'Backyard Football' gets wee fans into game on Wii

For many families, Super Bowl Sunday spikes an interest in football video games. For the youngest gridiron fan who isn't ready for the complexities of Madden NFL 08 or NFL Tour,Backyard Football 2008 on the Nintendo Wii may be a good fit.

The Backyard Sports franchise has been around for more than 10 years and Backyard Football 2008 is the sixth iteration of this children's football simulation game. This is the first time it is offered on the Wii.

The idea behind this series is that kids play sports with other backyard kids, including child-versions of professional players. This year's edition features Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, LaDainian Tomlinson, Brian Urlacher, Reggie Bush, Michael Strahan, and nine other NFL pros. Each backyard cartoon kid will talk to you, encouraging you to pick him or her while you draft your seven-person team. During this draft, the backyard kids' strengths and weaknesses are displayed on simple charts.

The game offers three levels of difficulty. On the easiest, you hike the ball by pulling up on the Wii Remote, and throw it by mimicking that action with the controller. On defense, you tackle by flicking both the Wii Remote and Nunchuk Controller down; to jump, you flick the controllers up. Other more sophisticated moves incorporate the other buttons on the controllers.

To learn how to play the game, there's a practice mode, and the manual explains the basics of the game. Backyard Football 2008 would be better if it had a tutorial because, even after exploring the practice mode, the game can seem complicated to young children who have never played a football video game. Kids must select plays to run, and if they have never seen these before, the practice mode doesn't do a good job of explaining how they work.

While you can choose to run realistic NFL plays, what makes this game so much fun for kids is that you can also throw in wild arcade-style power moves, which create funny scenarios that you would never see in a pro game. For example, one power-up available to you on defense is to make the ball sticky so that the offense can't throw it. Plus, watching pint-size cartoon versions of famous pros is entertaining in itself.

Kids can jump right in with a pickup game or opt for the more robust season mode. In the pickup game mode, they can play alone against the computer or with a friend. Kids can control the length of the game and choose the location, the team and players. While playing, kids earn unlockables including new pro players, stadiums and power-ups.

For children who are new to football, playing this game will help them to understand how professional teams run offenses and defenses. Unlike other football video games, it makes playing the game simple, since most of the main actions are tied to intuitive motion-controls using the Wii Remote. But since the game does not offer a tutorial, parents may need to explain some of the nuances of both football and this video game.

Because Backyard Football 2008, even on the hardest level is streamlined and easy to play, choose this game for video game rookies, not for seasoned players.

Gudmundsen is the editor of Computing With Kids magazine (www.ComputingWithKids.com). Contact her at gnstech@gns.gannett.com.