Backbreaker 2: Vengeance for iPhone
It could be argued that the most fun part of football sims isn’t the playcalling, the route running, or even finding the open receiver. Rather, the best part of video game football is running with the ball. That was the focus of the original Backbreaker for iOS: you had the pigskin, and needed to hightail it across the field into the endzone—avoiding defenders along the way.
Backbreaker 2: Vengeance by NaturalMotion Games offers all the gameplay of the original, and adds not just a few new features (like jumping over obstructions and low tacklers), but also an entirely new Vengeance mode where you play the defender out to tackle the ball carrier, watching out for some extremely aggressive blockers as you pursue him.
As in the original Backbreaker, the game is presented from an over-the shoulder third-person perspective. You play a sequence of challenges, with an ever-increasing number of obstacles (and moves required) to score or to prevent the ball carrier from scoring—depending on the mode.
I didn’t always find that the difficulty levels escalated as I went through challenges; sometimes, earlier levels were much tougher than later ones. That doesn’t matter much, though, because the game’s plenty of fun regardless. Initially, you just need to run down the sole player on offense, but you’ll quickly need to evade blockers, touch bonus point zones, truck through low obstacles, jump over high ones, and stay in bounds all the while. The original Backbreaker’s excellent control scheme remains constant: you tilt the iPhone left and right to “steer” your runner in the right direction, and tap one of the numerous virtual action buttons to juke, spin, and otherwise dodge the other team.
As you avoid all those obstacles, you’ll of course want to keep your eye on the guy with the ball, who is fortunately—in a feature that FOX Sports no doubt dreams of—bathed in a massive column of light at all times. In fact, if you’re not keeping a close enough eye on the ball carrier, it’s easy to over-pursue him, and then need to awkwardly turn around to tackle him.
As you progress, you unlock new teams, new accessories, new levels, and even new moves. When the game starts, you can’t jump or "truck," but after a few defensive stops you’ll gain access to those controls. I did occasionally get mildly frustrated with jumping: you need to tap anywhere on the screen to jump, but there are so many virtual buttons across the bottom third of the screen that triggering jumps requires either moving your hands or tapping right in the center of the action. I accidentally pressed the wrong button—missing the jump and thus face-planting into an obstacle—more times than I care to admit. Again, though, I can’t say I minded the occasionally-frustrating jump controls too much, because I just kept retrying the challenges I missed again and again.
While you can’t run through objects that you’re meant to jump over, you can tackle right through them, which seems like an odd oversight.
When trucking gets introduced, gameplay get trickier. You can truck right through blockers in yellow, but others you must remember to juke or spin away from to avoid. As, ever more blockers and obstacles separate you from the ball carrier, you’ll find that you’ll need increasingly quick reflexes to stay in the game.
As I mentioned, the classic Tackle Alley mode revisits the original Backbreaker’s offensive mode. Added to the original’s already excellent Showboat button (which earns you extra points for hyping the crowd and goose-stepping into the endzone), there’s now an even more delightfully obnoxious Super Showboat mode. In Super Showboat, you run even slower—and earn even more bonus points—as you mercilessly mock your pancaked opponents.
All the new controls and obstacles—to jump over and truck through—make it into the offensive mode, too.
If I haven’t made it obvious enough yet, I love Backbreaker 2. Macworld rated the original game 4 mice, and this new version only improves on the original’s greatness. When you couple the fun and amusing gameplay with the well-implemented imagery, the crowd noise, and even the Cookie Monster-esque pained grunts from the player you control all combine to make Backbreaker 2 that rarest of events: a sequel that truly improves upon the original.
[ Lex Friedman wishes Backbreaker 2’s Showboat button could recreate some of DeSean Jackson’s most hilariously obnoxious moves.]