America's favorite pastime is arguably the only sport you could play while simultaneously taking a nap, but when the action ramps up and the bases are loaded, the excitement of each pitch, swing, dive, and steal keeps jersey-donned fans cheering at the top of their lungs. Unfortunately, there are no such moments of adrenaline-fueled exhilaration in MLB Stickball. Indeed, the game manages to tap into childhood nostalgia with the classic rules of the sport, and plunges even deeper into your inner kid with the addictive addition of collectible cards. But despite incorporating a neat feature or two, it's too watered down to keep you wanting to play for any period of time.
MLB Stickball consists of pitchers throwing balls to batters who are aiming for the fences, but that's where the gameplay ends. This makes it an easy game for anyone to dabble in, but the limitation to just two actions robs Stickball of depth. Between repetitious innings you'll spend plenty of time on the hill tapping the Xbox 360's four face buttons to toss various pitches down the plate, while batting is less involved with two swings: a standard slug with the A button, and a power hit with B. Various statistics dictate how accurate each fastball, curveball, lob, and bounce pitch is as it crosses through the strike zone, and swingers' hitting/power meters determine how far the ball will launch on impact. As opposed to upgrading these stats with career progression, you'll earn points and extra bases for your team by hitting location-specific landmarks like basketball hoops, water towers, or parked vehicles. These accumulated points act as the in-game currency, which you can spend on packs of Topps-licensed baseball cards.
Each pack contains three randomly selected player cards (of a possible 120) and unlocks the Major Leaguer as a playable character. As an added bonus, you're able to swap three of the same card for one of your choice if you find stacks of the same piling high. Buying bundles of players is the most addictive mechanic of MLB Stickball, and you'll probably find yourself hunting for every last card--a shame considering that the process of earning the coin to buy them is so mind-numbing.
Each inning--whether it's three, six, or nine per game--is an agitating exercise in trying to read the hard-to-gauge pitches. Whether a throw is too low, way up high, or dead center is indiscernible thanks to an imprecise point of view and few useful visual indicators. Swinging for what should assuredly be a home run often leads to balls falling short or clearing the batter entirely. This lack of clarity is frustrating, particularly during online multiplayer games, when it's easy to be deceived by opponents exploiting this perception problem.
Relying on four-player multiplayer to save you from the lifeless single-player or 1v1 online matches will only disappoint. While two players pitch and bat, others will be sitting on their thumbs waiting for their turn at the plate and mound. Not being able to play as a ball-catching fielder dooms the third and fourth additions to the teams to sit and watch the humdrum events unfold in front of them rather than participate. Unforgivable things like characters simply teleporting between bases is annoying, while fielders' clunky movements seem to be missing entire frames of animation, so there isn't even anything to see if you're stuck in the spectator's chair. Making things all the more mind-boggling is that MLB Stickball is so graphically unremarkable. The "kiddie" approach to the artistic aesthetic is appropriate, but it reeks of neglect, as every character's grossly disproportionate head looks as if a low-res image has been pasted onto the middle of it, so the plainly textured world is populated with disgusting-looking players. Oh, and you'll want to load up your own tunes so you've got a modicum of audio outside of the menu's bleeps and bloops, forgettable music, and the sound of ball meeting bat.
While stickball is undoubtedly a sport with videogame potential, you're better of heading outdoors than playing on your Xbox 360 on this occasion. With just two single-player game modes and bare-bones multiplayer options, the 800 Microsoft points price tag is criminal.