Derek Jeter Real Baseball—problems doom this to the bush leagues

Posted: October 14, 2009 in Sports

Gameloft is one of those developers who have made a name for themselves over the years for being creative, and they’ve become one of the most notable on the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. But, when it comes to sports titles, the name Gameloft is equivalent to disappointingly bittersweet. Case in point is Derek Jeter Real Baseball (DJRB), a game that offers some decent play for the national pastime, but falters in so many other ways. Seriously, I really wanted to like this game because of the better than expected graphics and fun gameplay, but the lack of polish spells doom. And, ultimately, the enjoyment value with DJRB dissolves into sighs of frustration.

Even though Derek Jeter has his name on this game, no major league teams or players are included presumably due to licensing issues. But Gameloft does get creative by using name variations of real teams such as the San Francisco Punks, Arizona Reptiles, Atlanta Peaches, and my favorite, Queens Miracles. Can anyone say NY Mets?

From hitting to batting, DJRB does offer decent gameplay with good controls, but it’s everything else that makes this a mediocre title which is too bad. Visually speaking, DJRB has good graphics from the hitting and pitching motions to the running and fielding. They aren’t mind blowing, but frankly, I was surprised since pre-release videos were deceptively unimpressive. Cut scenes are even included that show cheering teammates and fans as well as player substitutions (pinch hitters and pitching changes) which is well done and much more than expected.

Audiowise, DJRB is a mixed bag. The sound effects are intelligently integrated with umpire ball and strike calls and rally music at appropriate times. What isn’t good and makes me wonder if DJRB was run through QA is the commentary. It is terrible with misplaced phrases and worse, consistently calling out the wrong scores. Fortunately, the commentary can be turned off which many will do so rather quickly.

DJRB offers several game modes: Season, Playoffs, Home Run Contest. Conceptually, each mode is well designed, with Home Run Contest not faring well. In a full game set-up, you can choose from 4 levels of difficulty—Rookie, Veteran, All-Star, Legend—with the ability to select the number of innings from 1 to the full 9 innings. The game also has two stadiums—Gameloft and Aurora—which isn’t a major league big deal. Now, DJRB also includes a Trophy Room which I took to assume was for milestones and achievements. Unfortunately, the only “trophy” to be had is for “Hitter of the Year” for best batting average in season mode.

In Season and Playoffs, DJRB includes a team management section that allows you to change the lineup and pitcher, and play or simulate games. In Season, you can play up to a 56-game schedule with the game tracking schedules and statistics including batting and pitching leaders. The reality is that the tracking is more cosmetic than functional. Case in point, batting statistics appear for a player as he steps into the batter’s box. The problem is that regardless of the number of games played whether it’s game 1 or 56, season stats remain the same deeming it pointless, although a separate statistics section stores everything.

The controls in DJRB are a bit dicey, and they could use additional tweaks to improve the experience. When batting, two control options are available—touch or slide. Using touch, you simply tap to swing and touch the screen and hold to bunt. For slide, a slide gauge appears where you slide a lever down to get ready, slide up to swing, and bunt by sliding across the screen. Of the two, touch is the easier of the two although there are bouts of unresponsiveness. One shortcoming for both control schemes is there is no way to target your swing, and you cannot re-position the player in the batter’s box.

The art of pitching in DJRB is one of the more enjoyable experiences I’ve had in a baseball game. A 4-way pad is provided showing 4 pitches. Once a pitch is selected, you have 3 seconds to tilt the device to move the ball into the desired location before it is locked in. Once this is done, two gauges appear—one for strength and another for accuracy. A moving arrow moves up and down, and a tap is required to stop it. For the strength gauge, the objective is to stop it at the right strength, although I noticed that maximizing this usually worked fine. Accuracy requires stopping the arrow right in the blue area which takes a bit of practice. As the pitcher loses stamina, the arrow moves even faster. I do question whether using the accelerometer and the lack of other options for locating a pitch within a limited time is ideal because of accuracy issues and personal preferences.

A mini diamond is included in the game which is core to making accurate throws on defense and base running on offense. On defense, a throw can be made by tapping on the appropriate base. On offense, tapping on a base will send a runner to that spot with stealing done the same way. This is an intuitive set-up that works fairly well, and doesn’t have much of a learning curve. A replay function is also included and simply requires tapping the record button to record and save with a separate button for uploading onto YouTube.

Having said all this, the gameplay for the most part is not bad, although there are things that will almost certainly irritate baseball purists. The gameplay can be fun at least initially, but DJRB needs serious adjustments before it becomes a formidable baseball title. Since the players in DJRB autofield, there’s really no need to worry about errors, which unfortunately takes away the unexpected. Outside of being able to hit batters, there is no running into the catcher, dropped fly balls or even errant throws. Every fielder can throw a beeline on one hop to an infielder regardless of how deep they are, and on too many occasions, the right fielder can field what is supposed to be a single and gun down the runner at first almost on a regular basis. Hitting doubles and triples are doable, but again, every fielder seems to have unrealistic rifle arms. One noticeable issue with hitting is that you can often swing while the ball is only a third of the way to the plate, and manage a hit. This is especially the case when playing the Home Run Contest where hitting homeruns is exceedingly easy. On the pitching front, opposing starting pitchers can throw 100 mph fastballs well into the 9th inning, which just isn’t right. While the game has 4 levels of difficulty, the AI and overall gameplay did not significantly ratchet up.

While some will undoubtedly throw DJRB in the same category as Gamevil’s Baseball Superstars, Baseball Superstars is really more of an RPG that happens to have a baseball theme. Gameloft’s DJRB is more of an attempt at creating an actual baseball sim that unfortunately feels rushed and unfinished. The game has potential, but it falls apart because of poor execution. Some, including myself, will find the game enjoyable for a short while, but the lack of polish is too apparent. If Derek Jeter had any say in the game’s development, he should probably stick to playing baseball.

Albie Meter: 2.5 Stars (game has potential, but still far from meeting it; gameplay are graphics are decent, but everything else needs tweaking or an overhaul; poor commentary, mediocre AI, and questionable statistics management; mechanics are good, but even they need updating)


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