The kids from the Backyard Sports series are back
and at it again, this time with Backyard Hockey and
just in time too for the winter NHL season. Hockey is
a genre lacking on the GBA, with this being only the
third title released. If you are not familiar with the
series, Backyard Sports is a series of sports games
targeted at kids, where kids play against kids on officially
licensed teams with a select few professional players
who themselves are turned into kids. The pinnacle of
the Backyard Sports series on GBA is the very impressive
and nearly flawless Backyard Football. Will its hockey
counterpart make the grade?
Backyard Hockey is a 3 on 3 hockey game with controls
and game play targeted at kids, but us big kids should
be able to enjoy this title as well. Now that you know
the basics, let me describe to you the features this
The menus are very similar to the ones seen on the
other GBA Backyard games, very clean and simple to navigate.
On the first screen you get the choices of Play Now,
Single Game, Season Play, Practice, Multiplayer, Options
and Credits. By choosing Play now you get to set the
game length and rules but everything else, including
teams and who you play for, is automatically chosen
by the game.
In Single Game you get to see the full line up, which
is what makes Backyard Games unique. Before we go further,
this title is officially licensed by the NHL and NHLPA
and features all 30 teams (plus 6 fantasy teams) and
10 of the NHL's top stars. First, you choose the rules
you are deciding to play by and how long periods will
be (I will get in to more details of the rules options
in just a moment). After that, you get to choose one
of the 6 (4 unlocked at the start) very unique backyard
arenas. Then you choose your team. You then see a puck
toss which decides who gets to pick players first. This
is what makes Backyard Sports, picking your teams just
as if you were back on the playing field at school choosing
teams for kickball.
There are 40 players, including the 10 NHL professionals
as kids, and also a create a player feature which is
very simplistic. If you don't wish to choose your team
and want the computer to do this for you, you have the
ability to skip this player selection by pressing start.
You also have the ability to setup your lines in the
team strategy options.
In the season mode, you stick with your 7 players
through out a 14 game season (play against every team
in your conference) trying to make it in to the playoffs
to win the BHL (Backyard Hockey League) Championship.
In practice, you can play 3 on 1, which is your team
of 3 players vs. a goalie, so you can practice shooting
and setting up plays. There is also a mini-game of Air
Hockey. Air Hockey is very well made as console Air
Hockey games go and is a fun little mini-game to play
In multiplayer mode, you can play against 1 other
person in either a regular hockey match or an air hockey
game. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to try the multiplayer
Now, before we get to playing, back to the game options.
There are 3 levels of play and periods can either be
2, 4 or 6 minutes in length. There are also options
for Player Fatigue, Penalties, Off-Sides, Power-ups
and Rock, Paper, Scissors. Here are a few details:
- Penalties last 30 seconds, but for some reason
they forgot to display the time left in penalties on
the in game score board which I didn't like.
- Off-Sides includes Icing and 2 Line Passes.
- Power-ups, when turned on, you pick up at the center
of the ice and include items such as Big Shot, Big Hit
and Big Speed.
- Rock, Paper, Scissors (RPS) is a strange feature
and one which I don't know why was included. If RPS
is turned on when there is about to be a penalty called,
you and your opponent play a game of RPS. If you lose
the RPS game, even if the penalty wasn't for you, you
go to the penalty box. If it is a draw, nobody goes
to the penalty box. I think this was included to replace
fights, because they aren't obviously going to show
kids fighting now are they? Still, it turned out to
be very aggravating as it slows down the game play immensely.
I have two main complaints in the game play department
beyond the RPS idea. First, is the actual game play,
which is way too slow for 3 on 3 hockey. The ice is
way to wide open and it is pretty much pointless trying
to skate its length unless you want to waste a lot of
time. I believe their intention to play slow was so
young kids wouldn't be intimidated by a fast paced game,
but I still believe they should have included a game
speed option so us big kids could play the game at a
My second issue - in one game I happened to go to
over time, I scored 15 seconds in to overtime. For some
silly reason the programmers forgot to add in the fact
that an overtime goal ends overtime, because the game
played on even after 2 more goals in overtime. This
was probably a result of poor game testing, resulting
in a rather unpolished final product.
The controls were meant to be simple, and they are
for the most part. First thing you notice is that for
some reason during face-offs, your shoot button is the
draw button and pass does nothing. This is a big issue
for me because if nobody gets the puck directly during
the drop but hits shoot (draw face-off) a bit late,
once someone makes contact, the puck just gets dumped
down the ice.
Shooting and scoring in this game is well done. Just
like any other hockey title, the best chances to score
are on open slap shots, well planed one timers and rebounds.
Passing is also very easy in this game, though there
were some times where it passed to the player I didn't
expect it to pass to.
Hitting is done with the shoot button. I found it
rather difficult to lay a good enough hit in this game
to get the other player off the puck, which makes me
think that puck retention is a little too high in this
game. Other then these few issues, game play and control
is well done in Backyard Hockey. This game is definitely
for kids, while still enjoyable for some of the big
kids in us as well, but it does lack the detail in control
as seen in NHL 2002 or NHL Hitz.
The menu graphics and layouts are very crisp and
well done. The in game graphics have it's ups and downs.
Player graphics on ice are decently drawn and animated.
You can tell differences between player sizes, hair
and skin color, so there is some definition to tell
between players. The ice surfaces and surroundings quality
differs between each arena, some better then others.
The graphics aren't overly impressive for what the GBA
can do, and the graphics were more impressive in the
earlier Backyard Football release.
Sound & Music
The music in this game is very uninspired. The menu
music is the same all the way through the game and is
very mellow and laid back, I don't know, maybe they
relate this kind of music with winter and cold. Furthermore,
in the arena, there is only one classic hockey tune,
the one that goes "dun, dun, dun, dun"… you
know the one. As for sound effects, well all I can say
is that they suit the game well and fit in just fine.
Overall, this game certainly had potential to be
lots of fun and something to satisfy my craving for
a new GBA Hockey game. Unfortunately, because of this
game's unpolished nature, slow game play with no option
to speed it up and some very odd rules and simple mistakes,
this is not a game I will be playing in the future.
This title would still be suitable for a child and could
very well entertain him/her for a good period of time,
but for the big kid in us, the mistakes are too noticeable
and annoying. So for us older kids, until the next NHL
release on GBA, I guess it's back to the classic 16-bit
SNES\Genesis to GBA adaptation that is NHL 2002.