Review: Baseball Superstars 2011 (iPhone)

Baseball Superstars 2011
Developer: Gamevil
Publisher: Gamevil
Genre: Arcade Sports
Release Date: 10/21/2010

Please note: This game was reviewed on an iPhone 3G

If you’re a child of my generation, chances are good you grew up with certain baseball games that left “realism” somewhere in the proverbial dugout. Whether it was the original Baseball R.B.I. Baseball, Baseball Stars, Tommy Lasorda Baseball for the Genesis fans, or even Baseball Simulator 1.000 for us stat-heads, there was some variation of baseball, which usually had the same control scheme. It doesn’t matter what game, if you were to pick up a game from that era, from those I mentioned to Bad News Baseball, Little League Baseball: Championship Series to even Base Wars, with a few exceptions like the Bases Loaded games and Tecmo Baseball, you would instantly know how to play without having to look up instructions. Such is how prevalent and well-travelled these games are. While I personally prefer to stick to more realistic fare like MLB ’10: The Show, I sometimes like to go back and play some simpler games, with my favourite being the aforementioned Little League Baseball for NES (you can’t beat six inning Baseball Stars gameplay).

Thankfully, the past couple of years, this style of baseball has been going strong, on a surprising platform: the iPhone. Gamevil – developers of surprise hit Zenonia and my personal favourite iPhone developer – have been putting out a very good product the past few years with their Baseball Superstars line. This year’s game has been out for a bit, and features a change in hitting/pitching angle, some tweaks, and the advent of microtransactions. Whether it’s worth your $5 is up to personal preference if you have the prior game, but nonetheless, there’s a lot to like about Baseball Superstars ’11.

There are modes in BS ’11 that one would expect to see in a more full-fledged release on a console. There’s the standard exhibition mode, as well as a season/franchise mode and My Player mode, an online (“Match”) mode, a home run derby and a mission mode where you can perform various tasks to gain G points, the game’s main currency. G points have been a staple of the series for a while, for both buying players and buying items in My Player and Season modes, but the difference between this year and previous versions are that now, G points can be purchased via microtransactions. In fact, microtransactions are the biggest overall change to the game from last year, because there’s not as much available to new players as there was before. You start with one super hitter and one super pitcher, and have to unlock the others either through achievements – which range from difficult to holy crap – or by buying most of them (the really good ones can’t be bought with G points). Since the achievements to unlock the players are really hard, especially in a game like this, chances are good you’re going to be unlocking them with G-points, which are $.99 for 3,000 points with higher increments and a minor discount if you spend more money to get more G points. This is starting things on a negative note, but while it makes perfect business sense to do this, it hurts the game because so many things have to be purchased with G points, and with real world money now in the equation, a lot of things – including quite a few of the super players that were available right off the hop in Baseball Superstars 2010 – are now unlocked with a high number of G points. The good news is that there are a lot of ways to get G points, and they do unlock in good numbers via mission mode, HR Race and in-game achievements, but the bad news is that to get the really good stuff, you either have to buy it or play so long that BS ’12 will be out by the time you start unlocking the really good stuff. The bad news is the extra financial pressure, but the good news is that this is the first and last hard complaint I really have about the game.

In terms of playing on the diamond, I like most of what Gamevil did. The most noticeable change is that they slightly changed the view for pitching and hitting, angling the camera slightly off-centre so that the camera is behind the opposite batter’s box (example: if you’re right handed, you’ll see things as if the camera was behind the left-side batter’s box). At first, this threw me off, but I eventually learned that I was seeing breaking pitches – and most importantly, pitch speed – better than I was in BS ’10, because I wasn’t watching everything on a 2D plane. What’s slightly ironic about this is that it turns the lefty-righty dynamic (I.E.: you typically want left-handed batters against right-handed pitchers and vice-versa, because the batter can see the ball coming out of the arm better from across his vision) inside-out, because the ball that you would be able to see better as a hitter is now coming from behind *your* particular field of vision, because you’re seeing it from the opposite side. There’s also no switch-hitting option, but to be fair, in a game like this, the lefty-righty dynamic means very little. It’s just a quirk for someone who’s played entirely too much MLB The Show. One thing I really like is that pitching has been calmed down by default. Pitches don’t get to the plate as fast as they used to, and they don’t move quite as crazily as they did in ’10. This balances the gameplay out nicely, as last year’s game was almost stupidly fast. They just about nailed every aspect of hitting and pitching, and my only complaint is what happens if you hit a really deep fly ball. No matter how well it appears you hit the ball, if you don’t get an animation of you smashing the ball (time stops, it emphasizes the point of contact, and the ball takes off with a star trail behind it, leaving no doubt), you did not hit a home run, so even if it looks like the ball’s going to clear the fence, you won’t hit a home run, and on a deep ball to centre, it means the ball will always be caught. This has screwed me up on a couple of occasions with less than two outs, but once you learn how the game works, you learn to work around it, so I’m just nitpicking.

Fielding and running are still a bit wonky, though. You don’t field; your men catch the ball, and you determine a base to throw to, but everything happens extremely fast, so it’s hard to make good decisions with men on base. Pop quiz: ground ball to shortstop with a runner on second, less than two outs. The ball’s ahead of the shortstop, but he’s running. Where do you throw? You should be throwing to third, but by the time you realize what you have going on, chances are good that any opportunity to nail the guy going to third – and possibly saving a run – is gone. As for running, the game does most of the running for you, though you can determine if you want your runners – really, the lead runner – to run anyway. However, there’s so little time between the ball being hit and it being on its way back into the infield that you have to make your decision in so little time that you often make a bad one. This helps to keep the time it takes to play a game – about ten to fifteen minutes, good for a phone game – short, but hurts the ability to play it slightly. Essentially, if the game doesn’t run for you, don’t run. Once you learn that, running becomes no problem, but it should be noted that I have never hit a triple in this game, making any achievement about hitting for the cycle moot. Another issue I have is that seeing what you have on the base paths is inconsistent. There’s a set of arrows below your runners, but you can only see them if they’re not obscured by the camera or anything else. In other words, if you want to see how much speed you have on 1st base, you have to have a lefty batting, or you won’t be able to see, and calling time doesn’t help because you don’t even have the option to pinch run; even if you want to pinch-hit, you can’t see the stats of the guy you’re pinch-hitting for. These issues hurt, but are definitely only a few minuses against a column full of plusses.

Season mode and My League mode have the same basic setup with two different, obvious focuses: Season mode, you’re in charge of the team, and My League, you’re in charge of one player, which is something fans of Power Pros or The Show’s Road to the Show modes should be familiar with. Both modes are 45 days, and in both modes, you have goals that you have to achieve to get G points, money or what have you. In both modes, you also get specific goals during the game, such as striking out a key batter or bringing in a runner – which give you benefits if you succeed or get a positive result, and detriments if you fail. In both modes, there are things that you can unlock with the mode’s own currency or with G points. Both modes are nice and quick, and the seasons are short enough to keep you engrossed without requiring a total time-sink (unlike games based around Major League Baseball, which uses a 162 game season. That’s hard enough on a console, but with an iPhone game, forget it) while having a lot of little distractions to break things up. My League in particular is an awesome mode. In addition to being able to play games – very quickly, if you’re a batter (the game gives you one save slot each for hitters and pitchers) – you’re able to build your popularity, fame and yearly salary, the latter of which allows you to buy new equipment and training aids, and if you get famous enough, even shoot commercials and have sponsorships, all of which is entailed in “nicknames” that your player picks up based on their achievements (for example, when you start, you’re an “Inexperienced Rookie”). The mode is very engrossing, and there are little vignettes on occasion that break things up and keep things interesting while allowing new players to break into the action. In truth, I would place the My League mode above Be a Pro in FIFA ’11 and Become a Superstar in Madden ’11. By the way, for those of you counting, for the price of one copy of Madden ’11, you can buy this little iPhone game 12 times.

Best of all for long time players, people are are dedicated in playing these modes will be able to build their teams/players up to use them elsewhere. There’s an online mode, which I’ll get to the details of in a minute, but if you want to take the time and dedication to build up a good team and a good My League player, you will see the reward with a team you can take against other people.

There are other modes, such as HR Race (home run derby, determined by distance) and Mission mode. Mission mode is where most people are going to try to build up G points, as you can repeat missions with diminishing returns every time. There are also missions and other goals you can achieve via downloadable missions – for example, one recent downloadable game had you playing two strong teams consecutively for a large G point return, and Gamevil recently announced another one for G points and items. Gamevil has always been excellent about supporting all of their games for a long time – they still patch the original Zenonia – so expect support for a long time to come. The last mode is online/Match Play, which lets you do either custom matches from Gamevil or to play against other people one-on-one. My connections were fine; I had no lag, despite the fact that at my house, I’m running a bar, max and only run on 3G. The only issues I had in relations to lag – both online and off – were hardware related. They did a lot to the backbone of this year’s game, and it shows in that it does something I didn’t see BS ’10 do: it slows down sometimes. This is one of those games that really should be played on an iPhone 4, as the 3G that I’m running is starting to show some age. This is a problem that will occur with almost any action-based game from here on out.

The Scores
Modes: Good
Graphics: Decent
Sound: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Great
Balance: Above Average
Originality: Very Poor
Addictiveness: Classic
Appeal: Enjoyable
Miscellaneous: Great
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME


Short Attention Span Summary

Baseball Superstars 2011 can be described as such: it out-Power Pros Power Pros. It’s superior to last year’s game in most areas, and far superior to the iPhone version of Power Pros ’10, which is good but not great. The spirit of games like R.B.I. Baseball lives in an very good baseball game for any platform that people will be playing until next year’s game comes out. There are a few nits to pick, but these won’t matter to the core audience.

Gamevil is a good developer, and it shows with the things they’re doing here. If anyone buys one sports game for the iPhone, make it this one.

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