’ll want to constantly build up your player when enough Gold Balls are earned, and customization can be done for the following areas: Hair, Face, Eyewear, Helmets, Jerseys, Batting gloves, Bats, Pants, and Footwear. Who knew hair made such a difference in power hitting.

Power items also available during game play in the form of specially designated balls.
Gold ball—used to purchase items
Double ball—doubles hit score
Triple ball—triples hit score
Life ball—reduces out count

Match up mode only
Iron ball—homer off this, and your opponent receives this pitch which limits distance
Magic ball—blurs opponent’s vision
Invisible ball—makes an opponent’s pitched ball invisible

The basic rules in Arcade and Classic are this:
* Have 10 outs (fouls and strikes count against you)
* Points earned for homers, multipliers for consecutive homers, homerun distance, pole and crash shots, monster shots, cycling (hit homers to left, center and right in one session), and called shots (occurs only after cycling)
* Three ways to earn Gold Balls: hit a homer with a Gold Ball, reach an Achievement, and win at multiplayer mode (although you do get some if you lose too)

My favorite single-player mode is Arcade because the pitcher will throw a variety of pitches, and hits gain points and do not count against the Out limit. Classic is more traditional homerun derby using only straight fastball pitches, and hits, strikes and fouls count against the Out limit.

Match up is where Baseball Slugger stands out and where the strong replay value shines. This mode connects you with others on the network in head-to-head play, add others to your rival lists and send requests. It’s also here where Gold Balls can be earned quickly and winning points amassed to move up the ranks. There are 4 channels: Rookie, Star, Slugger and Legend, and in each, you’ll face others with those skill levels. Where I think Baseball Slugger really shines is how the real-time aspect is displayed. During a match up, a picture-in-picture window appears in the upper right corner showing your rival during the homerun slugfest. From the hits and strikeouts to homers and bonus displays, you’ll see everything in real time. And, a red bar appears above each player to track progress with the winner being the first to complete the scoring requirements.

While I’ve only played a handful of match up competitions, the gameplay can be intense and intimidating especially when competing against some heavy hitters decked out with their spiked (literally there are spikes) bats, and superpower jerseys. It really is an impressive presentation that I think many just have to try firsthand.

Whether or not you’re a baseball fan, Baseball Slugger provides an entertaining experience that genuinely surprised me. I’ve never been a fan of the sports mini-games, but Baseball Slugger has definitely changed my mind.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (recommended for fans and non-fans alike and those who enjoy multiplayer games; those who want to relieve the frustration from past sports mini-games should definitely take a whack)

Note: Com2uS also makes what I consider the best full baseball game for the platform—9 Innings: Pro Baseball 2009. If you want a realistic baseball sim, this is the one to get.

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