Free-to-play. Microtransactions. These are two words that, thanks largely to mobile titles with In App Purchases, have become practically dirty amongst gaming fans.
Once a game is announced with those words listed as "features," most gamers tend to write them off immediately. Which is where I was when Nintendo first announced Rusty's Real Deal Baseball, a free-to-play experience for the Nintendo 3DS.
Aside from Steel Diver: Sub Wars, Rusty's Real Deal Baseball is Nintendo's first big crack at microtransactions.
It it a completely awful experience that so obviously hopes to rip consumers off by stringing them along with impossible to win gameplay scenarios? No. Does it require sharing the game with 10 friends a day in order to earn proceed coupons? Nope. It's neither of those things. It starts as a demo and then asks for a little money.
Batting for Discounts
Here's how it works. You download the game for free. Once it's fired up, you meet a former baseball playing dog who now owns an equipment shop. That dog, named Rusty, has 10 pups he's trying to support with his work. Too bad kids these days only want to play video games.
So, he starts selling baseball video games to Nontendo 4DS owners. He gives you one of his pups to look after, a Nontendo 4DS and inspiration to visit his shop again and again to progress his story line.
There are 10 games to be purchased, each of them with a listed price of $4.00. At that mark, this whole thing would cost $40 to play, from top to bottom.
However, playing games unlocks doughnuts and story items. Rusty loves doughnuts, and the story items will help him and his family as this title's plot progress.
Give Rusty doughnuts or, say, a nose hair trimmer when the time is right, and you'll be able to haggle the price of each game down.
That's right, you can haggle the microtransactions as part of the game's experience. And it completely fits in with the plot.
Games that were $4.00 go for $2.00, $1.90, $1.80, etc. They all fall at half-off or a little below, meaning getting all 10 mini-games will cost you somewhere in the mid teens.
So, yes, you're absolutely indulging in microtransactions. But you're doing it in a way that's so completely and entirely Nintendo, and it feels like a Nintendo idea through and through.
Now, you can't really "fail" at haggling. You can make bad decisions, use the wrong items or not respond to Rusty well in conversation, but the game offers plenty of guidance and opportunities to retry. Doughnuts are haggle fuel, and you have enough to make all sorts of mistakes.
Nintendo knows you're playing with real money, so they're generous with advice. The game tells you when you can't haggle any lower, and it tells you when you're still not at your best price.
Operating with that in mind, it's possible that Nintendo could do away with the silly haggling and storyline and just sell us a mini-game collection. They could, but they shouldn't.
This game works because it's charming. It takes the dirty away from microtransactions and makes them silly and light-hearted. I liked the storyline, and I didn't mind ponying up the scratch for the games.
Because, guess what, below this system of microtransactions, haggling and a dog's plight are 10 well made baseball mini-games.
I don't particularly like baseball, but I loved each and every one of these. Paying $2.00 or $1.50 for them felt completely reasonable, and each game offers up crazy challenges and high score modes.
I'm the guy who never, ever buys into microtransactions. Free-to-play makes me cringe, and when I feel like a game is trying to cheat me out of money, I walk away. Rusty's Real Deal Baseball is open and honest about what it's doing. It's very clearly an a la carte mini-game collection with a storyline.
I like it a lot. If you've got $10 or $15 bucks to spare, give this one a shot. It's fun.