Backyard Baseball '10 Review (Wii)
I’m not sure how many OS readers have kids -- or soon will -- but due to a recent addition in my own household, I’ve started to pay more attention to games aimed at children. Now, my daughter is too young to pick up the controller, or at least too young to know what to do with it, but I have no doubt that gaming will be a part of her upbringing.
Backyard Baseball 2010 grabbed my interest, not only because it is a game targeted at a younger demographic, but also because it's a series I got some enjoyment out of while in college. A buddy and I found the 2001 computer version mildly entertaining and not completely devoid of strategy. It featured well animated cartoon graphics, interesting characters and a sense of humor and charm that helped to pass the time between major sports releases. It was gimmicky but not without value.
Now, nearly 10 years later, I assumed that two new generations of console hardware would have had a positive impact on this series. I could not have been more wrong. And if you have kids, you would be doing them a disservice if you made them play this game.
But before going any further, here is a little background info on the game. The hook here is that you will get to play with some kid versions of Major League players. I assume this helps make the Backyard series seem more appealing to children, who get to see Big Papi as if he were, well, Little Papi. A game that is targeted at children that also features kid characters seems to, at least on the surface, make sense.
In the past, these games have also been slower than your normal game, presumably to cater to a child's skill level. The game is also fairly arcade-like, with power-ups and crazy (but creative) fields.
All of these characteristics are in play for 2010, which is to be expected when it comes to a game in this series, but this time, these things do not add up to a positive experience.
First, the graphics in this game are both poor and heavily stylized, which makes it hard to tell some of the players apart. Because the graphics are subpar, it is also difficult to immediately recognize a "young version" of a famous player. Without the clean, cartoon-like graphics, Backyard Baseball loses a big part of its charm and appeal. In fact, this game looked better when it was in 2-D on a 10-year-old PC.
Next, there is an unfinished or cheap feeling that permeates the game. For example, once I earned a power-up that refreshed my "juice" (stamina), I heard a noise indicating that this was indeed happening, but nowhere on screen (or on a pause screen) was my stamina shown.
Also, an introductory video seems to be left over from last season, as David Ortiz introduces himself as being part of the "World Series Champion Boston Red Sox."
Spots of the fields also look as barren as some Playstation 1 games. If you played MLB Stickball on Xbox Live Arcade, you have seen environments that are just as good looking.
Now, before starting a league, you have to draft a team. You pick from a pool of MLB youngsters and core Backyard characters. Sounds fun, until you realize that the computer does not make any picks. You are essentially drafting a dream team, which takes the excitement out of the draft. In earlier versions of the game, you had to carefully pick your team because other players disappeared as you made picks.
One of the best parts of this game is creating a lineup and sticking players anywhere, based primarily on their speed and arm ratings. It’s neat to imagine these famous players playing Little League, and coaching them to that end. So I did have a pretty good time figuring out how to create a lineup and place fielders in unnatural positions.
Once the game starts, though, most of the fun is halted. The Wii motions are very basic and a step behind even Wii Sports. Pitching is not a natural motion; in fact, it’s a two-step process with an unnecessary pause. The commentary is unsurprisingly boring and repetitive as well.
The fielding controls are OK. You use the Nunchuk as the primary means to move fielders -- although when you aren’t controlling the fielders, they like to stand and watch.
Before you throw up your hands and scream, "It’s a kids game!" let me finish this review with a philosophical statement. As a parent, I feel strongly that entertainment does not need not be watered-down or be of a lesser quality when targeted at children (see: Viva Pinata, most Lego products or any Pixar film for good examples of quality entertainment for a younger audience).
So I would encourage you to think twice about this game, both as a gamer and as a parent. Let your kids experience a quality baseball game, perhaps Power Pros for example. But avoid this game and others that seem to exploit the idea that "kids won’t know better." I’m sure young Phillies fans out there know enough to correct Ortiz.
On the Diamond: Plays a functional game of baseball, but not a very enjoyable one. Wii motion controls aren’t horrible, but not as smooth or solid as other options. There are some fun fields/stadiums to play in.
Graphics: Poor, even by Wii standards. They detract from the charm and character that was present in the series in the past.
Sound: Repetitive commentary and unremarkable sound effects/music.
Entertainment Value: Some unlockable players and parks, and standard modes (season, tournament, exhibition, etc.) will keep you going if you like the gameplay. "Drafting" different teams will add replay, and characters have good and bad "days."
Learning Curve: Not terribly difficult for kids or adults. Variable options can scale difficulty. The artificial intelligence will beat you from time to time on the hardest level.
Score: 5 (Average)