Backyard Football Review

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Publisher: Infogrames
Developer: Humongous Entertainment (Infogrames)

Platform: GameCube
Reviewed on GameCube

Backyard Football is a game designed for those younger players who are overwhelmed by the fast pace and detail of other football games. The players are children, including some NFL players who've revisited their childhood, and the playcalling and controls have been simplified for younger gamers. This game will have those older players who do pick it up thinking back to their sandlot days, and missing the fall afternoons when they'd get together with their pals and knock the stuffing out of each other until Mom called them home for dinner. Whereupon she'd admonish them for being bruised, bloodied, and eager for more.

Solomon Dirigible

As sports games have evolved over the years, they have invariably grown more complex and artificially intelligent. Think back fifteen years, for example, to Konami's Double Dribble, a game which contained the huge innovation of being able to control any of the five players on your team, but had no plays called, and nothing to do except run, pass, or shoot. As far as controls go, it pales in comparison to the total control and complexity of recent basketball games, such as EA's NBA Live series, or Sega's NBA2K franchise. Similarly, playing this year's installment of Madden NFL gives those of us who revel in control and complexity a rush, but it could well leave younger gamers, who lack the attention spans or the desire to control everything they can, lost and frustrated. Infogrames presents a game designed for younger players in Backyard Football for the GameCube and manages, at the same time, to present a fresh twist on an old sport that makes it fun for older gamers as well.

If you're over the age of 16 or so, you might have to call Backyard Football a guilty pleasure, to be counted alongside watching old episodes of Thundercats or Space Ace on the Cartoon Network. The concept is simple: a throwback to the days of your youth when you'd come home from a hard day learning multiplication tables and rules about grammar, and you'd get together with the other kids from the neighborhood, pick teams, and play some five-on-five football. Admit it, your parents always told you to play two-hand touch, but you were out to beat each other senseless, weren't you? This game takes those backyard, bruise-inducing afternoons to a more formal setting, or group of settings, to be precise, throws in some cute commentary, and also adds in NFL licenses, just for fun.

The first feature you'll want to check out if you are new to the sport is the tutorial in the practice mode. This is strictly for first-timers, and will walk you through the basic rules of football, while letting you know about the slight changes made in this game. For example, the tutorial will explain that you have four downs to make it ten yards in real football, but four downs to make it twenty yards in Backyard Football. This is a nice feature for the age group targeted, as it does a good job of explaining both the real rules of football and the way this game is played. After learning how to play the game, you might want to meet the neighborhood kids who'll make up the teams you play with and against.

Getting an NFL license allowed Infogrames to include logos and likenesses of real NFL teams in the game, and the NFL Player's Association license has allowed them to turn back the clock for some current NFL stars and include their child versions in the game. You can select from Bret Favre, Donovan McNabb, Jerry Rice, Jevon Kearse, and Terrell Davis, among others, and play with them as kids. They've all got personalities that you can get a sense of on the "Meet the Players" screen, as they'll provide sound bytes describing their talent. In addition to the NFL kids, there are a number of playground kids with their own talents and personalities, representing a selection of races and cute stereotypes, such as the classic brainiac, complete with thick glasses and a pocket protector, and, ensuring the game's political correctness, a child in a wheelchair, who plays just as well as anyone else, thank you very much!

When you do head down to the field, opting for the pick-up game mode will immerse you in the action quickly. You'll select seven kids to make up your team, generally five will play offense, you'll have a kicking specialist, and a defensive specialist who'll spell your quarterback while you play defense. That leaves four players to play iron-man style – both sides of the ball. Chuck Bednarik, eat your heart out! You can select quarter-length (the default is one minute), bearing in mind that the clock stops after every play run. Then choose the weather and the stadium you'll play in, along with the difficulty level. Once you get down to the field you'll notice the game's intentionally childish graphics. The players are huge in relation to the field's dimensions, and there's a huge disparity in the relative sizes of the players. Some kids look like football helmets hovering above sneakers, while others are gigantic and lanky, towering over their teammates and opponents. Overall, the players' size doesn't seem to have much effect on their play.

The gameplay is straightforward, with running plays following a predetermined route (though you can maneuver the ball-carrier outside the hole if you wish) and passing plays having up to three receivers, each with an icon corresponding to a button above their head. One problem you may have is that on pass plays your receivers will run their route and stand still, rather than running to an open spot on the field. When you think about it, this makes some sense as an educational tool, teaching younger players to throw the ball early, and hit the receiver in stride. To those of us used to a more advanced A.I., however, it comes as a bit of a disappointment.

Defensively, you control any of your players, and, in the true spirit of the playground, have to wait for the count of "three-Mississippi" before you can rush the quarterback. Overall, running plays rarely lead to big gains, but passes are easily completed and often lead to huge chunks of yardage. This disproportion is glaring and mildly frustrating until you realize that, given the nature of the game and its "all-in-good-fun" attitude, tossing the ball deep is really the thing to do anyway. Once you accept that you shouldn't treat this game like a strategic football experience, you'll delight in trying to rack up as many points as possible and enjoying yourself.

It is no doubt due to this high-scoring mentality and ability that, for older gamers, Backyard Football earns its stripes in two-player mode. Younger children might be able to get into the understandably bare-bones season mode that this game offers, but for older gamers, the real fun lies in playing your friends. In much the same way that Mario Kart made it okay for older players to actually take pride in leading a sickeningly cute, mushroom-headed fellow named "Toad" to victory in a race, Backyard Football will make it okay for you to mock your friends because you steered a little girl with braces along the sidelines for a winning touchdown.

The season mode is great for younger players. The options are simple, it's easy to set up your playbook and even design plays, and drafting players is handled in the same way as selecting your players for a pick-up game. A small number of statistics are maintained throughout the season, and then playoffs are handled in the same manner as the NFL playoffs. If you're going to start winning games in season mode, you'll need to select the right plays, which leads to one major gripe about the game – there aren't enough plays in your playbook. You can select from a wide array of plays, both offensive and defensive (even designing and saving your own), but the number of plays you can actually put in your playbook to use in a game is very limited. Of course, this game targets younger players, but younger gamers can certainly handle selecting from 50 plays, for example, rather than the 20 or so you can store in your playbook. In addition, as you play, you'll earn special plays to use in the game, such as "Leapfrog", a running play in which your ball-carrier will hurdle the offensive and defensive lines and land some fifteen to 20 yards downfield. There are defensive special plays as well, like "Magnet" which pulls your opponent's pass to your cornerback so he can make the interception.

Some elements of football are notably absent, including penalties. Essentially, the way that the programmers got around the penalty question was to disallow them through the code. You cannot move your defensive player across the offensive line before the snap, eliminating the offsides, holding doesn't occur, and pass-interference isn't called. Similarly, there are no injuries, so the only thing to watch out for is your players' fatigue, which will do little other than diminish their speed. It's also absurdly easy to fumble, or to cause a fumble, and equally easy to recover an onside-kick. This is certainly cartoon football, which is what it's designed to be, but as a video game, it's also very enjoyable. The various arenas that you can choose from to play your games range from a sandlot style field, to an inner-city field in which goalposts are made up of clotheslines strung across alleyways, adding to the after-school style ambience.

One feature which has little impact for many of us, but may be of interest to more technologically advanced gamers is that this game is compatible with progressive-scan high-definition televisions. Perhaps we shouldn't be shocked at this, but given that this is a "kid's game," it's easy to forget the technology that is incorporated.

All told, there's something for both young children and their older brothers and fathers to enjoy here. Backyard Football targets young players, who might not be able to keep up with the ever-evolving big name franchises, and it is almost wholly successful. Considering the game's target audience, the only real shortcomings that this game has are its limited number of plays to use in a game and the fact that a players' size seems to have little impact on his or her play. The graphics are good, the cartoonish style is accurately maintained throughout, and the character of each of the players adds a very personal touch.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on November 4, 2002 12:22 PM.

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