I played a few seasons of Little League when I was a kid, but to say it was a lackluster experience would be a gross understatement. I was a miserable ballplayer and spent most of my time sitting on the bench, hoping the game would soon be mercifully over so I could hit the snack bar for candy and baseball cards then head home and play video games. The few innings here and there that I actually was playing in a game were nothing short of a grueling nightmare of hoping the ball wouldn’t be hit to me and enviously eyeing my lucky teammates who were sitting out and goofing around in the dugout.
To give you an idea of how pathetic of a player I was, during my first year as a ballplayer the coach decided to play me in the position of Right Center Field. Right Field is generally reserved for the worst player because it sees the least amount of action. Right Center Field was a "special" position created for teams with younger players whose fielding abilities were so bad the coach wanted to make sure they had as little chance as possible to touch a baseball. In Right Center Field, I idly stood to the side as either the Center Fielder or Right Fielder would handle any ball hit even remotely my way. In the few rare instances that a ball actually made it to me, it always went over my head or through my legs.
I always meant well and had a decent amount of heart, but I just was not at all a contender for being a decent player. There were a couple fluke instances in which I got a hit, and one game I managed to belt a double and drive in the winning run, prompting the coach to take pity one me and give the game’s “MVP Ball.” But all in all, I was not at all an important asset to the team and it wouldn’t have affected the other players one bit had I not bothered to show up to games.
The reason I’m babbling about my embarrassing youth baseball ventures is that it’s a great metaphor for how Backyard Baseball ’09 for the Nintendo Wii is when compared to other baseball games on the system. It’s not at all a candidate for best baseball game on Wii by any stretch of the imagination, and in fact even Wii Sports baseball has it beat. In all reality, if Atari had not bothered to release it for the Wii, nobody would be any worse off. But, all the same, there is a small amount of charm and enjoyment to be found by anyone who bothers to play the game, even if they’re probably better off spending their time and money elsewhere.
Backyard Baseball ‘09’s big hook is that gamers have the opportunity to control Major League Ballplayers from every professional team, but they appear in the game as kids. It’s a sweet idea that gives the game a unique angle not present in other baseball titles. Only a small portion of the overall Major League player base is present, but there are some big names that show up in the game. I instantly recognized names like Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter, Jake Peavy, and David Ortiz, who serves as the cover boy for this year’s iteration of the Backyard Baseball series. The remainder of the teams’ rosters are filled out by fictional children from the "neighborhood," which is an aspect of the game that I find to be rather endearing.
Sadly, the in-game child representations of the Major League players bear only a passing resemblance to their real-life counterparts. It seems as if the developers sloppily slapped together some polygonal models of players and said "Good enough!" when they began to remotely look like the real thing. In fact, the whole game reeks of being hastily thrown together. In defense of the development team, I doubt they were given the time, resources, or funding to create a baseball game that could compete with the likes of anything from Nintendo, EA, or Sony. And, to their credit, they added some really cute touches. For instance, there are a surprising number of stadiums available to play in, each with neat little effects such as UFOs flying through the sky or cars passing by in the city background. All the same, the graphical presentation leaves more than a little to be desired. Everything just looks cheap, from the questionable player animations to the low-polygonal counts present in the player models and environments. Honestly, the game looks worse than early PS2 quality and is nowhere near what is capable of being presented on the Wii.
I actually found myself enjoying the banter of the game’s announcers, one of whom likes to exclaim "holy cats!" On the whole, though, the quality of the sound design is minimal and forgettable. Although I had fun listening to the announcers, they tend to repeat phrases very often. The in-game music is not the least bit catchy and some of the transitions between musical tracks don’t flow very well in accordance with the on-screen action. As with the graphical presentation, Backyard Baseball ‘09’s sound just reeks of the development team not having the ability to give it the attention it deserved.
The biggest blunder Backyard Baseball ’09 is guilty of is its price point. The game costs at least $10 more on the Wii than any of the other systems it’s available for (namely PS2, DS, and PC), but there is nothing in the game that takes advantage of the Wii’s strengths. The developers tried to cram in some Wii-centric controls by allowing players to swing the Wii Remote to pitch and hit, but I quickly became frustrated with the unresponsiveness of the motion-based control scheme and opted for simple button presses instead. Backyard Baseball ’09 would have been a much better experience if it offered Mii integration, online play, or simply better Wii controls. As it stands, I’m hard-pressed to find a reason to justify the higher price of the Wii version over the others.
If Backyard Baseball ’09 had been a $10 WiiWare download, I wouldn’t feel too bad recommending it to players. But as a $40 retail release, that money should be spent elsewhere, namely on 2K Sports and Konami’s superior MLB Power Pros ’08 or Nintendo’s arcade-like Super Mario Sluggers. Both games provide a much richer experience, have more pleasing visuals and sound, and most importantly play better. Backyard Baseball ’09 will no doubt appeal to young children, especially kids that haven’t learned to be choosey about the types of games they play, but with better options available to consumers at comparable prices, why subject your kids to playing an inferior game? I can relate to Backyard Baseball ’09 because in some ways I really feel it’s the video game equivalent of me on my Little League teams, but playing it also makes me realize why my coaches rarely put me in the game. Even though the game has some charm and heart, it’s better left sitting out while the better players take the field.
Essential Facts: Backyard Baseball ’09 is published by Atari and available for the Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, Sony Playstation 2, and PC. It features players, uniforms, and logos from all 32 major teams. In addition, Backyard Baseball ’09 has a variety of game modes, including Season, Tournament, and Home-Run Derby. It is rated E by the ESRB.
Mister Raroo might have been a terrible Little League baseball player, but he’s always had an affinity for baseball video games. Actually, he just likes video games in general! In fact, he likes video games so much he writes a column called “Game Time With Mister Raroo” for GameSetWatch. Mister Raroo lives in El Cajon, CA with his wife, son, and their pets. You can reach Mister Raroo at email@example.com