Backyard Football 2010 Review
They just keep making these Backyard sports games for kids, and although I won’t say I never have any fun playing them, I’m wondering when they might decide to give us something in the way of upgrades. I mean, these are all basically the same game, spun out again and again, devoid of much in the way of enhancement over the previous year’s iteration. Backyard Baseball 2010 is just like Backyard Football 2010: it’s kinda fun and the young’uns might like it for a while, but the technicals are archaic, the gameplay is seriously flawed, and the extra little boosts like power-ups don’t seem to add much spice or flavor. Finding a way to abuse the unbalanced gameplay mechanics never takes long; it’s why my first game in Backyard Football 2010 was 42-35 and the next game was 70-7. It can be fun to take part in the All-Star game or even run through an entire season with your favorite team and favorite players, but it all gets very old, very fast.
At no point have I seen any advancement in the graphics in this series over the past few years. They obviously use the same visual engine over and over and while I’m sure kids won’t care much, would it be that difficult to sharpen things up a bit? The blurry, bland backgrounds and the generic, boring character models are jarring to the eye, and some of the animations are justly plain comical. At the very least, though, there’s a good amount of consistency throughout. It’s mediocre consistency, of course, but it’s still consistency. The designers provide us with a half-dozen football locales right off the bat and a bunch of imaginary teams in addition to the NFL franchises, but it just isn’t enough. Each field is found lacking and you never really get a chance to see your surroundings, anyway. There really isn’t much else to say, but I should probably add that the Xbox 360 version – which does exist, I swear – probably looks a heck of a lot better. If you have the option and your son wants this game, nab that one.
The sound doesn’t help. They’re even using the same freakin’ soundtrack from the other Backyard titles! I’ve been hearing that gameplay music for years and not only is it intensely boring, it gets downright annoying because it’s so repetitive and never changes…ever. The sound effects often override it so there’s a definite balancing issue, and the effects aren’t anything to get excited about; just a few generic “smacks” when tackling and a few unique sounds attached to the power-ups. Beyond that, the game is surprisingly quiet, as you hear little in the way of feet on turf or hands on pigskin. The combination of the monotonous music and uninspired effects certainly reminds me that I’m playing a Backyard title, but that’s hardly a positive thing. Then you’ve got the announcers, who are so unbelievably lame and inaccurate, I can’t imagine even six-year-olds laughing at their insipid comments. They add nothing to the experience and only succeed in causing the player to cringe.
The gameplay is simple and straightforward, as it has always been in this franchise. Basically, you just snap the ball with the X button, run faster with the R1 button, dive with the Square button, change players with the Circle button, and execute special power-up maneuvers with the L1 button. As you play, you will gain access to these unfair yet still entertaining bonuses; these include Glue Ball (the QB can’t throw it), Stiff Arm, Laser Beam (super quick pass), Homing Tackle, and others. They all work just fine and they do make every matchup a bit more interesting, but due to the severely unbalanced and flawed gameplay, it almost doesn’t matter. The problem lies in the fact that although each character has a very specific set of statistics, they all seem to perform relatively similarly on the field. I’ve seen characters with Speed rankings of only three or four stars match Adrian Petersen’s running step for step, and that’s just wrong. What’s the point of having all these NFL powerhouses on your team if some random nobody will do just as well out there?
On top of that is the ridiculous on-field antics of the players that’s downright silly. Big tackles can apparently be executed from about a yard away, and there’s no avoiding it; you just flop onto the turf and that’s that. Of course, you can do the same thing to the opposing team so it’s not like I’m complaining, but it’s just so absurd. A dive is basically nothing more than falling forward (it’s as if you fall down rather than dive forward), going to manually catch the ball rather than letting the PC take control is rarely a good idea, and the running back’s moves are mostly useless. Most of the time, avoiding a tackle seems more attributed to luck than to anything else. There’s no good way of pushing through the offensive line when on defense and your only chance at getting to the QB is blitzing off the corner. This actually works pretty well on certain plays, but due to the erratic behavior of the gameplay, it’s hardly a benefit. There doesn’t appear to be anything but zone options on defense and most games turn into aerial showcases.
As a result, scoring is fairly easy. Most long pass plays will invariably work, especially if you have a decent QB and because you can sprint for quite a while after catching the ball, 80-yard touchdowns are almost the norm. On the flip side, it’s tough to run the ball unless there’s nobody in the immediate vicinity; as I just said, anything at your disposal – besides power moves like the Bull Rush, which is pretty cool – really doesn’t seem to work very well. All they have to do is touch you and you’re eating grass. The animations are stiff to the point of being entirely immoveable at the line of scrimmage and the rest of the animations can be too fast and jerky. Then you’ve got the fields, which are so dull and lifeless – without a crowd, it’s missing something – you get no real sense excitement or tension during a game. I’m aware the name of this franchise is “Backyard” so it’s supposed to appear and feel as if you’re playing in your own backyard (fantastical as the setting may be), but even so, you’ve got to do better than this. Nobody will really care if they play at the castle or the high school.
The bottom line is that Backyard Football 2010 is just another iteration in a long-running series that hasn’t bothered to change. Maybe that’s a good thing for kids but I have to believe that even younger gamers can start to notice seriously lagging technical graphics and sound, along with physics and gameplay that is nigh-on ridiculous. Sure, it’s easy to pick up and play but in this case, that’s not much of a plus. I’d like to assume that this is the last crucially sub-par title in the series but I’m not too confident. I get the feeling I’ll be playing next year’s installments with the same sense of boredom and disappointment.
2/2/2010 Ben Dutka