With the Major League All-Star Game right around the corner, America’s pastime is getting into full swing. This marks a perfect time for developer Com2uS to release their follow up to last year’s popular 9 Innings: Pro Baseball with the aptly titled 9 Innings: Pro Baseball 2011. This year’s version features mostly the same simplistic play mechanics, but adds a great deal of authenticity by way of a Major League Ball Players Association license. While this isn’t an MLB license (so no actual MLB logos, team names, or ballparks), it’s a real boon for the baseball aficionado to be able to play the game with accurate player stats and real player photos. Another huge addition to this year’s version is a card collecting mechanic that almost acts like a sub-game of it’s own.
The first thing to note about this year’s version of 9 Innings is that it utilizes the touch interface much better, whereas last year almost all the game navigation was handled through the use of the virtual controls. It feels more like it’s made for this device rather than being shoehorned into working on it. This makes things like navigating the menus and choosing pitch location much more intuitive. You’ll start off by choosing a team, and all the same teams from MLB are represented here in a generic form. The team colors and logos are a close enough representation that you don’t really miss that they’re not the actual MLB franchises.
Once a team is chosen you’re given 25 player cards to represent your team’s roster. The roster’s are according to 2009, so there are a few players here and there that aren’t on the correct team, but for the most part you’re getting the actual players from that MLB team. The card dynamic is really neat, with each card carrying the real life stats of that player. Certain players will have special attributes as well, like hitting especially well against left handed pitchers or having an extra keen eye at the plate. Points are earned by playing games, with certain special achievements earning additional points, like striking out 3 batters in a row or hitting back to back home runs. These points can then be spent on upgrading each player’s card and in turn increasing their overall stats.
A card shop is available to purchase extra packs of cards using these in-game points or even as in-app purchase by spending real life money, if you so wish. These new cards can then be used to swap out players from your team and mix up your roster. There’s even cards for the team’s manager and for cheerleaders. It’s odd, as baseball doesn’t have cheerleaders, but they can be looked at as a team’s mascot. These cards can add special attributes to your team or players to give you an added boost in the stats department. The card collecting and player leveling adds a nice RPG-ish wrinkle to the game, and is even more fun for people who are into baseball stats, although you in no way have to be a baseball buff to enjoy the game.
Gameplay wise 9 Innings 2011 hasn’t changed too much from last year’s iteration. Hitting the ball requires just simply timing the pitch and pressing anywhere on the screen to swing, with icons for power hitting and bunting available as well. Pitching has you choosing a pitch type from the player’s repertoire and then sliding a small baseball icon to the part of the strike zone you want it to go. When the pitch placement is set, a circle will enclose that position in the strike zone ,and the closer the circle is to that point when you tap the screen the more accurate your pitch will be. This mechanic becomes harder as your pitcher fatigues during the course of the game.
Defense is handled almost exclusively by the game for you, with minor options like deciding which base to throw to after fielding a hit and attempting pick off plays under your own control. A small portion of the offensive strategy is up to you as well, like deciding to advance runners or not, but by and large the game is mostly about batting and pitching, and while slightly basic it ends up being incredibly easy to play and fun.
Everything combined, 9 Innings 2011 makes for a fun, casual game of baseball with an added element of depth due to the player card system and leveling dynamic. It has much better graphics than last year’s version, less basic and with more detail, but strangely the entire game is played in portrait view rather than the landscape view of the last game. The dev has stated in our forums that landscape mode will be coming in an update, which should be a welcome addition and provide a more comfortable way to play. It would also be nice to have some sort of roster update to get the statistics and players more current, although this doesn’t really hurt the overall experience much.
With entertaining gameplay, a multi-season franchise mode, an excellent homerun derby mode, and endless possibilities for card collection and customization, 9 Innings: Pro Baseball 2011 is the strongest entry in the baseball game genre to date, and is recommended for both baseball fans and regular gamers alike.