This well-established sports game series takes a time out from pro athlete representations this time for this neighborhood kid baseball set complete with a story mode, season, playoffs, and home run derby. The Backyard Sports series features baseball as well as basketball, football, hockey, and soccer with memorable original kid characters supporting the pint-sized pros. In this game, kids like Joey MacAdoo and the sister duo of Emily and Emily Shallbetter and others headline some great baseball play on eight different neighborhood ball fields.
Players begin with a boy or girl character then can bat through the story mode or choose a 7 or 14 week season or playoff season – both include a simulate option so players do not have to play through every game and every team. Important options include a 10 run mercy rule, difficulty settings (easy, medium or hard), and inning length (1, 3, 5 or 9). The flexible lineup allows players to switch the batting order, but an individual player statistic view (shown on top screen) would certainly help.
The detailed player movement options are lacking, but overall still solid for a handheld game. Players cannot where they hit the ball and chose among power swing, line drive, bunt left or right in a nice touch screen quadrant at each at bat. Each pitch works within the same four-option format as players chose among several options depending on the pitcher including screwball, curve, fast, slide, and changeup.
After the four choice icons (power up option in the middle), players use the A button or touch screen then release to start the action. Runners cannot steal and fielders cannot shift or charge. Fielders will even wait for the ball to pass by instead of running in to grab it, which hurts the baseball specifics elements a bit. Other options include how to play tutorials, save resets and audio options though most players will enjoy the commentators and sound effects.
The special power ups add momentum and humor into the game play. The booger ball, air ball, and mirage are the self-explanatory pitching wild cards while batting power ups include the meteor ball, fire bat, the icicle, ticking time ball or whiffle ball. Two new commentators named Ron and Wally tag team for the play-by-play banter on and off the field. Even foul balls that accurately move back towards the touch screen give players that extra entertainment. A simulated glass crack would have been great too.
Game developers amp up the fun factor even more with dingers (a.k.a. home runs) where up to four players can take turns in the home run derby competitions, which feature five swings per round in a maximum three round set. Players can choose the field and get bragging rights with high scores.
Players have a few character customization options, but not have enough to replicate themselves. The limited graphics do not warrant such a close copy anyway while the interactive fields pick up the action very well. Some light colored trailing visuals on the ball would help in some daylight situations (***1/2 out of four stars). Also available on Nintendo Wii, PC download and Xbox 360).
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler