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Free to Play: A Little Rusty


Back when Super Smash Bros 4 was in development and characters were still being announced, there were several characters I wanted to be playable that didn’t make the cut. Isaac from Golden Sun, Zael from The Last Story, Waluigi, literally anyone from F-Zero besides Captain Falcon. I especially wanted to see characters from some of Nintendo’s eShop original titles to be playable, like Dillon from Dillon’s Rolling Western and Tempo from Harmoknight. But there was one character I wanted more than any other.

I refer, of course, to Rusty from Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball.

For those who don’t remember, Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball was one of Nintendo’s early attempts at the free-to-play model. Unlike some of its other free-to-play experiments, this game sold you packs of mini games upfront, not unlike Pinball FX/Zen Pinball series. The big twist with this game is that you could actually haggle with the merchant NPC and get a lower price on each game.

Said NPC is Rusty Slugger, a retired baseball player who set up shop and started selling baseball merchandise. Specifically, he sells baseball-themed video games, because kids these days just don’t appreciate real sports like they used to. He didn’t make the games himself, though. He just went to Totally-Not-Nintendo’s headquarters, bought a whole bunch of their games and put them on sale in his shop at a markup. He even gives you a free Totally-Not-3DS and a demo for you to try out. Oh, and he has you watch one of his kids while you’re at it.

Now, you could pay the $4 Rusty demands for each game if you really wanted to. Please avoid doing this. His kid flat out tells you that price is a rip-off. Instead, you’re encouraged to haggle with Rusty via certain dialogue options and items. Saying the right things and using the right items at the right time will butter him up and make him more likely to drop the price for the games you want to buy. There is a limit to how low you can haggle for them, but if you play your cards right, you’d end up paying $16 for the whole collection of ten games instead of $40.

Of course, when you think about the idea of a game selling you micro-transactions and letting you reduce the price by haggling for it, it’s easy to see how this system can be misused. James of Extra Credits once claimed that it was a way developers could “make gamers feel good about buying DLC”, which…sounds incredibly skeezy when you put it that way. We’ve already seen unscrupulous publishers twist the idea of micro-transactions to their breaking point. Who’s to say they wouldn’t try this wild scheme?

The game is legit. The price ain't.

That said, there are a few points I have about this game in regards to haggling for micro-transactions. First of all, the act of haggling is a whole other game unto itself. It doesn’t take you very long to get you the items in the mini games. Once you have them, the haggling portions of the game turn into something not unlike Ace Attorney. It isn’t nearly as clever, but I’ve had plenty of ‘a-ha!’ moments after figuring out the right thing to say and when to present the right item. And, not for nothing, but it feels really good to see that price go down from my choices.

In addition, most of the special items tie in to Rusty’s story of self-improvement. See, Rusty’s wife left him some time before he opened up his new business venture. Now he has to juggle supporting his ten kids (yes, really) and making a profit. His kids need him to be a better parent, not a salesman. That’s where you come in! Whether its trimming his nose hair, trying to improve his cooking skills, or wearing a new wig, your actions can help him be the better father his kids need.

But regardless of whether Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball is fair with micro transactions or not, I know the idea of artificially-inflated purchases that give you the option to bring the price down is a sleazy idea. While I too shudder at the thought of Warner Bros. or EA pulling this kind of stunt, I can’t help but wonder…how is this any different from the deep discounts games get on Steam and GOG? Or the PSN Flash sales? Or that big sale of backwards compatible titles on the Xbox One last year?

I’ve noticed that a lot of “AAA” games in the past few years haven’t had their prices reduced since launch. Tales of Berseria and Nier: Automata are still on Steam for $50 and $60 respectively. Publishers and developers have realized that a lot more people will just wait to buy a game if the price is 50% or 75% off. Might as well just keep the base price the same it was at launch and make more money from the discounts. Hell, some publishers have actually been unscrupulous enough to jack up the price of their game during a sale, list it as the “regular” price and have their actual regular price be the discount. But I digress.

Yes, this actually happened.
Yes, this actually happened.

In regards to the mini games themselves, they’re pretty fun overall. Each cartridge you buy contains five different variations of a specific game. Some games are about hitting home runs, some are about catching the ball, some are about maintaining sports equipment, etc. One of them is even about creating your own baseball bat that affects your performance in the rest of the minigames! Having said that, some of the games do require the use of the 3DS’ gyroscopic motion controls. That might also have something to do with why it wasn’t terribly popular.

Each game pack has five specific challenge games with five levels of difficulty a piece, as well as two hi-score games. Completing the challenges gives you stamps in your stamp book, which can give you donuts, coupons or story specific items for haggling with Rusty. This is also how you unlock the hi-score challenges in each pack. Getting a gold medal on the hi-score challenges will give you new outfits for you to wear in the minigames. Both the regular mini-games and the hi-score modes also just challenging enough that, when combined with their short length, absolutely nail that “just one more go” feeling that keeps you playing.

Oh, and did I mention this game has no always-online requirement? That’s right! The only time it requires an internet connection is when you’re actually making a purchase within the game. Beyond that, you can play the game whenever you want, wherever you want. No messages checking what DLC you have, no getting booted out of the game because your connection was interrupted. In a world where free-to-play games demand that you be always online just to get to the freaking menus, it is refreshing as hell to just play a damn video game with no strings attached.

And for the record, I still want Rusty to be a playable character in Smash Bros. His moveset can be based on the various baseball mini games he sells to you! He can use a baseball bat to reflect projectiles, call in one of those weird dudes with pitching machines for heads. Maybe he could bring his whole family into the action as his Final Smash. Yes, this sounds absolutely ludicrous. You have to remember though, this is the same series that made the Wii Fit Trainer and the freakin’ Duck Hunt dog playable characters. Nothing is too outlandish for this series.

Alternatively, have one of these guys as an assist trophy.

With Nintendo getting into the loot box and gacha style micro-transactions in their mobile outings, I doubt we’re gonna see anything like Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball again any time soon. Even if there weren’t any loot boxes, it’s way too tempting for most publishers and developers to make games with no upper limit on spending. Nintendo put loot boxes in Animal Crossing, for crap's sake. But I still find the idea of haggling over the prices of in-game transactions somewhat appealing, even if it’s just so I have a small bit of power over the game.

…you know what, maybe it’s better this way. As much as I want to see a sequel or a spiritual successor, the whole model is just ripe for being taken advantage of. Publishers have pulled so much crap over the years (Nintendo included), I can't trust them to do a free-to-play game right ever again. It’s like Batman said in that one movie; “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself selling loot boxes in premium priced games”. That’s how the quote goes, right?

Regardless, I had some fun times with Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball. I highly recommend you at least check the game out before Nintendo decides to close the 3DS eShop.

Rest well, Doggy Devito. Your game will always have a place in my heart.

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About Zalnoone of us since 2:32 PM on 05.15.2011