TUAW First Look: Flick Baseball Pro
Freeverse has released the latest title in their Flick Sports series, and Flick Baseball Pro is now out on the App Store for $2.99. We got a quick hands-on with the game right after release, and while it's a pretty good arcade-style baseball simulation, there are a few quirks and missing features that might make you want to go for a more official baseball app.
Still, just like the other titles in the Flick Sports series, Flick Baseball Pro exudes polish and really takes advantage of Freeverse's growing familiarity with the iPhone and iPod touch hardware. Read on for an in-depth first look at the game.
Like most baseball games, gameplay consists of playing offense and defense in alternating innings. Batting was the first mode I tried (there are tutorials available for both modes), and Freeverse wisely borrowed inspiration from the great Home Run Battle 3D for this -- you use the accelerometer to tilt a target around the strike zone, and then tap anywhere to swing. The target size is determined by a hitter's stats, so better hitters will have more space to swing at. Baserunning is performed by simply tapping on an overlay of the bases, and you can steal by hitting a button pre-swing. It's simple and very fulfilling to land bat on ball.
Pitching isn't quite so simple, but it works about the same: after choosing a pitch, you can tilt a ball cursor around the strike zone, and then simply tap to throw. Enemy batters get a chance to guess your pitch (which seems strange -- why didn't I get a chance to guess theirs?), so you'll need to keep switching up throws to keep things interesting. Actually, I had a terrible time pitching, not because the mechanics were bad, but because it seemed very hard to me -- in my sample game, the opposing team easily scored about ten runs (including three or four homers) on me in the first few innings. But I think that's just because I don't know much about pitching, and the fact that I chose a less-than-steller team to play as probably had something to do with it as well. The mechanics seem solid, even if my pitching expertise isn't.
And before you ask, as a Cubs fan, I picked the Chicago team to play as. Unfortunately, they weren't actually the Cubs -- Freeverse doesn't have the rights to the MLB teams, so instead you get a bunch of generic city-based teams and randomly named players. It is impressive that Freeverse built up such an interesting set of team names, logos, and player names on their own (my game had the Chicago Brown Bats facing off against the Tampa Bay Go-Gos, with professional logos for each), but they've also included tools to customize both teams and players, so if you really want to go in and recreate your favorite MLB team, you can.
The game does include a season mode, but I found it to be pretty barebones -- you can play or simulate all 162 games in a season, and you'll get rankings and stats for each one, but outside of simply playing a bunch of games in a row, the season mode doesn't let you do anything else. There's no roster editors or salary negotiations, or player trades or anything else like that. It's just basically play a bunch of games in the row and try to win the playoffs at the end. It'll give you a reason to play a bunch of games, but if you want to get into the manager's seat, you'll have to look elsewhere.
Presentation on the game is terrific -- Freeverse has even included an announcer, and while he does repeat pretty often, it's still a good effort for an iPhone game. Graphics are clean and clear, and even on my 1G iPhone things ran smoothly (loading times went a little long, but I've learned to expect that on older hardware). There's even a "Flick Sports" swipe which is pretty well done, and a score bar sitting across the top of the screen. The one issue I had with the game's presentation was the nonstop advertising -- I guess at this point all that advertising is a necessity, both in real-live ballparks and in iPhone games, but it pulled me out of the gameplay to see ads for Freeverse games, Ngmoco titles, and even larger brands like Chevy continually popping up in the background. Freeverse probably thought they had a win by realistically including advertising in the game, but given that it's a paid game already, I found the ads more distracting than they should have been.
At $2.99, Flick Baseball Pro isn't a bad baseball game at all -- if you want to play a full game with Freeverse's fake teams or even jump in and create your own to take through a full season, it's definitely worth the purchase. But it's not quite as much easy fun as Home Run Battle 3D, and players who really want the full MLB experience would probably do better to get the official game. Flick Baseball Pro's gameplay is better (and that's no small selling point), but the fake team names, constant ads, and lack of real baseball depth means players who really want to experience the big leagues should probably pay a few more bucks.