IGN Preview of Backyard Football 2009
Saying that we didn't like Backyard Football 08 for the DS would be an understatement of epic proportions. The game got a 1.5, making it one of the lowest-rated games in IGN history. The review started with "This game is broken" and only got more negative from there. Most games that receive such a low rating never get the satisfaction of a sequel to attempt to make things right. An informal poll of IGN editors past and present in our war room revealed that not a single editor could recall a game whose rating was so low and still yielded a sequel.
That leaves the DS version of Backyard Football 2009 in a unique position; merely putting out an average game would be a huge step forward for what was an embarrassing title. In our first look at the game at Atari's booth, average seemed like a first down Backyard Football was still a few yards short of.
The game has certainly taken a few steps forward. Although we weren't able to test it at E3, the game now features local multiplayer, allowing you to at least share the experience with others. The game features all the modes you'll see in the Wii version, bridging the gap somewhat.
What you won't see is gameplay that looks or feels like the Wii version, or looks remotely realistic. Every pass we threw was a lob that appeared to go 25-30 yards in the air before falling down onto the field. It gave our safeties infinite amounts of time to get to the receiver, although the act of catching a pass appeared to be a totally random act. That appears to be left in from last year's game. In addition, while the running and tackling mechanics appear to be better, they still leave much to be desired. Players have turbo, but it runs out in the matter of five yards or so, and some players can make up 15-20 yards with one turbo boost before making a diving tackle.
We also saw events that were downright unrealistic, albeit ones that can hopefully be fixed in time for launch. Our computer opponents punted on a first down and missed all their field goals and extra points. A pass thrown at a downfield receiver was called a fumble despite the fact that the receiver had literally just touched the ball before being hit.
While the graphics of any DS game that attempts to incorporate more than ten players at a time are naturally going to be limited, there has to be a way to make the game's NFL license feel more relevant than it does now. Playing a game between two brightly-colored teams doesn't feel like you're playing as a particular unit; it feels like you're playing with a different colored sprite. We're not Lil' Wayne, so that doesn't excite us.
There were also weird little touches that made the game feel fake. The player card for Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor had a quote that started, "As far as defensivemen go…". Unless this was some sort of strange Strong Bad homage, it was ugly.
Backyard Football often has to toe the line between realism and silliness, but if they don't get the realistic parts right, the gameplay's simply not good enough to make up for it. It's honestly shocking to see that the engine for the game hasn't been rebuilt, because last year's was such an obvious failure as to absolutely necessitate it. This game won't get a 1.5 again, but the fact that it won't get too much more is, to flip a phrase, from lack of trying.
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