Like clockwork, a new year ushers in a new spin on Baseball Superstars, the preeminent baseball franchise on iOS. Known for its unique take on combining cute anime-style presentation with deep RPG elements, the series has amazed us by finding new ways to stay engaging over the years. Baseball Superstars 2013 makes some some noteworthy changes this time around, but we’re not so sure if those changes were for the better.
Whereas last year’s offering served up a plethora of single player and network enabled modes to explore, Baseball Superstars 2013 has taken a step back to focus on the single player experience through the My Pitcher and My Batter Modes. No longer can you play regular exhibition games where you control all three phases of the game in pitching, batting, and fielding. Through My Pitcher and My Batter, you develop a player and exclusively play as that player in isolated scenarios.
All the action not involving your player is simulated, so on many levels, you don’t feel like you have the control to affect the game like before. To be fair, there are several RPG elements that are fun like leveling up, training to build specific attributes, and the usual banter that occurs between your coaches and fellow teammates throughout the season. The gravitational pull of the My Pitcher and My Batter modes is to accomplish seasonal goals and transform into a Hall of Fame player through yearly excellence.
Mechanically speaking, Baseball Superstars is a mixed bag unfortunately. Swinging the bat feels better than ever. With a zoomed in camera angle getting you closer to the batter this year, we found it easier to do pitch recognition and swing with much more precision. Whether we’d hit a solid home run or strike out, the outcomes always felt fair and reflective of nailing the timing or being a millisecond off.
Pitching is the area that is highly disappointing this year. Had we not spent hours locked in with the fantastic swipe pitching from Baseball Superstars 2012, the pitching in this year’s version could be forgivable. Instead of the extremely precise swipe method, Gamevil decided to slap on a virtual D-pad to aim your pitches. Once you aim your pitch, you have to time the throw button to accurately place the ball. These changes make for a more cumbersome pitching experience, and we wonder why changes were made to such an amazing touchscreen tailored mechanic from last year. This is a perfect example of making changes just to make a change. As a result, we found ourselves spending more time in My Batter mode this go-around.
If there is one thing you can expect will be consistently great in a Baseball Stars game, it is the presentation. As usual, the game looking like a living breathing cartoon with crisp colors and fluid animations. This is a universal app that is playable on both iPhone and iPad devices, and if we can nitpick here, you can certainly tell the game is not running at native resolution on a retina-powered iPad. Nothing big, but certainly worth pointing out.
The last issue we’d be remiss not to point out are the weird decisions made on the online feature set of the game. The game promotes itself as offering “competitive PVP baseball,” but that is very misleading. Baseball Superstars 2012 had stellar real-time network play, but this year’s edition has you playing ghosts of other players. Granted you’re either pitching or hitting against other people’s created characters, but the feeling rings hollow and ultimately disappointing.
Additionally, the free-to-play nature of the game means getting prompts to buy points relentlessly while also being subjected to annoying pop-up ads for other Gamevil titles. Like last year, earning points to upgrade your players takes patience and time. Finally, the game requires you to be tethered to an online connection to play the game. Those of you with iPhones should be fine, but you can forget about diving in using your iPad during that trip on the bus.
Baseball Superstars 2013 is a competent and fun baseball title that is still heads and shoulders above what other developers are putting out. But for the first time ever in a Baseball Superstars game, we feel more compelled to fire up last year’s version instead.