Backyard Hockey - NDS - Preview
Outside of the few great titles that land on PlayStation Portable, handheld sports games are not too common these days. That likely stems from the overabundance of garbage that was shoveled on the Game Boy Advance, a handheld that could barely handle the likes of Madden or Tiger Woods. This has left Nintendo DS – which will celebrate its third birthday this November – without many sports titles to excite the gaming community.
Hockey has been one of the most neglected genres. But thanks to an above-average effort from Atari and Humongous, that could soon change. They’ve teamed up for another Backyard Sports game: Backyard Hockey 2008. This version features the bells and whistles DS lovers expect (3D perspective, touch-screen controls) while delivering that anyone-can-play-it entertainment the Backyard series is known for.
Sticking to the Basics
By default, this preview build of Backyard Hockey 2008 was set up for standard D-pad controls. They’re decent for a handheld that doesn’t have an analog stick but could use some work.
The touch controls, however, are without a doubt this game’s best feature. Touch the screen to bring up the puck guide, which is a small arrow cluster that moves wherever you drag the stylus. Similar to the forthcoming Zelda game, the arrow also gives you control over your player. Touch the screen and drag to steer your player across the rink. You don’t have to lift the stylus until it comes time to pass or shoot. But if you should lift your hand too soon, no worries – the game is very responsive. Touch the screen again and your player will resume tracing your every move.
To pass, simply touch the player that you’d like to receive the puck. This is not a foolproof method but works very well. It’s fast and generally accurate, and is a lot of fun to execute.
Shooting is conducted a little differently. Rather than tapping the screen once or twice to swing the hockey stick (as you do in Zelda to swing Link’s sword), you touch the on-screen button that reads “Shoot.” This is followed by a transparent, nine-section box that appears in the middle of the screen. I’m assuming that each section (three on the top, three in the middle, and three on the bottom) is intended to represent a different point where the puck will be shot. Whether or not that’s the case is unclear. Overall this build felt pretty complete, but when it came to specifics, it seemed you could only influence whether the puck shot left or right. And even that wasn’t perfect. Hopefully this will be ironed out – perhaps with a better on-screen indicator – for the final product.
Those looking to steal won’t have to put forth much effort – just run into your opponents and the puck is yours. During shootouts, the controls automatically switch to the goaltender when defending, in which case you can protect the net by sliding (touching the screen) left or right.
Having played and mastered numerous DS releases, this new control scheme wasn’t hard for me to get into. In fact, my first try yielded excellent results for player movement, and within 90 seconds of play I had scored my first goal. Scoring is actually easier with the stylus than with the D-pad and buttons because you have some control over where the puck will go. It also seems that the game may be more willing to interpret stylus shots as being successful than those fired off with a D-pad. Only time will tell if these two control styles will be balanced out before the game ships.
Backyard Hockey 2008 offers a fair amount of play modes, including Play Now, Pickup Game, Season Play, and Multiplayer for two players. There’s an Extras mode with player cards, which contain brief bios and stat information like shooting, passing, skating, and checking. Last but not least gamers can explore the Mini-Game mode, which features a touch-based version of Air Hockey, as well as two Shootout games (pickup and play now).
Skating to a DS near you early next month, Backyard Hockey 2008 looks like a winner for kids everywhere. Young or old, you’ve never played a hockey game quite like it.