I’m going to level with you right off the bat: I’m not a huge American football fan. I’ve been a fan of the Green Bay Packers since the mid-90s, but only because Green Bay rhymed with Green Day (who had not yet started to suck ass at that time), and because it really pissed off my 49er’s fan cousins. As a non-fan, I’ve generally found myself ignoring or not enjoying most football video games. You might catch me playing a little Tecmo Bowl when the retro mood strikes, but that’s pretty much it. Having played Backbreaker Vengeance, I can still somewhat safely say that I don’t really play football video games.
Now, I know that statement may sound like I disliked Backbreaker Vengeance, but that’s not entirely true. Really, it meant to say that Backbreaker Vengeance isn’t really a football game; it’s more of a third-person platformer mini-game with a football skin on it. Taking the Tackle Alley mini game from the original Backbreaker, Vengeance enhances it into a full XBLA game, along with additional game modes (Vengeance and Supremacy). Each game mode provides a different basic gameplay mechanic.
Tackle Alley and Vengeance are very similar; they are two sides of the same coin, while Supremacy is the third wheel. The Tackle Alley game mode puts you in the place of the guy who is holding the ball while running with the eventual goal of traversing the field while avoiding the large burly men who simply want to hug him into the ground (tremble in awe before my knowledge of football terminology). You must avoid these large burly hug-man as well as other physical obstacles while picking up points along the way. The Vengeance game mode puts you in the place of the large burly man who wants to hug the guy who is holding the ball while running with the eventual goal of traversing the field into the ground while avoiding other burly hug-men and physical obstacles, grabbing points along the way. Both Tackle Alley and Vengeance provide you with 20 Challenges, each of which contains 5 waves. That means you have 100 waves of the large, burly hug-men bearing down on you, and 100 waves of being the large, burly hug-man. For each wave, you get six lives. If you get ground-hugged or fail to ground-hug, you lose a life; if you lose them all within a wave, you restart the challenge from the top.
Supremacy is a competitive game mode. You are pitted against three opponents (either all AI, or two AI and one local opponent), and the goal is to reach the other end of the field first, again while avoiding obstacles and out-of-bounds zones, while scoring as many points as possible. After each wave, the lowest overall scoring player becomes the burly hug-man, while the rest remain as ball-holding-runner-guys. Unlike Tackle Alley and Vengeance, Supremacy comes with only 10 Challenges of 5 waves each. Also unlike Tackle Alley and Vengeance, Supremacy comes with a big steaming side order of bullshit. If the burly hug-man is controlled by AI, in my experience he will ALWAYS come straight after you. He won’t go after the person with the highest score, or the person nearest to him. He will go after you. It’s incredibly annoying and not very realistic in terms of strategy or gameplay.
There are various ways for your character to avoid danger and pass obstacles, no matter which game mode you’re in. You can jump, slide, barge, spin, and juke your way over, under, through, or around any obstacles, as long as you time your button presses perfectly. Even if you time everything perfectly, Backbreaker Vengeance will occasionally knock you down anyway, just to add a little spontaneity and unpredictability. Every now and then, an opponent will somehow manage to take you down, even if they shouldn’t have been able to. It’s not a big problem, just a frustrating one. The controls are good, for the most part, but the movement is kind of awkward. Most of the time, movement is fine. The problem is that you always have forward momentum. You can never just…stop. Timing is a very important factor in this game, as I said. Unfortunately, the inconvenient and obtrusive camera angles (always directly from behind, immovable) make it difficult to time oncoming defenders, which can result in frustration and the calling of shenanigans.
Online multiplayer has a few different options: Quick match, Ranked match, and Private match. They’re all one-on-one in each of the three game modes, depending on either the randomness of the Quick match or the selections you make for a Ranked or Private match. In my very first Quick match, I noticed that my jump, slide, and barge buttons were extremely non-responsive, resulting in a broken experience. Fortunately, my next experiences with online play went without a hitch. I’m not sure how Backbreaker Vengeance connects people online, but it seems that there might be some inconsistent performance depending on your opponent.
Yes, Backbreaker Vengeance does have some flaws (burly hug-man AI in Supremacy, occasional bad ground-hugs, inconsistently responsive controls during online play, inconvenient camera angles), but for the most part it’s a great pick-up-and-play game that provides a lot of entertainment. Using the Euphoria engine provides dynamic physics when you ground-hug or are ground-hugged, meaning that you aren’t left with pre-animated pieces, but players that react appropriately to the impact they receive. The graphics and sound are good, the game size is relatively small (at approximately 330MB), and with leaderboards, there’s a lot of replay value. When you look at it that way, 1200MSP isn’t that bad of a deal for a non-football game. It is currently XBLA exclusive, and will be heading to PSN (in Europe only, which is a weird market for an American football non-football game) later this summer.
|Easy to pick-up-and-play|
Football without actually being football
|Bad burly hug-man AI in Supremacy mode|
Occasionally has bad clipping with ground-hugs
Online play can result in inconsistent control responsiveness
Inconvenient and obtrusive camera angles