IGN Review of Backyard Football 08
It's the first month of a new year now, and that means one thing – football. NCAA, BCS, NFL. It's the season for the post-season, as bowl champs are crowned, playoff winners are determined and a nation full of fans counts down the days to the big game on Super Bowl Sunday. Seems like a fine time to get into the action with a pigskin video game, but so far the Wii's only options have been the regular yearly installments in the hardcore-focused Madden franchise, or else a couple of different retro football downloads on the Virtual Console.
Backyard Football 2008 seeks to find a middle ground between those two extremes, offering a simulation of NFL football that isn't as complicated as
Madden, but also isn't as simplistic as something like the Wii Shop's
NES Play Action Football. This is a game meant to appeal to a younger crowd, and is uniquely characterized by its cartoony visual style that takes real NFL players and transforms them into big-headed, animated 8-year-olds. Unfortunately, though, the initial appeal that the graphics and presentation present gets held back in the end by a gameplay engine that's still a bit too tough to tackle.
You begin a game of Backyard Football by choosing your preferred gametype – you can play a quick pickup game with your choice of NFL teams (populated with kids instead of adults), you can begin a full season schedule and try to recreate the Patriots' recent 16-0 performance yourself, or you can just jump directly into a contest without choosing any options at all, instead allowing the game to randomly select your team, opponents and teammates.
What you can't do – and where Backyard Football first begins to fumble – is choose to play a tutorial mode. There's a Practice option listed on the main menu, but there seems to be little difference between it and playing a normal game. There's no instruction on how to run or defend, or how to throw a pass. Which wouldn't be so bad, except that the control scheme utilized for this Wii edition is an unintuitive mixture of both button presses and motion-controlled gestures.
You snap the ball on offense by either pressing A or pulling back on the Wii Remote. Then you can run with the Control Stick, switch to a pass with A, sprint with B, power move with C, juke with a shake of the Remote – but not the Nunchuk, because shaking that's a stiff arm – lift both controllers to catch a pass, flick just the Remote forward to pass the ball ... you getting all this so far? And that's just about a quarter of the controls, which go on to map further functions to pretty much every available button and most standard Remote gestures.
It's just not easy to dive right into without the help of some kind of tutorial, but the best the game has to offer is a static menu screen that lists the controls and different button functions in basic text.
One of the draws of the Backyard Football series in the past, and a feature that's luckily still in place, is the inclusion of some real NFL pros that you can choose to draft onto your team. There aren't a lot of them, only 15 altogether, but it's still entertaining to see Tom Brady or LaDainian Tomlinson stylized as a cartoony kid with an ever-present grin behind their little facemask. The pros are given skill ratings that emphasize their real strengths in the real world, meaning it's in your best interest to keep Brady at QB and let LT run the ball. But this again reveals another flaw in Backyard Football's gameplay system – you can be pretty much unstoppable if you want to be.
Filling out your team's roster with all of the fastest NFL runners like LT, for example, makes you nearly unbeatable at the running game. You'll watch as the opposing team's defenders lumber slowly after your blazing running backs and are never able to catch you, as you run circles up and down the field like Bo Jackson could in the
Tecmo Bowl of old. Choosing a passing play instead is a little more fair to the computer's A.I., but then that method of play seems to be broken – your receivers, even when wide open and in perfect position to make a catch, will often drop the ball for an incomplete reception without warning. It's difficult to judge when and where your control switches to the receiver, whether or not you're supposed to flick the Remote and Nunchuk up or not, et cetera, et cetera.
©2008-01-07, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved