It's erroneous to call Rusty's Real Deal Baseball a "free to play" game. It's free to download, sure. But outside of a couple of demos that let you experience a sliver of the game's overall content, you need to pay up for each of the mini-games on tap.
Once you dig into your pocket once, however, you're bound to do it again. And again. Though Rusty's Real Deal Baseball isn't video gaming's deepest baseball experience, its bite-sized activities are fun to pick up and play.
What's more, it successfully fosters good will with the player by packaging each of its games as a complete experience. You never have to worry about being offered "Three more swings for $0.99!" or running into similar sales pitches that mobile games have become infamous for. Rusty's Real Deal Baseball uses its storyline to sell you its stock - and it's a curiously effective tactic.
Rusty is a big-eyed pooch that once batted for the major leagues (does he know Air Bud?). Now retired, he runs a sporting goods store that's not turning much of a profit. Desperate to bring in young customers, make money, and win back his estranged wife, Rusty expands his inventory to offer "Nontendo 4D" baseball-related games, which is what you wind up playing.
Each of Rusty's Nontendo games focus around a baseball activity like throwing, hitting, and catching. There are also a couple of surprises, like umping and bat-making. There are different challenges nestled in the games that help mix things up, too. For instance, the "Cage Match" game contains levels based around hitting fastballs, reading pitches to get a walk, and whacking balls that disappear at the last second.
The hitting games are the most satisfying to play - the crack of the bat connecting with the ball is beautiful - but the throwing and catching games work well too, though moving your glove with the circle pad takes some getting used to. If you're having trouble with accuracy, the 3DS's 3D capabilities can be a big help (good luck, 2DS owners).
Each of Rusty's games have a starting price of four dollars. Haggling is a big part of Rusty's Real Deal Baseball, and you're encouraged to go to town regardless of the sob stories Rusty unloads on you about his pathetic profit margins.
Haggling requires donuts, which you earn while playing your games. When Rusty is inebriated on sugar, you can put him in a nostalgic mood to get him to talk about his glory days. If you say the right thing, he'll drop a game's price. If you have a story-related item, which are also earned by playing your games, you may even be able to talk him down to half-price or less.
When a price hits rock-bottom, one of Rusty's puppies will let you know you've gone as far as possible, so you never need to worry about blowing the whole deal (yeah, Rusty just kind of "lends" you one of his kids at the start of the experience).
It'd be ideal if Rusty's Real Deal Baseball let you sample each of its games before asking you to buy. As it is, there's no way of knowing whether a game will gel with you until you pay up. Taken as a whole, though, the games are easy to recommend, and Rusty's Real Deal Baseball demonstrates how free games and in-app purchases ought to be done. Pay for what you want, and ignore the rest - though chances are you'll keep on buying and playing to learn why Rusty's wife ditched him. Video games are odd.