Home Run Stars Review (XBLA)

Home Run Stars

Baseball is one of those weird American sports that nobody outside of America really seems to care about. In the UK we call it rounders and it’s generally played by little girls. Yet over there it’s a multi-zillion dollar industry and people actually, genuinely care about the results. It fills stadiums.

With there being fewer than seven actual fans of baseball who aren’t US residents, and the game being an Xbox LIVE Arcade Kinect exclusive, the amount of players here is predictably low. It’s hard enough finding multiplayer games on XBLA as it is, but here it’s all but impossible. Weeks after launching at 800 Microsoft Points, the game is hovering around five-hundred players on the leaderboards, a thoroughly dismal return on any kind of investment that was made on the game’s development.

Home Run Stars

The chief problem is that it isn’t worth anything close to those 800 Microsoft Points, and it’d even be a struggle to recommend it in a month’s time when it’s inevitably cut to half that in a weekly deal.

There’s just nothing to it at all. If the game wasn’t Kinect controlled, you would literally press the A button every thirty seconds or so, and then sit and wait. Instead we have the Kinect and so instead of pressing A, you just take a batting stance and then pretend to bat. It does a great job of recognising your input, the game works as it should, but there’s hardly anything else to do beyond that.

The single player mode is the “League,” in which you must battle nine pitchers over ten pitches in three stadiums, with a target score you must achieve to win. The pitcher pitches, you pretend to bat, and you’ll either hit a shot early or late and score low, or you’ll hit it good or perfect and score yourself a home run and an extra ball. The points and bonuses rack up seemingly at random, and despite the presence of aftertouch there’s little you can do to really affect things once you’ve hit the ball and it’s on its way. Once you run out of balls it’s game over, and that’s that.

Home Run Stars

There are other modes, but it comes back to that pathetic pool of players. There are two multiplayer options: Derby (which can be played locally) has each player taking turns hitting balls until one reaches a target score, and Duel has one player pitching while the other bats. Duel is Xbox LIVE only, which made it impossible to find a game no matter how long we waited, and so we can’t tell you how much difference the pitching makes to the experience. We’d wager “very little,” however, and our review of Diabolical Pitch should give you some idea as to what you might be in for. Regardless, even if the mode was so incredible that it elevated the game from a 1/5 to a 5/5, it’d be worthless with nobody online to play against, and that’s all you’ve got.

If your disposable income stretches to a Kinect AND a tablet, another local multiplayer option comes with Microsoft’s new SmartGlass thingamajig, but this mode is unplayable. One player bats as usual, while the other pitches by tapping targets on a screen (which is very unlikely to be a Surface). The pitching mini-game is so simple that a cat could hit perfect pitches every time; simply tap three circles on the screen as they appear. This results in a pitch which is incredibly difficult to hit for the Kinecter. Oh! The pitcher wins again!

Home Run Stars

It feels as though the game was released as a kind of tech demo, to show off Kinect, or SmartGlass, or even Avatar Famestar, a scheme so bizarre that not a single person has actually worked out what the hell it’s meant to exist for. It’s a mini-game spread far too thin, because as a game in its own right, it lacks one fairly fundamental thing: a game.