MLB Home Run Derby VR Review – Quest 3

Even the most diehard of baseball fans will likely never visit all 30 MLB stadiums scattered about the country, and they’ll certainly never get to stand on home plate for a chance to knock it out of the park, but for the cost of a hotdog and a beer you can grab yourself a copy of MLB Home Run Derby VR for the Quest 3 and your field of dreams will soon be your new reality.

It’s been a minute since I’ve played any baseball game, let alone anything in VR, so this was unexplored territory for me.    I really enjoyed the frontend presentation that had me in my own room set inside some museum or Hall of Fame situation.  There is a curved podium with all the necessary items to interact; a toolbox for settings, a helmet for gear, a tablet for stats, a miniature baseball diamond that reflects the high score and trajectories for all the balls used to generate that score for each of the 30 stadiums, a speaker to adjust music, a career book and a trophy to view awards.  The rest of the room is decorated with equipment based on your chosen favorite team along with multiple screens for stats and leaderboards.  It’s a great menu system that requires no movement other than your hand and some trigger action.

There are three ways to play MLB Home Run Derby VR; the first being individual stadium challenges where you pick your venue and take as many swings as you can in 90 seconds.  This was the mode I played with the most since the online mode was understandably limited to mostly bots.  I’m hoping for more human competition once the game launches and lobbies start to fill up.  Meanwhile, the bots offer a surprisingly competitive challenge with about a 50-50 win/loss record against the CPU.  The stadium play is a great way to acclimate yourself to the stadiums, target locations, and swing timing, but unless you increase the difficulty to Pro level all of the pitches are meatballs; something that proved shocking after my first few ranked online matches where the pitcher was throwing serious heat including sinkers and curveballs.  This was the first time I whiffed a few strikes, so it might be best to start playing the pro mode as soon as possible just so you get trained on all pitch types.

Regardless of the mode you are playing, the entire game is basically you standing at the plate trying to smash as many pitches out of the park as possible in 90 seconds.  The concept of time has never been as precious as when you are watching the seconds tick by on a high fly to centerfield.  The hangtime on some of these hits can be upward of 6-8 seconds.  Nine hits is my current record with an average of 6-7 hits on most attempts.  You are scored on the distance as well as any target multipliers you can hit in the stands.  When time runs out you get a final gold ball bonus hit before your summary screen with earnings and any progression unlocks based on XP earned.

Between games you can go shopping for new gear that is slowly unlocked as you level up, but all gear must still be purchased using the credits earned through gameplay.  There are dozens of pages of gear ranging from bat skins, grips, logos, etc. for all the MLB teams as well as plenty of fun stuff too.  There is a star rank for some items, which I believe notes rarity, since all of this gear is purely cosmetic and does not affect your performance in any unnatural way.

MLB Home Run Derby VR highly encourages you to use the wrist strap, but even that didn’t feel totally secure, so I opted for the $40 knuckle strap, which greatly improved my confidence and my scores.  I was planning on getting those straps anyway, but this was the game that made me pull the trigger, and I don’t regret is for a second – most useful accessory next to the Elite head strap.  The entire game can be played for hours without ever taking a single step, so it’s pretty hard to have any accidents while swinging a virtual bat.

If you question the realism of MLB Home Run Derby VR let it be known this is the first video game that has forced me to ice my shoulder after playing.  I quickly realized you don’t have to swing AS HARD as a real bat; in fact, faster swings have a harder timing being registered by the Quest’s tracking cameras.  If you ever played Wii Bowling, you already know the relationship between speed, power, and motion tracking.  This game is more concerned with timing and angle of attack, which actually encourages you to take a proper stance and choke up on the bat.  At times I would catch myself bending my back which led to me scooping up the ball for plenty of time-wasting pop-fly’s that wouldn’t even reach the wall.   I had one pop-up that hung in the air for nearly 10 seconds only to land 63ft away by the pitcher’s mound.  Once you figure out the timing and the strike angle you can start sniping those targets like a professional hitman.

I’m not the biggest baseball fan, but I do love smashing the ball out of the park to the cheers of thousands of virtual fans and exploding fireworks.  The last time I played a homerun derby game was MLB SlugFest more than 20 years ago.  As much fun as I had smashing up Times Square in that game, this was so much better.  The stadiums are convincingly recreated, but I had to wonder why they just didn’t put a 4k 360-degree camera in the batter’s box to capture all these stadiums in photo-real detail, then just digitally insert the targets, crowds, and other game stuff.  The game is totally playable as is, but for someone like me who might want to tour all these stadiums and immerse themselves in a space they might never visit, some better overall visual fidelity would have been appreciated.

I’ve been playing MLB Home Run Derby VR for several weeks now, and I have been witness to numerous upgrades and tweaks that have improved performance tremendously.  Everything from the post-game stats screen to the gear shopping and selection has been streamlined.  Joining ranked and unranked games has been mostly uneventful since I am playing bots during this final week leading up to release.  I’ll be sure to update if there are any post-launch online issues.

As it stands, MLB Home Run Derby VR is some serious casual fun and perhaps an exciting sneak peek at what a full VR baseball game could offer.  There is a solid online component as well as the potential for local party play if you’re willing to pass the headset every few minutes, and given the short nature of playtime by design, this is the perfect game for impromptu gaming sessions where time is limited.  Baseball might be America’s national pastime, but MLB Home Run Derby VR has quickly become my new favorite VR pastime.

Author: Mark Smith
I've been an avid gamer since I stumbled upon ZORK running in my local Radio Shack in 1980. Ten years later I was working for Sierra Online. Since then I've owned nearly every game system and most of the games to go with them. Not sure if 40+ years of gaming qualifies me to write reviews, but I do it anyway.

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