Games 4/21/09: Baseball Superstars 2009, 9 Innings: Pro Baseball 2009, Ninja Blade, Doodle Jump

Baseball Superstars 2009
For: iPhone/iPod Touch
From: Gamevil
iTunes Store rating: 4+
Price: $3

9 Innings: Pro Baseball 2009
For: iPhone/iPod Touch
From: Com2uS
iTunes Store rating: 4+
Price: $5

Let us make no mistake: The best modern, fully-licensed Major League Baseball game of 2009 is and likely will remain on the Playstation 3.

But if the license doesn’t matter or if you simply prefer the gameplay stylings that made virtual baseball so beloved in the 1980s and early 1990s, the iPhone and iPod Touch are suddenly awash in possibilities.

Gamevil’s “Baseball Superstars 2009” isn’t a complete surprise: The franchise already existed on various mobile devices, and any baseball game that can work on a dial pad should do just fine on the iPhone’s roomier touch screen.

“Superstars” makes good on that hope, using the bottom left and right corners of the screen to replicate an eight-button controller that functions like a virtual Super Nintendo pad. Smartly, the button that gets the most use in the game also receives additional prominence on the screen.

The all-new “9 Innings: Pro Baseball 2009” uses a similar control scheme, albeit with a more dynamic look: The buttons are illustrated with their functions instead of symbols, which certainly eases the learning curve.

Both schemes work as hoped, and if you played any 2D baseball during its glory days, the separate approaches feel awfully familiar once you learn a few intricacies and understand each game’s respective metrics with regard to fielder and runner speed. Both approaches have separate upsides: “Innings” offers more complexity in terms of run manufacturing and pitch effectiveness, while “Superstars” surrenders just enough control to feel arcade-like as well as intuitive.

Graphically, the games are straight out of the 2D era, with “Superstars” paying wonderful tribute to “RBI Baseball’s” cartoonish beginnings while “Innings” does similar justice to the “Baseball Stars” look. “Superstars” handily wins in the sound department, but both games are respectable in this regard.

Where things really surprise — particularly given that it costs $8 to purchase both — is in the features department. Both games feature exhibition, season, managerial and home run derby modes. “Innings” has nice stat-tracking capabilities, while “Superstars” lets you trade players in its season mode. “Innings” also includes a slick missions mode, which unlocks various rewards whenever you complete any of 50 different baseball-related objectives during any of the game’s modes.

The best feature, however, is “Superstars'” My League mode, which lets you create a pitcher or hitter and play only as him across multiple seasons. You can improve your stats through training, purchase better equipment with your salary, and reap the rewards of becoming your team’s star player. “Superstars'” mission mode is more self-contained than “Innings'” system, but success in that mode (or in the home run derby) nets you rewards in the My League mode, so it’s certainly worth checking out.

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Ninja Blade
For: Xbox 360
From: From Software/Microsoft
ESRB: Mature (blood, violence)

“Ninja Blade” has garnered an unsavory reputation for its dependency on quick-time events — those instances in which a game has you complete some amazing stunt by following a series of onscreen button prompts that bear no resemblance whatsoever.

The rap checks out, because “Blade” indeed employs the technique like perhaps no game ever has. Rarely do five minutes pass where you aren’t interrupted by some bland recitation of prompts that allow your onscreen likeness to do something significantly more exciting than what you’re doing.

To a point, it’s understandable: “Blade’s” cut-scenes are nonsensically, hilariously over the top, and replicating these excessively choreographed maneuvers is more than today’s controllers can handle without cheating.

It would have been nice, though, if these instances carried any consequence at all. There’s no discernable penalty for following prompts sloppily instead of perfectly, and if you miss one entirely, the game simply asks you to do it again until the scene plays out. Before long, you’ll feel more like a tool of “Blade’s” entertainment than the beneficiary — as if the developers designed the game to be enjoyed by non-playing bystanders while you do the work.

Distressingly, the rest of the game — which alternates between “God of War”-like third-person swordplay and a surprisingly high number of on-rails shooting segments — does little to alleviate the oppressive linearity. “Blade’s” increasingly incoherent storyline impatiently whisks you from scene to scene, and the vast majority of the action feels like a slog from A to B. As long as you hold down, mash or press buttons like the game asks, you’ll inevitably power your way to the end of the level, your brainpower no more taxed by the end than it was when you began.

Almost as if to compensate, “Blade” postpones these inevitabilities though a slew of irritating tactics, including overlong boss fights and cheap attacks that don’t challenge or imperil you so much as slow things down for no discernable reason. The tedium ramps up as the story falls apart, and an inability to save your game at mid-mission checkpoints makes for some play sessions that drag on well past their freshness date. If you plan on giving “Blade” a shot, be sure to clear your immediate schedule.

Additionally, make sure you rent rather than buy. In addition to overstaying its welcome the first time though, “Blade” offers no worthwhile reason to reason for seconds, nor does it feature any multiplayer content beyond leaderboard support.

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Downloadable Game

Doodle Jump
For: iPhone/iPod Touch
From: Lima Sky
iTunes Rating: 4+
Price: $1

Lots of games try to do too much with the iPhone’s tilt sensitivity, but “Doodle Jump” proves, on multiple levels, why laying off the gas a little doesn’t hurt. Your one and only goal is to help your alien friend jump from platform to ascending platform without missing and taking a long fall down. The alien remains in a perpetual state of bounce, so you must tilt the device accordingly to aim his jumps. The higher he goes, the higher your score and the more perilous the difficulty. The dead simple concept — combined with the presence of online leaderboards and the short play times brought on by having only one life to lose per game — give “Jump” that “easy to pick up, hard to put down” quality mobile games strive to achieve, and the game’s look and sound only compound its charm. “Jump” indeed resembles an animated doodle: The graphics look like little color pencil scribbles, and as you pass other players’ scores on the online leaderboard, your character jumps past a measuring stick representation of their name on the virtual page. Leave it to a game that costs a buck to illustrate the pursuit of high scores better than perhaps any video game ever has.