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Backyard Basketball 2007 Review

Developer: Humongous Publisher: Atari
Release Date: February 15, 2007 Also On: PC and PS2

Basketball is a popular sport anymore. Granted, it isn’t as popular as football (at least in America), but what sport is? And yet, basketball games grace the library of many consoles all the way back to the Atari 2600, and many of them do quite well. A relative newcomer on the scene for sports titles is Atari’s Backyard Sports series, among which now is Backyard Basketball 2007. It is a game aimed squarely at kids, and it makes no effort to hide that fact. Before I begin the review, I would like to thank Nate Bryan for the use of his PS2 to review this game and for his assistance by being my opponent when I reviewed the multiplayer portions of the game.

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Graphically, this game is what you’d expect from one of the Backyard games. The graphics are quite good, and they are done in a cartoony style, as is typical of the Backyard games. The arenas look nice and are a very diverse lot. Each of their designs makes sense given where it is supposed to be, which is important in a game like this. The NBA players are very accurate cartoon facsimiles of their real-life selves also. Overall, there’s nothing in these graphics that is worthy of a serious complaint from me.

In terms of sound, the sound effects are pretty standard fare, so don’t expect to hear anything too awe-inspiring here. They’re not atrociously bad though. What music there is is unobtrusive and unmemorable for the most part, although the song that plays in the intro is quite good. The players each have their own voice, although the NBA stars do not sound genuine but rather have higher-pitched voices because of the fact that they’re kids. Maybe they had the real stars talk slowly and then raised the voices an octave through a computer; I wouldn’t know since I don’t listen to basketball players talk a lot. Either way though, the voice acting for the commentators and the players is quite good, even if some of the one-liners do repeat a bit as you play the game more.

So far as the gameplay is concerned, this is 3 on 3 basketball with backyard kids and cartoon versions of NBA players. The core game mechanics in this game aren’t bad, but they can be a bit simplistic at times. The game does seem to be a bit more offense-oriented than defense, as my games were all high-scoring affairs on both sides. Overall, though, Backyard Basketball plays a solid basketball game. The only significant difference is in the powerups, but those can be ignored for the people who want a more pure basketball experience.

In terms of options for the game, many things can be switched. When you play against the computer, there are three skill levels to choose from. You can set the quarter length from about five different options ranging from two to twelve minutes per quarter. You can turn such things as fatigue, fouls, and the like on or off also. This allows each person to choose for himself what type of rule set he wants to use. One other thing that can be turned on and off is an aiming marker that can be used to make shooting a little harder and thus try to reduce the offensive output a bit. If it and fatigue are both turned off, it can become a true score fest as each team’s star offensive player runs around the opposing defense on his way to a dunk sometimes. But this is a game that’s meant to be fun, not a simulation of the real thing, and high-scoring affairs are more likely to excite kids, so such things are forgivable. These options can be changed before the game or even during it if you want to do so.

There are about forty players from which to choose, twenty-two backyard kids and eighteen NBA stars. Some of the NBA stars are locked from the outset of the game though (and some of the NBA’s biggest stars, such as Kobe Bryant, aren’t in the game at all for some odd reason), which gives some incentive to play through the game in various modes to unlock them all. You are told what the unlock requirements are for everything, but you are not told which requirement goes with which unlockable, which I think is a nice touch as it will encourage you to try to do everything and not just the things you want to get. There’s also a fairly diverse range of courts to choose from, and there are a slew of backyard teams in addition to the NBA team names available to choose from.

In a pick-up game, each team chooses five players in an alternating format one at a time. In a one-player game, you can choose to pick all of your people first, but where’s the fairness in that? It doesn’t matter what team you chose to be when you go to choose players. After the teams are picked, you are given the opportunity to set their positions and your offensive and defensive styles, and then you begin the actual game. The difference for a season is that you have to keep your same set of players for the entirety of the season.

In terms of modes, this game is a bit scant compared to many basketball titles. You have a pick-up game mode that can be played with one or two players. There’s also a season mode, although there is no franchise mode. Granted, one wonders how a franchise mode could be implemented in a game like this, but it’s omission leaves a big void in the replay value of the game. On top of the game modes are options to read small biographies of the players and hear some one-liners from them, to practice on a court, or to play Horse either against the computer or a second player. Horse is as simplistic as it sounds, but it may make for a nice occasional diversion nonetheless. This isn’t much, but between this assortment of modes and the three skill levels, it should be enough to keep a kid’s attention for a while.

What then is the conclusion? If this were a $50 game, I’d advocate waiting for a price drop, but it isn’t. As a $30 game, it might be worth its cost if you have a son who is interested in basketball, but if your children are into NBA Live or something like that, this game would, in many ways, be a step backward, and can easily be skipped. Still, it is reasonably good for what it is and could serve as an entertaining primer for people new to basketball games, whether young or old.

Graphics: 7
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 7
Creativity: 6
Replay Value/Game Length: 5
Final: 6.5
Written by Martin Review Guide