MLB Home Run Derby review: Struck out by in-app purchases

Ahead of the All Star game in New York in July, MLB has released a new game into the App Store; MLB Home Run Derby. I love Baseball, despite being British, so as soon as I saw this in the App Store I had to take a look. It's a free download, and bases itself solely around one of the fun-to-watch extras of the All Star weekend, the Home Run Derby. So, a perfect casual game for the Baseball fan? Let's find out.

I'll start with the best part. The graphics are really good. My first thought was that it looks very similar to the gameday view in the main MLB At Bat application. There's only one stadium to play in, Citi Field the host for the All Star game, and it looks fantastic.

With this being the Home Run Derby, you only have to worry about one thing -- hitting it out of the park. There are two different control methods, a drag and release to aim and swing, or aim with your left hand and tap to swing with your right.

Home Run Derby has two different game modes, arcade and The Derby. Arcade mode is playable as many times as you like, and is done against a one minute time limit. You have a series of targets around the ground to aim for to increase your score, and the further you hit the ball the more points you get. Simple. Points means prizes, in the form of coins that are useable in the game to buy certain things with.

The Derby follows the run of the real thing, so 10 outs and you're done. There's no time limit, you just keep going until you're all out of chances. To win, you have to progress through two rounds to get to the final.

That's the good stuff. It's a fun little game to play, and if you hit a bigger home run that 457ft, then you've topped my best so far. The bad stuff is the in-app purchases. Sadly, the overriding feeling is that the game is designed around the purchases, and not the other way around.

The first example; you get three 'tickets' to play the Home Run Derby. Once these are gone, it's a matter of hours before the next ticket arrives. You can make this quicker, and get more tickets, by paying. The in-game currency can be won, but you have to do well in the Home Run Derby several times before you have enough to really buy anything. The green notes aren't won in the arcade mode.

Another example; You start out with one batter. More batters means more tickets to The Derby, and that means paying for them. Again, you either have to play and do well a lot over some time, or stump up the cash. You can improve your batters performance by way of a purchase, but you have to also purchase an additional slot to add this performance boost too. So, a double purchase.

Whether it's your real money or your in-game currency, there is far too much emphasis on having to buy things to progress and ultimately get more out of the game. I'm happy enough slugging away in arcade mode personally, but it's sad that a fun little game feels so held back by the freemium model.

More worrying too is that the App Store listing says "download free for a limited time only." If you think you might want this, I strongly recommend grabbing it right now while it's free. As a paid download I think I'd have a hard time recommending this. If the in-app purchases are overhauled, then it could be a different story.

The Good

  • Excellent graphics
  • Simple, easy to pick up controls
  • Authentic players, stadium and rules

The Bad

  • Too much emphasis on in-app purchases tarnishes the experience
  • Glitches from time to time where menus stay visible over gameplay
  • Apparent limited time offer on free download considering the level of in-app purchases

The Bottom Line

MLB Home Run Derby is a freemium game done wrong. Instead of building a game where in-app purchases boost progress, too often it feels like not paying up hurts. Three goes at the main Derby mode just isn't enough when it takes so long for another ticket to appear to play again. Thankfully, the Arcade mode isn't so constrained and is plenty of fun on its own to play. I like it though, really I do. I just don't like the way the in-app purchases have been implemented.

Richard Devine

Editor at iMore, part time racing driver, full time British guy. Follow him on Twitter and Google+