There are millions and millions of stupid Internet video games out there. None, however, are as great nor as frustrating as Winnie the Pooh’s Home Run Derby.
About a week and a half ago, I was scrolling through a Reddit thread about the best Internet video games to play, dismissing every one as too nerdy-sounding, too time-consuming, or just too flat-out boring. Just as I reached the bottom of the page and began to move my cursor up to the little x that would close out the tab, Winnie’s HR Derby caught my eye. I went on to pursue this interest, and let me tell you, I got a lot more than I bargained for.
It’s an odd game, one with an obnoxious Disney version of elevator music playing in the background, a purple infield, misplaced infield cutouts, a warning track on the wrong side of the fence, pine trees for foul poles, a tree stump for a pitching mound, and rocks for bases that you don’t even use.
Calling the game a home-run derby is misleading, if not a flat-out lie. There are seven stages, each with a designated number of home runs needed to pass the level and move on to the next stage. Of course, each stage has a limited number of pitches, but each stage also has a different pitcher that throws a different pitch. (Sidenote: There’s actually a “special” 8th stage against Christopher Robin where he throws every pitch, but I’m not counting that one because I can’t dedicate the rest of my summer to beating this stupid game and it’s not necessary for the game to tell you that you’ve cleared all the stages.)
Unlike a real home-run derby, you will swing and miss in this game. A lot. There are two factors that influence whether or not you hit the ball, and if so, how far the ball goes. The first is the timing of your swing. Swing too early and you will either whiff or pull the ball foul down the left field line. Too late and you’re down the right field line, or again, missing the ball entirely. The second component is where on the bat you hit the ball. You are equipped with a bat that has a green light on the the sweet spot of the barrel, the place on the bat where you want to hit the ball for it to go the furthest. Hit it on the handle or off the end of the bat and you might put it in play, but it’s not clearing the fence.
Still, it can’t be that hard, right? There are “boosts” that help you hit the ball farther and more often that can be purchased with points that are earned from playing the game a lot. The game saves your progress, too, so you can close it out and won’t have to replay levels you’ve already beaten.
#WellActually, it is that hard. The pitchers throw gyroballs and invisible pitches and knucklers nastier than anything R.A. Dickey could ever think of. It will take days, if not weeks, to conquer this game. Despite its placement on Disney.com, this is not a game for kids.
I consider myself fairly skilled at baseball and sport-related video games. I played baseball for 14 years. I watch and read about sports every day. I dabble in video games such as MLB the Show. I’d never seen anything like this game, though. I was constantly tinkering with my approach at the plate, moving forwards and backwards in the batter’s box, switching which fingers would control the swing and which would control the placement of the bat. I sucked. I blamed it on the wi-fi lag. On the fact that I was playing on a laptop. I called the Stage 2 pitcher, Lumpy, the elephant version of Danny Almonte because I had never heard of he/she/it from any of the books or movies.
I accused Piglet of taking performance-enhancing drugs. Really though, what piglet, even in the fictional world of A.A. Milne, could conceivably toss the ball above his head, jump up, catch it, and deliver a 96 MPH fastball on the inside corner before returning to the ground? Facing Piglet in Winnie the Pooh’s Home Run Derby had to be what it felt like to step in the batter’s box against Sandy Koufax.
I struggled against knuckleballs and spinners that defied the laws of the universe. I earned and deployed all of the boosts to Pooh’s hitting skills by playing the game so much. I became increasingly frustrated and annoyed with the game. It crashed my computer. It prompted comments from family members such as “You’re weird,” and “Why are you yelling?” It dampened my mood.
I’d gone too far to turn back now, though. I was too competitive. I couldn’t live comfortably in a world where I couldn’t beat a Disney Winnie the Pooh Home Run Derby Video Game.
Eventually, I came through with some clutch home runs (3 straight with 3 pitches left), and reached the final stage. The seventh and final stage features Tigger, who throws a pitch that literally disappears halfway to the plate. You have to hit 28 home runs in 40 pitches to clear the level. I struggled to hit half of that. I felt legitimately stuck. The frustration was gone, though. I was calm.
For about four straight days, I would use some of my free time to go to Disney.com and take another crack at the fictional orange & black tiger that stands on his hind legs and delivers a fastball that’s a little bit Greg Maddux and a little bit Harry Houdini. After what must have been double-digit hours of taking hacks against Tigger, I hit 27 off him. So close. I was disappointed, but I knew I could beat him. The next day, 27 again. And finally, the following day, 28.
Victory. Joy. Relief. Elation.
If this sounds like you’re sick, frustrating version of fun, you can find the game here. Don’t say you weren’t warned, though.