It shouldn’t take you long to figure out the most exciting thing about the latest addition to the Tap Sports Baseball franchise. That ‘MLB’ in the front of the title? That’s kind of a big deal.
With a full league license for the first time, MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2017 moves beyond letting you use real life major league stars and puts them on real teams as well. If you don’t understand why that’s a big deal, I’ll just assume you never collected baseball cards as a kid and felt the cruel sting of the occasional set with player licenses but no league approval, forcing your sports heroes to undergo the dreaded airbrush and appear in plain uniforms that look like they came from the clearance rack at your local sporting goods store. No bueno.
Beneath that new coat of virtual paint and past the handsome face of cover athlete Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs, the gameplay is much the same as it has always been for this series. Tap Sports Baseball reduces the national pastime to its most basic confrontation, the one between the pitcher and batter. Your job is to learn to recognize different types and speeds of pitches and tap the screen to swing at the proper time. It almost literally couldn’t be easier.
Success at hitting is based on a combination of your timing and your players’ stats, which are key to everything else that goes on in a game: baserunning, fielding and especially pitching. You make managerial decisions like deciding when to bunt, steal or take the extra base and decide when to bring in relief pitchers. But you don’t actually pitch or field, as your defensive half-innings are simulated when playing against the AI, and simply the other half of the equation for your opponents when matched against another human player.
Building the best possible team requires some skill but also a lot of luck, as the game’s gacha-esque player drafting system has received more wrinkles in the form of mystery boxes. You can still acquire bona fide franchise players with special coins, but they only join your team for a few games before bidding you adieu. New for 2017 is the ability to level up players, so even your sorrier ones can be less sorry, and evolve them into higher tiers once they reach max level. Unwanted players can even be traded in for experience points to level up your keepers, so every player is useful in some way.
The same semi-confusing system of game tickets remains, but at least there are plenty of different ways to play, including limited time events that run on a regular basis and tournaments that can be joined at any time. You’ll want to improve your team before tackling any of the alternate game modes, but there’s no lack of baseball to be played once you get the lay of the land.
MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2017 also looks better than its predecessors, as it’s obvious Glu Games took some time to beef up the graphics. Players move smoothly in the field (though they lumber a bit on the bases, even if they are real life speedsters), and everything just looks a little more realistic than last year including the ballparks.
There isn’t another baseball game out for mobile devices that walks the line between arcade action and sim quite like this one, and even though it leans toward the arcade side more than a little, it’s still versatile enough to be fun for a wide range of sports gamers. It can’t be overstated just how nice it is to be playing with the real MLB teams this time around, so if you were on the fence about previous Tap Sports Baseball titles, that should be enough to get you to jump in for 2017.