Backyard Baseball 2007

Atari’s latest all ages game provides fast-paced fun even if you’re not a baseball fan. The price is right too. The controls have a simple setup, but the response timing and zone adjustment of batting swings will take some adjustment.

Baserunning and fielding follow an outline of left buttons while the same buttons control the swing type (triangle-power, square-bunt left, circle-bunt right, and X-line drive). The same configuration works for pitching. The most unique element of the game is the ability to choose real major league baseball players from every team as kids including Carlos Delgado, Alfonso Soriano, Nomar Garciaparra, Alex Rodriguez, Ichiro, Albert Pujols, Eric Gagne, Pedro Martinez, Ivan Rodriguez, and Vladamir Guerrero. The non-major league players spout quips at end of introductions to distinguish them from the big leaguers.

Players accumulate custom kid skill points – each player starts with 22. Records and a special hall of fame provide some incentives for acquiring these points, but the power-up provides most of the entertaining elements. The power-ups are great, but have a bit of a learning curve, especially for the core audience players. Check the lower right of the screen for the meter, and use the L1 button for fun batting bonuses like the screaming liner, popcorn bunt, and slimeball, plus the elevator, freezer and meteor ball for pitching. Stamina only comes into play in the pro and all-star difficulty levels. Players can also turn on the autosave or error option for more authentic play.

The sound is great and the difficulty is easy for beginners – field assistance minimizes frustration, especially for younger players. All they have to do is throw the ball after the fielder automatically moves in to make the catch – the triangle, circle, X, and square buttons are lined up exactly with the bases, as in most baseball video games. Chasing a ball in the field with a slow runner represents the most frustrating experience in the game, but overall there’s not much to complain about.

Make custom players in the pick-up game or season modes. The sound is good (bat swings, etc.), but overlaps at times. The on-field chatter often overpowers the announcer. The graphics include an easy-to-follow ball trial. Colors show players moods, but the game doesn’t offer any interactions to improve these moods, like have teammates do a wave/special cheer or other special encouragement from the person on deck or even a special message from a famous player.

Other unique touches include mini-games including a fielder’s challenge and home run derby, home run replays and Bonus fields like Area 51 (after players win the World Series). Recommended (*** out of four stars) and rated E for everyone. Also available on GameBoy Advance, GameCube and PC.

Copyright © Michael Siebenaler

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