March 12, 2010

Com2Us' 9 Innings Got Me Through Baseball's Offseason

Oakland Is Up 12-3 Over San Francisco In This 9 Innings Battle

Behind only technology, sports, specifically baseball, is my true obsession. I've dedicated a good amount of my idle time and brain power over the last 20 years absorbing statistics and remembering the sport's lore, and for several years, before we had our twins, my wife and I had season tickets to the Oakland A's. In the months when baseball isn't played, it can get very frustrating to not have the regularity of the sport, the speculation on players and trades, and the daily contests. This offseason, I cheated a bit, thanks to Com2Us' game 9 Innings, on the iPhone. Though the game doesn't deliver highest-quality graphics or have the official blessing of Major League Baseball and the Players Association, it features practically every wrinkle of the game and is challenging enough to play again and again.

Home Run! 9 Innings Gives 121 Points for This 2-Run Shot.

Like its sister game, Home Run Battle 3D, 9 Innings puts the bat in your hands and expects you to deliver results. But it's not just about hitting balls out of the yard in this game. Whether you choose an exhibition contest or start off a full 126-game season, you are expected to pitch, bat, steal bases, take a walk, and all those things that make the game of baseball a real pleasure.

You Win! Congratulations, Says The Manager.

Any sports games nut knows there are fine lines in the degree of difficulty for a game. You can make it too easy, practically guaranteeing a win every time out and rapidly becoming boring. Or, conversely, you can wrap a game in difficulty and odd combinations that eliminate the fun, as you rack up your losses. Whether on "Easy" mode or "Hard" mode, I have managed to be just good enough to feel competitive, and still growl in frustration as I popped up with the bases loaded, or saw my closer give up a 9th inning bomb to lose the game. And for every game I won by a margin of 5 or more, I have seen the 3-2 losses as well, that slipped away thanks to a misplaced pitch or mistimed swing.

A Peek At the 9 Innings Schedule With Results

Gameplay on the iPhone is relatively simple and intuitive. Instead of using a gamepad, like the Wii or Playstation, for example, 9 innings leverages a baseball diamond diagram for the up, down, left or right. You can move up or down to select pitches, and toggle left to right to determine pitch location. Hit OK to confirm and again to release the pitch. The better your timing, the better the location and chance for success. Similarly, when batting, you want to swing at pitches that get good wood on the ball and can pass by fielders.

Team Statistics Are Available for the Full Season

Just like in the real game, there are good hitters and bad, fast and slow, those prone to strike out or ground into double plays. Some pitchers have more stamina than others, and a sometimes annoying manager will urge you to put in a relief pitcher or tell you it's okay to give up one or two runs if you've gotten the bases loaded and nobody out. There are errors and stolen bases, wild pitches and hit batsmen. And practically every activity is being recorded for statistics, by player, team and league-wide. Meanwhile, the game is also tracking your team's record and standings, and there is a short postseason.

The Current Standings for Season 2 of 9 Innings

In addition to the gameplay, you gain points for specific activity. The more difficult the activity, such as a three run homer, instead of a double play or three consecutive strikes, the more points you get. You can exchange these points to improve your coaches' ability, and theoretically, your winning percentage. This can lead to intentional hit batsmen to strand the bases full and garner points, or pulling a double steal with runners on the corners to rack up a theft of home.

One 9 Innings Game's Achievements

Unlike a real baseball game, a 9 innings contest doesn't take 3 hours. It can take about 20 minutes for a full game, and as you can expect, it can take several weeks or a few months to wrap up a full 126 games, with dedicated playing. What it may lack in perfect management of defense, or cutting-edge graphics, it makes up for in sheer entertainment and bringing the most realistic flavor of the national pastime to the iPhone which I've seen. While I haven't turned my back on the real world of baseball in these cold winter months, it hasn't been that dramatic, thanks to having a methadone equivalent for my fix.

9 Innings costs $4.99 from Apple's iTunes Store. You can find it here, and it's worth the five bucks.