Backbreaker: Vengeance Review for Xbox 360

Backbreaker: Vengeance Review for Xbox 360

Maze to the End Zone

NaturalMotion’s $50 game Backbreaker flopped, with critic scores averaging the 50s. By the time the company released a patch that cleared up many of the problems, the damage was done. However, the game’s mobile versions, which were typically priced below $5, earned positive reviews and were downloaded millions of times.

Naturally, the developer decided to take the $5 game, punch it up with $50 graphics, and sell it as a downloadable console title for $15. No, it doesn’t make sense to me, either.

Backbreaker: Vengeance Screenshot

The first thing you need to know about Backbreaker Vengeance is that it’s not a football game. You can’t put together a team, play a match, or even pass a ball. Rather, it’s a collection of three football-themed running minigames. While they’re mildly entertaining, the high price, questionable controls, and frustrating online play make this game a false start.

In the first minigame, Tackle Alley, you’re a runner. You have to navigate an obstacle course of defenders and “out of bounds” areas to score a touchdown. The defenders are color coded; the different colors stand for the moves you need to use to get around them if you want bonus points. At first, this is simple enough—trigger a defender to come after you, juke him the right way at the right moment, and keep going—but each time you manage to score, the field gets more difficult. Before you know it, you’re jumping over barriers and navigating narrow holes in the defense with no room to spare.

Backbreaker: Vengeance Screenshot

The second minigame, Vengeance, puts you in what seems like the opposite role: that of a tackler. But it’s essentially the same thing; to get to the guy carrying the ball, you have to navigate a bunch of players who are trying to stop you, just like you avoided the defenders before.

The third minigame, Supremacy, truly changes things up, putting you in a race against several A.I. players. There’s still an obstacle course to navigate, but the added pressure to go as fast as you can is a welcome twist. So is the fact that you can shove the other guys into obstacles. Another interesting change is that if you score the fewest points in a round, you’ll have to play as a defender the next.

Backbreaker: Vengeance Screenshot

So, what’s the problem? For starters, three simple minigames is a pretty paltry offering for a $15 game, even if each of the games has a ton of stages. Between the three modes and the extra multiplayer stages, there are 350 “waves”—football fields to navigate—which are unlocked in groups of five. That makes 70 sets of waves you’ll have to beat before you’ll complete the game. This will take you a lot of time, but who wants to put that much effort into a minigame collection?

More importantly, these games require a lot of precise maneuvering, and the controls don’t really make that possible. Specifically, it’s very difficult to make your player turn tight corners. Once you get through the first few stages of any of the minigames, it starts to feel like the controls—and not your skill—determine whether you win or lose.


As a result, the game is fun only as a brief distraction; if you play it seriously, it’ll just make you mad. Perhaps its best aspect is the local multiplayer, which pits you and a friend against gangs of opposing players, or against each other. Whether it’s competitive or cooperative depends on the mode and whether you see the harder levels as puzzles to solve together, or as no-holds-barred races to your objective. (Fair warning: If you see every level as strictly competitive, you’ll probably be restarting a lot when both of you fail.)

Unfortunately, multiplayer doesn’t work nearly as well online. In Supremacy, there’s a two-console limit, which is awfully weird for a four-person race. And worst of all, there are occasional lag issues, making it even more difficult to nail the tight maneuvers when the game gets hard.

Backbreaker: Vengeance Screenshot

But back on the positive side, if you’re a real lover of football, you will experience some truly awesome physical moments while playing Backbreaker Vengeance—faking out multiple defenders at once, blasting a running back off his feet, gloating as you break into the end zone. (Yes, there’s a gloat button.) The reason these moments work so well is the Euphoria physics engine, NaturalMotion’s crowning achievement. It’s been widely licensed; in fact, Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption both made use of it. Each element of the character models moves with perfect fluidity, and when bodies collide, the resulting movements look perfectly natural—and painful. As in Trials HD, it’s sometimes fun just to see what kind of awful contortions you can make your player endure.

The physics aren’t the only thing that’s great about the presentation. The stadiums come alive in high definition, the hip hop background music pops out of your speakers, and the sound effects are frighteningly realistic. If anything, this game looks and sounds better than the original $50 version of Backbreaker. But is the awesome presentation worth $15 when the gameplay is so simplistic and so frustrating? I say no.

It’s clear from this game that NaturalMotion is an immensely talented developer, and that future versions of Backbreaker should be a lot of fun. They’ve come a long way since botching the original game. It’s unfortunate, though, that they decided to make Vengeance a trumped-up minigame collection that’s hard to control instead of a simple and fun arcade football game.

Euphoria physics coupled with well-done, high-definition visuals. 2.2 Control
It’s too hard to corner, which is kind of a problem in an obstacle course game. 3.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The hip hop beats and crunching sound effects work very well. 2.7 Play Value
It’s fun as a distraction for a while, and there’s a lot of content, but $15 is too much to pay for a simple minigame collection. 3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • Three single-player and multiplayer modes: Tackle Alley, Vengeance, and Supremacy.
  • 350 Waves in 70 unique challenges.
  • Split-screen two-player and AI multiplayer modes.
  • Euphoria-fueled dynamic motion for unpredictable and un-canned animations—no two tackles are ever the same!
  • Relive key moments with the feature-packed in-game replay system.
  • Complete challenges to unlock new teams.

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