When it comes to great games for kids, I really think Humongous Entertainment has carved themselves a nice niche. Parents who don't want their youngsters playing Doom or Duke Nukem can instead purchase the Freddi Fish or Pajama Sam series; these are games which are adventures that teach kids all about problem-solving, a skill that's more important for them than blowing up zombies.
When it comes to their Backyard Sports series, though, I think they missed the boat in one really crucial area: game controls. While using a mouse makes perfect sense in graphic adventure games such as the Putt-Putt ones, it makes no sense to use one in Backyard Soccer. Given the simplicity of gameplay, which consists mostly of passing the ball, shooting it, and trying to steal it from other players, support for a two-button joystick should be present. Even the keyboard would be a better choice than the mouse, which is ill-suited for action and sports games.
In fact, not using the mouse at all as a controls option would have allowed more than one player to compete at a time. Some kids will be dissapointed to learn that they can't play against their friends or siblings; there isn't even an option for internet play, which has become a standard for sports games.
This is a shame because I would have rated this game very highly otherwise. The premise is that you get to set up your own soccer team which you can stock with kids chosen from a group of 30. All of them are rated in different areas, and there's a great mix of ethnic backgrounds and boys and girls. There's even a boy in a wheelchair who plays really well; the message here is one in favor of diversity and the idea that anyone can play sports no matter what their background is. What parent wouldn't want their kids to learn that lesson?
The look and sound of the game is top-notch as well. While the movement between some of the screens isn't always intuitive, the graohics design is really nice and the sounds are wonderful. The fields are all set in vacant lots or old warehouses and the scoreboard looks like it was put together by some kids; in fact, I could see some kids playing this game and then becoming inspired to set up their own soccer league.
One of the commentators who calls the action is a boy named Earl Grey, and his British accent is very funny; parents will probably get more of a kick out of him than kids will. He and his companion Sunny Day provide some nice play-by-play and color work, which includes instant replays of the goals and fouls on the scoreboard and comments before and after the matches.
My only gripe other than the controls is the lack of real players. Humungous also has a Backyard Football game which features players such as Jerry Rice and Brett Favre as kids; too bad they didn't put well-known soccer players like Pele and Diego Maradona as kids in this game. It would have been a nice touch to allow the player to stock every position but one with the characters and then fill the final slot with a child version of a well-known star.
As for the gameplay itself, it's not too bad once you get the hang of the mouse. It's difficult, though, to click the mouse and drag it to move a player and then click on another one to pass it or click on the goal to shoot. It's too easy to lose control of the ball or kick it wildly. The action is a bit sluggish, but it should feel right for kids; it wouldn't be fair to have the game move as fast as some of the 3D ones from companies such as Electronic Arts.
The league play is a great idea, and there's certainly a challenge in moving up through the divisions and then competing for the Astonishingly Shiny Cup of All Cups (a great name in my opinion). There's also plenty do between matches for kids who want to tweak their strategies or play around with their starting line-up, and statistics are a nice touch. There aren't a lot of numbers to track in soccer, but I'm sure kids will have fun watching their players' numbers grow during the season.
Overall, this game would be a worthwhile purchase at a bargain bin price as long as the recipient is prepared to deal with the frustrations of playing with a mouse. Hopefully Humongous will have joystick support for their next round of sports games.
Graphics: Very nice graphics with lots of fun animations. Very kid-friendly.
Sound: I love Earl Grey.
Enjoyment: The game really dips here because of the controls.
Replay Value: Yes, there's a league option, but some kids may not want to sit through a whole season if they have to use the mouse to play.
Backyard Soccer is the first game in the Backyard Sports Soccer Series. Gameplay is simple. There are 30 kids to pick on a team, and many custom color teams to create. You also get to be in two game types: Single in which you play one small game and Season play, in which you play for a whole a lot of time and features you playing against some unusable custom teams.. This game also includes a practice mode to help you get used to the kicking in the game, and also shows what it is like during a penalty. All rules to soccer including fouls and hat tricks, are included in the game. When picking the kids on your team you will want to read about how good they are - don't just pick a kid cause they look cool.
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