Hit for the fences with these games for your smartphone

This week's collection of apps are both iPhone- and Android-friendly, featuring great games that let you play America's favorite pastime.

iPhone
CNET

As we settle in to another exciting baseball season this spring, what could be a better time waster on your smartphone than a good baseball game? I usually write about iOS apps in my weekly collection, but this week all the games I selected have both iOS and Android versions, so everyone can get in on the fun.

This week's collection of apps for both iOS and Android are all about baseball. The first two will appeal to all baseball fans, but are more the quick pick-up-and-play arcade game variety. The second two games are more involved, with a complete baseball experience where you can play full nine-inning games and progress through a season.

Interestingly, two of the four games come from the same developer (Com2Us), but they seem to have the corner on the market for baseball games, with both high-quality graphics and addictive gameplay.

Homerun Battle 2 (99 cents) for iPhone or Android lets you participate in a home-run derby to beat your best score or challenge other players online and it is easily the best home-run derby game in the iTunes App Store.

Homerun Battle 2
The eye-catching 3D graphics in this game are second only to the fantastic gameplay. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

The control system in Homerun Battle 2 is excellent: tilt your iPhone or iPad to adjust where you will swing in the strike zone. When the pitch crosses the plate, touch the screen anywhere to swing. It takes some practice to be able to line up your bat with different types of pitches, but you get the hang of it fairly quickly. The challenge is in hitting several home runs in a row, which you'll need to practice if you plan on trying your luck against other skilled players online. The system for online matching with other players is superb, letting you start playing almost immediately.

To add to the challenge the field is divided up into zones -- left field, center field, and right field -- and once you've hit a ball out of the park in all three, you go into a sort of called-shot mode. The game randomly selects a zone, and your job is to successfully hit a home run in that zone on the next pitch for bonus points. The longer you can keep a streak going, the more points you'll get, but if you miss one, you'll have to start over from the beginning. Homerun Battle has several extra bonuses to shake up the home-run gameplay mechanic, such as hitting the foul poles, hitting the Jumbotron, and other challenges that all add to your score.

If you'd like to hit a few out of the park, this home-run hitter is an excellent choice with good-looking 3D graphics, customizable uniforms, great controls, and seamless online gameplay.

Flick Home Run (99 cents) for iPhone or Android is an arcade home-run-hitting game that only requires a flick of your finger to send the ball over the fence, but it definitely takes practice. A recent update includes several new game modes to add to the fun.

Flick Homerun
When you get a really good hit, your ball will fly past all sorts of colorful scenery. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Unlike 3D home-run games like Homerun Battle 2, in Flick Home Run you have a 2D view of the playing field, with pitches coming from the right and you timing your flick to send the ball as far as you can. The game instructs you to touch a Pitch button in the lower left corner, and when the ball comes into play, your job is flick the ball at just the right angle to send it on its way.

The basic game mechanic is easy to learn, but difficult to master, as there are other arcade elements in Flick Home Run. Beyond trying to get the perfect angle for a hit, you'll also have different colored cartoonish heads (baseballs) that all behave differently. One acts as a fastball and another tests your timing with a changeup. As you progress, there are other baseballs that do even more outlandish dips and curves. The key is identifying the ball type and adjusting your swing accordingly. The game gives you some help here with a button that lets you know what kind of ball is coming, but you can only use it three times per game. All of this amounts to plenty of variation in gameplay and a lot of different pitches to master.

Flick Home Run has several unlockable levels that you can open by completing challenges and hitting efficiently. A meter slowly goes down with each missed hit, while big hits will bring the meter back up. If the meter goes all the way down your game is over. This mechanic adds to the fun because you'll find yourself trying to get big hits just to stay in the game.

A recent update to Flick Home Run brings several new game modes to breathe new life into this already great game. A new bunt mode challenges you to land a ball on a target perfectly for the most points. Faster and Faster mode slowly increases speed to see how far you can get. The new game modes add more challenge and replayability to this easy-to-pick-up-and-play game.

If you're looking for good time-waster that has a fairly difficult learning curve initially, Flick Home Run offers plenty of challenge. In addition, online multiplayer matching and extensive single-player challenges give this game tons of replay value.

Baseball Superstars 2012 (Free) for iPhone or Android lets you play a cartoony, but surprisingly deep version of America's favorite pastime on your iPhone. You can choose from 10 teams initially with varying skills (some have better batting, whereas others might offer faster runners, for example) and play a standard baseball game. The graphics are more cartoonlike than realistic, and you won't be able to choose your favorite team (Baseball Superstars is not licensed by MLB), but you'll quickly forget your team is The Dolphins once you start playing in an exhibition game, home-run hitting derby, or even a 45-game season.

Baseball Superstars 2012
Though the players are impossibly cute, this baseball game is surprisingly deep. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Baseball Superstars 2012 offers plenty of depth and replay value by allowing you to customize a batter or a pitcher with items you can buy in-game. You also have special pitches and a super-hitting button with special players you can unlock as you play. Though you don't have full control like you would in a console baseball game, Baseball Superstars 2012 manages to use the iPhone touch screen very well. Fielding the ball is done automatically, but you have full control over the type of pitches you throw and ball placement.

Even though Baseball Superstars 2012 is not a realistic-looking baseball game, and doesn't come with our favorite players and teams from the pros, this title will still appeal to baseball fans offering some RPG elements and plenty of extras to keep the game interesting.

9 Innings Pro Baseball ($2.99) for iPhone or Android is also made by the same developer as Homerun Battle 2 above, but instead of a cartoonish arcade feel, this game offers a stylistic graphical approach with more true-to-life gameplay. Fully licensed by MLB, you can choose your favorite team and play with the actual players you would expect to see. The game lets you play single games in exhibition mode; pick from eight teams to play a 126-game season in League mode; or you can swing for the fences in Home Run mode.

9 Innings Pro Baseball
Though it may look simple, this game offers an enormous amount of stats and details that add to the experience. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

What's immediately striking (yes I did) about 9 Innings Pro Baseball, is the way the players and backgrounds have a hand-drawn quality. But even though the art has a somewhat sketched feel, this game is probably the most realistic baseball game in the iTunes App Store.

The control system is very intuitive and you can play in either portrait or landscape mode. When hitting, it can be a little confusing because there are buttons on screen for a standard hit, and two different directional bunt buttons. With a right-handed batter, all three buttons are on the right side of the screen, but (confusingly) with a left-handed batter, the buttons are on the left. This seems to be a choice that's more about saving space, however, because you can touch anywhere on screen for a standard hit. You'll really only need to switch sides for the two bunt buttons, but when bunting it doesn't matter as much because you don't have to rely on timing to contact the ball.

Pitching requires you to choose from a specific pitcher's arsenal of pitch types, then you can touch the area of the strike zone where you want the pitch to go. Finally to introduce some chance, you'll need to time the pitch perfectly when a graphical indicator reaches its smallest point (it's hard to describe, but will become obvious the first time you pitch).

Where the game is really detailed is in player stats and attributes. When batting, for example, before a pitch is thrown, you can touch your gamer card to see tons of stats and the type of player he is. You also can explore all the pitchers' attributes and playing styles. There's even descriptive behaviors like "Right-handed killer," meaning that this particular pitcher is great against right-handed batters.

9 Innings Pro Baseball is probably the best complete baseball game in the iTunes App Store. With tons of stats to follow, player cards to collect, and even team managers you can upgrade, this game takes our favorite national pastime to a granular level. Anyone looking for a full baseball experience should grab this game.

 

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