Review: D2C Games Chalkboard Sports Baseball
We'll confess: we don't understand Chalkboard Sports Baseball ($5). It's not that we haven't played handheld or console baseball games before, or that we don't like baseball as a sport, or that we don't think that it would work on an iPod. It's just that D2C Games, having apparently been handed the exclusive rights to do a baseball game for the Click Wheel iPod family, came up with something so bizarre and generally unfulfilling as this title. Whereas a nine-on-nine baseball game might have worked, and there's certainly precedent for cartoony baseball games as well, Chalkboard Sports Baseball has come up with an awkward mix of half-realistic, half-cartoony characters and five-man fielding that just doesn't feel great as an iPod game.
D2C offers the choice of six faux teams, two difficulty levels, and either single game or best-of-three Playoff modes, each played with limited rules that focus almost entirely on Click Wheel based pitching and batting, rather than fielding. You start out with several standard pitches, and can unlock three additional ones through Playoff play. Neither the batting or the pitching action is in any way compelling, however, as you have only simple button- or quick Click Wheel swipe-based control over pitches and hits, and there’s really very little to be done from pitch to pitch. Any hit in the infield is an out; perhaps half of the hits to the outfield are computer AI-controlled outs, and the others are base hits or home runs. This restricted form of baseball is just boring, and even after going through the tutorial and learning all of the commands, you can’t help but feel that the controls could have been more interesting. Some form of multiplayer mode might also have helped, too.
Where the game goes weird is in the players, who rather than looking like people consist of six shoes that spin around a circle with a baseball cap, a central icon, and a bat or gloves. We initially thought the game’s graphics engine was experiencing a glitch, but no, that’s actually D2C’s character design, and they’re called “SPOGS.” The central icon looks like either a face or a logo, art that’s in both cases pretty ugly, but also somewhat replaceable. D2C now offers a web-based tool called FaceMaker that lets you create up to nine SPOG faces to add to the game when you’re in playoff mode, and though the face creation process isn’t too difficult, it’s also not completely intuitive, either. After using the web tool, adding the picture to a folder in the iTunes > iPod Games > Chalkboard Sports Baseball chain, and making sure it was properly named, we succeeded in adding the face of Britney Spears to a SPOG as a test, but it didn’t help the game much. That said, kids may get excited about this game solely because of this feature, and despite its other issues.
There are only two other things about this game that we found interesting. The audio’s not spectacular, but there are digitized crowd cheers that occasionally break up the otherwise repetitive crowd noises and bland sound effects. Additionally, the stadium fielding screens—while completely boring due to their static wide lens perspectives and almost indiscernible characters—do change a little from park to park, and look just realistic enough that you wished the characters would match them. There was clearly a talented artist and sound developer or two somewhere on this development team, even though the rest of the game doesn’t show it.
All in all, Chalkboard Sports Baseball is a disappointingly ugly, shallow rendition of America’s favorite pastime. While it’s entirely possible that the Click Wheel controls of most iPods limit the ability of any baseball title to truly replicate fielding, we’ve played enough games in this genre on other devices to know that more could have been done visually, sonically, and in the batting and pitching portions to make this game cool. Apart from the idea of character customization, which saved this from C- territory and could be great with better player artwork, this title feels to us like a missed opportunity; hopefully this sport will be done more justice on the iPhone and iPod touch.