Backyard Baseball 10 Review
The Backyard series has been around for quite some time now, and they’re usually decent options for parents with younger children. They receive the budget price tag, are relatively easy to pick up and play, and still offer the professional names of athletes as a nice little bonus. Essentially, Atari produces these games so kids can say, “hey, awesome, I’m hitting with David Ortiz, my favorite player!” They’ve already tackled the major sports out there but we wouldn’t be surprised to learn that baseball was the most popular, which is why we have a casual interest in seeing each year’s Backyard Baseball installment. We weren’t too thrilled with the ’09 iteration that came out last year, so we were hoping that many of those obscenely obvious glitches had been erased from this new production. Unfortunately, despite a few decent upgrades and a slightly more polished presentation, this is really just more of the same. This may be okay for kids, but we have to wonder...is it really that difficult to make a semi-authentic sports game for the younger generation? They don’t have to be simulators, but I mean, come on.
The graphics have never been a strong point in the Backyard franchise, which we accept. However, it appears as if the developers rarely have any desire to increase the level of detail and clarity; hence, we end up with very similar visual presentations, year in and year out. Backyard Baseball 10 is no exception, as we still have the blurry fields, ho-hum player design, and bland “backyard” settings that don’t exactly resound with quaint realism. To their credit, Humongous took things a step further this year by including more in the way of panache, but it’s only a light sprinkling so it doesn’t really have the desired impact. This effort didn’t go unnoticed, though, so that’s something. On the whole, the graphics probably aren’t designed to be the primary focus, and most kids who just play around on their PS2s from time to time won’t notice or care. For our part, we kinda do care – it’s our job to care! – and we have to say, it’s a flawed, unappealing palette with too much in the way of dark colors and hues. At the very least, it should be a bit more colorful for kids, and an extra amount of detail in the depiction of their baseball heroes wouldn’t be asking too much.
The sound is only a trifle better than last year’s simply because the commentators aren’t quite as terrible. They still have the painfully bad jokes and they rarely keep up with the action on the field, but at least they’re semi-believable as young announcers. The rest is basically the same (the common theme throughout, as you’ll see in just a moment); the soundtrack is basically non-existent and what you do hear is generic and boring, and the sound effects could have a home in any original PlayStation baseball game. Didn’t I hear these in 3D Baseball…? I think I did. Anyway, there isn’t much else to talk about, simply because the sound doesn’t excel in any one particular category. If you’re familiar with last year’s entry in the series, you’ll know exactly what to expect, but we keep thinking they’re going to surprise us with a few startling effects here and there. There are plenty of special pitches and hits, but the sound that accompanies them is never all that satisfying. And while we know it’s “Backyard Baseball,” there are several big stadiums included, so why are there no ambient effects? Nobody’s watching these games?
The gameplay is, for all intents and purposes, identical to Backyard Baseball 09. There’s the same ridiculous lack of balance, the same gameplay glitches, the same modes, the same players (for the most part), and the same absurd bias towards offense. You have the option of playing a quick pick-up game, going through a tournament, or embarking on a full season, and you can also try the Home Run Derby and even the All-Star Game (the latter of which we don’t believe was included last year). And we always liked the ability to change the length of games (3, 6, or 9 innings), and set the difficulty level, although it’s a good thing the default is “Easy” because that aforementioned lack of balance can cause serious problems. 10-run innings aren’t exactly rare, and they can come from either side, so you had best resign yourself to the fact that pitching duels really aren’t a possibility unless you put it on Hard. We don’t know any kid who will be willing to do that, but unfortunately, the developers simply don’t present the sport of baseball with any real accuracy.
When hitting, you can select from Contact, Power, Bunt, and if your team has acquired enough momentum, a special skill. The previous options are self-explanatory but the special hit could be the Popcorn Ball, Orbiter, Radical, Spring Fever, Screamer, or Static Zing; the Popcorn Ball splits into four balls as soon as you hit it, the Orbiter is an automatic home run (it goes to cruise at 186,000 miles), the Radical freaks out and bounces all over the place for a while, the Spring Fever basically knocks you over, (as does the Screamer), and the Static Zing temporarily electrocutes anyone who fields the ball. Obviously, none of these work unless you make contact with the ball, but you get the point. On the pitching side, you have special options like Meteor (super fast ball), Elevator (yeah, you know), Split Ball (you can guess), etc. The rest is fairly standard stuff: you swing with the X button, run to the next bag by selecting the current bag you’re on, and when fielding, move the fielder to the spot indicator and throw to the appropriate base; X for home, Circle for first, Triangle for second, and Square for third, just like a baseball diamond. But as easy as this is, there are many issues.
First of all, it seems as if the base-runners are superheroes when the ball is hit in the infield, but good luck trying to get a triple. It seems there isn’t a field big enough to allow a player to reach third on any hit, and even a double can be very tricky. At the same time, bunts are apparently automatic singles, which is exceedingly strange. Oh wait, let me make a little addition to that: they’re automatic singles for the computer. Everyone always seems to run a lot faster on the opposing team for some reason, and as an added annoyance, the base-running system makes little sense. With the bases assigned to the controller the way they are, wouldn’t you assume you’d hit the Triangle button to head to second base? Who would think to hit the Circle button; the base you’re already on? There’s also a delay when taking off from a base, and another delay when you go to throw the ball on defense, so this causes multiple issues in the gameplay. Oh, and let’s not forget those entertaining glitches that can pop to the surface at any given time. Want a few examples?
Shallow fly to the outfield. My fielder settles under it. Suddenly, the screen shakes, the camera view changes, and the ball is miraculously rolling to the fence. That was fun. Then there’s the recurring glitch of hitting the ball foul; it’s still on the field, but a defenseman can’t retrieve it so the game just gets stuck. For that matter, why does the ball always have to be returned to the pitcher before we can get to the next play? That eats up way too much time and interrupts the flow of the game something terrible. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention this new camera view for home runs: instead of being able to actually see where the ball goes, we can only see the batter make some ridiculous celebration gesture and start to run around the bases. It’s bad enough that we have to deal with that in Major League Baseball; do we really have to teach kids that this is acceptable? And what fun is it, anyway? Half the fun of hitting a homer is to watch the path it carves through the sky as it plunges its way towards the outfield bleachers. So we’re not big fans of this little change and in all honesty, of the few changes we could find, we had difficulty classifying any of them as “upgrades.” At best, they’re insignificant and don’t add much to the experience.
And before we finish, we have to add that the game apparently selects at random what happens during a pitch. Timing does matter, of course, but we wonder to what extent does it matter… See, you can swing at what appears to be the exact same pitch at the exact same time and the result can be anything from a whiff to a home run, so needless to say, this is a definite drawback. In the end, Backyard Baseball 10 is almost exactly like Backyard Baseball 09, except it’s a year later so we won’t be as forgiving. Next year, they may actually consider tossing in a few major overhauls and enhancements that would make the game worthy of its $20 price tag. It can’t be too hard to meet that modest challenge.
6/11/2009 Ben Dutka