Who doesn’t love baseball? Well, me, kinda. I mean, I like going to baseball games in person because I find the first and ninth innings to be genuinely exciting. The first pitch of the night is a decent indicator of how the rest of the game will go and the last inning, where both teams are a run or two away from victory (or defeat) is a total thrill. Unless, of course, one of the teams is about to win via a shutout (as was my experience going to Angels games as a kid). The time between these two events is usually spent eating stadium food that’s both delicious and terrible for your health and shooting the shit with the people I’m sitting with. It seems weird, that I’m totally down to play a baseball video game–it’s probably because I get to do stuff and have a stake in my team’s chance for victory instead of drinking beer and clogging my arteries. These types of games have made great strides in replicating the mechanics of the sport along with the experience of being in a stadium filled with hundreds of lively people cheering and jeering. If MLB Home Run Derby has taught me that baseball, that lovable American pastime, is ready for its full-fledged VR debut.
MLB Home Run Derby is exactly what it sounds like. As a nameless, teamless athlete, you’re challenged to hit as many zingers out of the ballpark for points and, possibly, a shot at the leaderboard’s top spot. Using a single PlayStation Move wand as a baseball bat, you can play across digitally recreated stadiums in Washington D.C. (Nationals), Cleveland (Indians), and Florida (Marlins). There really isn’t a whole lot to do beyond that, which is a bummer, but even with a lack of playable content I found MLB Home Run Derby to be a really fun and cool experience. This is because the VR technology does a really great job of making it feel like you’re really standing on home plate inside a packed stadium. The earbuds pipe in directional crowd noise as people shout out and vendors call out for hot dogs and other stadium treats. And when you get a home run, it’s hard to not feel like a superstar as the crowd totally goes wild while fireworks go off in the distance. Even though the game doesn’t look as sharp as non-VR baseball video games (people sitting in the closest rows tend to look like plastic action figures), the stadiums themselves look believable enough which gives the whole experience a nice degree of authenticity.
The game operates on a strict timer, giving you a minute and thirty seconds to hit as many baseballs as possible. Because MLB Home Run Derby is structured around a point-based economy, every ball you hit has its distance tracked in meters which is then translated into a point score. Naturally, getting the baseball over the fences yields more points and if you’re particularly adept, you can hit the ball in such a way to hit giant, floating targets situated around various zones in the stadium that award point modifiers. This was the only aspect of the game I really had trouble with. Even though the pitcher’s throws are incredibly consistent–no screwballs, fastballs, spitballs, or curveballs here–it’s not abundantly clear how you should be swinging the bat so as to maximize power and distance. I naturally assumed that I had to swing my virtual baseball bat as hard as I could to give the ball enough force to fly past the fences but then I was met with a “Too Fast” warning. I was unsure with what that meant. Was I swinging too early? It couldn’t be that because there are “Too Early” pop-ups as well. I eventually figured out that it was literally swinging the Move wand too fast, which kind of doesn’t make sense. Only then did I realize I didn’t have to perform grandiose swings to hit the ball. I then had flashbacks to the tennis game in Wii Sports. Remember when the console first came out and everyone played super deliberately while on their feet and making big, elaborate swings? And that it didn’t take how long before people realized you can just play the game sitting on the couch and lightly flicking your wrists? MLB Home Run Derby is kind of like that. Even the most casual, relaxed swing is enough to get the ball flying. A tutorial or on-screen tool-tip with advice and suggestions on the best way to hit and aim the ball could go a long way in clearing up any confusion.
Another thing I didn’t like was the seemingly arbitrary time limit. A minute and thirty seconds is not enough time given how much time is actually wasted in between pitches. Whether or not you hit the ball out of the park, you have to wait for the game’s interface (which tells you how many points you earned as well as the maximum distance the ball traveled) or wait for the fireworks to stop before the pitcher starts his wind-up. In one game, where I miraculously hit one home run after the other, I only got to hit seven balls before time was up. The time limit sees really unnecessary and has a tendency to end the game just when it was getting fun.
There are lots of ways to improve MLB Home Run Derby: take away the timer, give the player some batting tips, mix up the pitches, and add more stadiums. At best, this game feels like a demo for a larger project–and I don’t mean that in a bad way. This game was a lot of fun to play even in its limited capacity. I beseech EA or Sony Interactive Entertainment to make a fully fleshed out VR baseball game because as far as batting is concerned, it works perfectly in VR. I can see pitching done just as easily with the Move wand, too. How cool would it be to have to manually turn your head to check if other players are trying to steal a base? Think of how much control over the direction of the ball you could have! Consider just how awesome it’ll be to hear the sounds of the ballpark as patrons scream, cheer, and jeer while the stadium organ pipes out victory tunes as the game commentators call the game in between spewing facts and figures about the players? Good golly, that would be so cool.
REVIEW CODE: A FREE Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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