Homerun Derby (just "Derby" from now on) is a fun little game that does manage to teach you a little bit about baseball, and the multiplayer mode really puts it over the top. Except for the occasional graphics glitches, it may be one of the best mobile games available, even though it looks very childish.
As the name suggest, in Derby you are participating in a homerun derby event similar to those in the Major League Baseball All-Star Game related events.
In single-player, the rules are relatively simple: the pitcher can pitch anything he wants, as long as it's a strike... (and there are 9 different choices: fastball, change-up, knuckle ball, slider...) and you can swing high, middle, or low. The objective is to hit homeruns, or at least don't hit foul or get struck out. You have 10 pitches to accumulate as many "points" as you can. The points are determined by the distance you hit the ball (foul does not count). Only strikes and fouls will decrease the pitch available count (in other words, if you hit the ball and it stays in, you get another chance). You get bonus if you hit consecutive homeruns, or hit a "cycle" (hit homeruns into three different sections beyond the fence), and so on. When you ran out of pitches, you are given a score and the maximum distance you achieved.
You can practice as well, where you can choose the pitcher style, (overhand, side-throw, and underhand), right-handed or left-handed, and the speed of their fastball pitch (60 to 95 MPH). You can also choose which type of pitch(es) you wish to practice against, and you can select any or all or some of the nine pitches available. No score is kept, just the number of pitches thrown, vs. how many homeruns you hit and the last hit's distance.
The graphics are more on the "cute" side than realistic side. The player's onscreen avatar is composed of simple 3D shapes, wearing knee-high shorts, and humongous gloves. I think you CAN choose left or right-handed when you start. Pitches are nicely animated (and the three styles of pitchers accurate, left- or right-handed), and the swing is good. You also sometimes get bonus graphical flourishes. If you get a solid hit, the game will black out the background, "flash" the ball a bit, THEN send it out into the bleachers. Every once in a while, it'll stop the ball as the bat strikes it, do a Matrix-style 180 degree side-strafe, THEN let the ball fly out to the bleachers. The stadium is generic with ESPN billboards, and there are both day and night events as well. So graphics are decent. However, in some of those rapid camera pans where it tracks the ball into the bleachers, there are some "polygon tearing" issues, where some of the graphics just look wrong. It's only occasional, and doesn't really distract from the game much.
All that pales in comparison when it comes to the multiplayer mode. Keep in mind, you will need a phone that can get on to the Internet, with the proper "data plan", which can incur additional charges. Once you signed in (creating an account is easy, no password needed), you go into the "lobby" where you can choose to join a game in progress, or start a new game and wait for people to join. You can even take some practice swings while you wait!
The multiplayer game is actually a bit different. You don't really take turns. Instead, you swing on your own phone, then the results are updated on each other's screen. As you hit more homeruns, you fill up your "homerun meter". The first to fill it completely wins the event. As you get ahead of the other person, or falls behind, you get bonuses and/or penalties, such as temporary bat bonus, temporary ball penalty (makes it harder to hit), and send it to your opponent, and vice versa. It adds a more competitive element to an otherwise solo sport.
You earn some kudo points at the end of each game depending on your score. Those points can be spent at the equipment shop to upgrade your "equipment" worn by your avatar, like helmet, bat, shoe, shirt, shorts, and so on. Those are more than just adornments... they actually enhance your avatar's hitting power and/or accuracy, according to their descriptions. And those can get EXPENSIVE. There are also multiple levels of competition, depending on the cost of their gear, I guess.
I have played a few multiplayer games, and I usually lost, but it is interesting, and it does work without a lot of other stuff. The only problem I encounter is that it is very easy to get disconnected. If an call comes in, the game is lost and I have to reconnect and re-login, even if a match is already in progress. Again, this is in multiplayer. Single-player games are suspended normally and easily resumed.
All in all, ESPN Homerun Derby is one of the better mobile games around, with a great mutliplayer in addition to an very good practice mode and single-player game. If you like baseball, you should give this game a try.
Overall rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: simple controls, great multiplayer that works
Cons: single and multiplayer doesn't really compare much, not too much depth in the game
Verdict: fun little distraction great for short breaks and such, esp if you're a baseball fan
About This Place
First started in late 2007, Kasey's Mobile Game Review (then just a regular feature of Kasey's Korner) started as a simul-post between here and IGN. Later I realized there's no reason to post it twice, when I can use the traffic on my own site. so, here we are, in 2010, and the mobile game industry has grown a bit. What do you think?