You can imagine how hard I must have rolled my eyes when I heard Nintendo was dipping its toes into the F2P market with a baseball themed mini-game collection of all things. Not only has Nintendo’s recent output been less than stellar in my eyes but I have never played a free to play game that I’ve actually felt good about putting money into. However I started to hear some interesting things about the Big N’s experiment with modular pricing; that it was similar in style to the Warioware series (which I adore) and that you could haggle down the real money prices of the game’s micro-transactions. Sufficiently allured, I decided to check it out and after a weekend of slowly draining my wallet and socking a few dingers, I can happily report that Nintendo has knocked it right out of the god damn park with their weird ballpark flavoured experiment, Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball.
So the basic concept here is that you’re buying games from an in-game sports shop for real money, however you can bring down the prices if you’re savvy. The shop is run by a down-on-his-luck former ball player by the name of Rusty, who also happens to be a dog with a bad comb over. From the second you walk into his store he’ll start regaling you with over the top sob stories about how his business is failing and how his wife has left him and how he’s left caring for their ten scraggly looking pups. His story is oddly compelling and while it’s nicely goofy, there are hints of darker comedy that really work well, it feels like what would happen if you let Louis C.K. write a kid’s cartoon. Rusty’s problems though, while depressing, are also your ticket to lower prices! Whenever you go to buy one of Rusty’s games, you can choose to haggle down the price, which happens in one of two ways. The first way is through coupons which you’ll earn by playing the games Rusty sells. The other (and more common) way though is to help Rusty with his myriad problems. You do this by listening to his woes, offering advice, and giving him relevant items to help him out which you’ll earn from the playing the games just like with the coupons. The haggling stuff plays a lot like an adventure game but it has this delightfully vicious element of manipulation to it as you try to flatter, fire up, and just generally toy with Rusty enough to get him to give you the best price possible. Watching his reactions to your haggling and seeing him follow you down a path of platitudes then realize he’s getting swindled is really enjoyable and verbally sparring with him quickly becomes one of the funnest parts of the game. Best of all, in doing that haggling and working him down to the lowest possible price, you’re also advancing the story which progresses and ends in interesting and satisfying ways thanks to the game’s heartwarmingly mean sense of humor.
Let’s put the story and the haggling aside for a bit though and talk about the actual games you’re buying. There’s a total of ten games available for sale and each one takes a simple facet of baseball, trains you up on it, and then challenges you by tweaking it some in interesting ways. These games really run the gamut of baseball fundamentals as well; there are batting games set both inside and out of the batting cage, there’s catching games that cover standard in-field stuff as well dealing with pop flies and grounders, and there’s even a game that teaches you how to play umpire. The games overall are quite fun, especially the batting ones, and each game uses its rather simple mechanics in some very neat ways. Every game (except one) has 50 challenges (25 basic ones and 25 advanced ones) to play through as well as two high score derby modes which include Streetpass leaderboards. Those challenges range from simply catching or hitting a certain number of balls to crazier stuff like destroying UFOs by hitting the ball slightly early or late so as to aim your hits. That said they are sometimes a little too creative for their own good and most of the games that try to use the 3DS gyroscope or touch screen, just don’t feel great and aren’t all that fun. Thankfully though they’re very up front about what’s in each game and what the basic gameplay will be before you purchase them so it’s pretty easy to avoid the crappier ones, though obviously you’ll eventually have to buy some of those less fun games to finish out the story which is definitely a bummer.
Let’s get back to the haggling for a second and talk brass tacks about the real money aspect of this game. So first things first, to call this Free to Play might be a bit of a stretch because all you get free are a couple of very limited demos that are meted out by the story; that said the first demo is enough to get you a few haggling items so you’ll never have to pay full price for a game. Each game is regularly priced at $4.00 which may be asking a little much but is somewhat reasonable when you consider the fair amount of content in each game, however if you’re paying the sticker price you’re a damn sucker. You can for sure knock at least $2.00 off the cost of every game; you can’t haggle the price down to free unfortunately but the max discount on any game (which is generally between 55-65%) will bring things down to about a buck and change. Those are prices that feel more than fair and the haggling process does a great job of emulating the feel of scoring a good deal. If we were to compare this game to a more traditional boxed product, I’d say it would belong in the $30 range so the final price tags of $40 (without haggling) and $15-$20 (with haggling) seem bang on and you have the added benefit of picking and choosing what games you want.
It occurs to me that some of you may be asking why Nintendo would make a game focused entirely upon baseball rather spining this off as 3DS Sports or something like that; well the reason is nostalgia. You see one of Nintendo’s best-selling products back before they got into video games was a batting machine toy called the Nintendo Ultra Machine, designed by Gunpei Yokoi who also designed the original Gameboy. This game acts as a love letter to that toy and to the early era of Nintendo’s culture. The presentation here is laden with references, every NPC within the games is a person in a business suit with an Ultra Machine for a head and the console you’re playing on, called the Nontendo 4DS, uses catridges that are clearly old Famicon games in disguise. Even the subtler elements such as the backgrounds the games take place in and the music, all have a slight 1970s-80s Japanese feel to them. The backgrounds all remind me of the peaceful parts of old Godzilla movies and the music is nicely jazzy and upbeat in the way that only old video games used to be. It’s nostalgic but (with the exception of the Ultra Machine and Famicon carts) not overtly so, which gives it a charming and homey essence that I found really endearing. It’s not making distinct references so much as it is simply evoking a feeling, specifically the feeling of early era Nintendo and the way their products used to make us feel. I will say that the game does lean quite heavily on the “Mii” visual style but it uses that style well and it works with the game’s overall vibe. It’s also worth noting that they absolutely killed it when it comes to the sound effects. The crack of the bat when you make a perfect hit is one of the most pleasurable noises ever to come out of my 3DS and there’s a lot of character to be found in the smaller sounds such as the rattle of the batting cage and the soft pat of leather on leather when you catch a ball. It’s just a really pleasant experience and one I enjoyed spending my weekend zoning out in.
As far as I’m concerned this game is a must download for anyone with a 3DS, even if you don’t buy more than a couple of games, it’s simply worth it just for the game’s overall charm and character. This only goes to show that Nintendo still has it and can put out an interesting new IP when it wants to and I really hope we get see more of Rusty and his litter soon. Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball is a huge win in my book and as such I’m giving it a 4 out of 5 stars. The only reason it’s not getting a perfect score is because the motion stuff really doesn’t feel all that good and while you can choose not to buy those games (about three of the ten games feature major motion stuff), a couple of them are attached to the story which means you’ll have to buy them to see the narrative to its end.