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SummaryWhy was it such a task to give this series the slightest of improvements?
The GoodBefore you jump down my throat and harp on me for doing this before Backyard Hockey (which was released first), hear me out – this game was very clearly finished before Backyard Hockey. The copyright date is 2002 despite its 2003 release date and it uses the SCUMM engine which every game before this used, unlike Hockey which went to the Yaga engine. It also used the original character designs instead of the redone ones that debuted in Hockey. I do not care in the slightest about the release order, chronological order matters much more to me. While there isn’t really a chronology with the Backyard Sports, if there was one of any sort then this game would have been first, and that is why I will not be discussing Hockey at all during this review and will be comparing that game to this one instead. Now, with that out of the way…
Well, you know what I thought of Backyard Baseball 2003, and honestly, I could sum this review up by saying take my stance on that game, apply it to this one, and you have Backyard Soccer 2004. But where’s the fun in that? Of course, I still have to preface by saying that I have not been too kind on the last two Soccer titles. I found their faults to make them very bland and boring entries in the series. Of all the sports that got the Backyard treatment, soccer got it the worst. What’s worse, we only ever got three soccer games. That’s right, this is the last Backyard Soccer game ever to be made. It didn’t exactly go out with a bang.
Of course, the core gameplay, if I must go over it for the nine thousandth time, has been the same. Pick a field, pick a team, and draft your players. It’s either a single game or an entire season.
Much like with Baseball 2003, the menus, music, and voice acting have all been redone. The sound effects have also been edited. I was somewhat surprised to see how few pros stayed from the MLS Edition; only six of them are returning players, with nine new ones. I will at least commend the game for trying to balance out the new pros with the Backyard Kids, as they’re actually not too high on stats this time around. They’re still a little unbalanced, but it’s much better than it has usually been.
There are four new power-ups this time around, and thankfully they actually have variety this time around instead of just helping score goals. For instance, one of them instantly refills your team’s stamina and another one distracts the opposing team with ice cream. There are four new fields to use in a single game as well. They are technically reskins of other fields like in Baseball 2003, but it’s way more forgivable this time around since the shape of the field has no effect on the outcome of the game unlike in Baseball. I’d still like to know how they got off calling one of them “Fappy’s Farm” though. The final thing I will give them points for is giving the rewards back for winning a season; you now get a credits sequence and Mr. Clanky.
The BadOf course, those improvements can only polish so much about the game. All of the exact same problems I had from the previous two games – the AI, the long seasons, and the unneeded home field – all persist. I am not going to repeat myself here, if you haven’t been following my series of Backyard Sports reviews, just read my previous Soccer reviews to know why I take issue with these things. This is completely unforgivable at this point, and I must restate my point: you have had THREE GAMES to correct these issues. Don’t fault me for feeling like I got cheated out of a good deal, it’s incredibly frustrating when the game has very legitimate problems yet the development team instead focuses the budget on voice acting.
Oh yeah, remember the voice acting issue from Baseball 2003? It’s the same exact situation. Humongous completely re-casted all of the voice actors with professionals from Audio Godz, including Sonic regulars Lani Minella and Ryan Drummond. They’re just as annoying here too, sounding way too similar to each other and being squeakily annoying. Apparently the clients must have loved Lani Minella, because not only did she voice both announcers in the last game, she announces both of them here too. The game credits fifteen, count them, FIFTEEN voice actors, they sincerely thought there was absolutely nobody better in the entire studio to voice Earl Grey than the one who was already voicing Sunny Day? He at least sounds distinguishable this time around compared to Lani the Gooch, but if I have to make that kind of compliment, it's probably not a good sign. Sorry if I’m dragging this one point out, but this is just inexcusable. This is, very thankfully, the last game to use the Audio Godz voices, and once they were dumped, nobody in their right mind complained.
Finally, I have to bring this one point up – there are no unlockable fields in this game. You know how many fields you play on that are exclusive to season mode? Twelve. You could easily double the amount of playable fields by having those as unlockables! Backyard Baseball 2003 let you unlock the season-exclusive fields, why couldn’t this game do the same?
The Bottom LineJust like with Baseball 2003, it’s not a terrible game, but if you played either predecessor, you are missing nothing by not playing this game. It’s a more of the same type of situation, and the team could have allocated the budget to much better things than the voice acting if they really were in that big of financial trouble. I wish I had more to say, but when a game is offering an experience identical to its predecessor, it’s probably doing something wrong.
And that ends what many people refer to as the “golden age” of the series. This would be the very last game to use the original Backyard Kid designs and the last one to use the SCUMM engine. From this point onward, the series would start making some choices that would drive more and more fans away. First came the character redesigns, then the move to 3D, the many different voice re-casts, the peak of the major license milking, and many more things that would split the fanbase like nothing else. But just how much of a “dark age” would the following games create? Join me next time when we conclude this long line of reviews once and for all in Backyard Hockey.