Every which way you look at this time of year, you can’t help but be flooded by the drones of wince-inducing celebrity ad campaigns and football paraphernalia behind every shop window. If you didn’t already know, the World Cup starts in one week. We may have already seen EA step up to the plate with their World Cup tie-in 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, but other developers are keen in sharing the sales potential afforded with the tournament. Soccer Superstars is one such effort and as such Gamevil have crafted a hugely ambitious yet ultimately flawed game.
Certainly not skimping on features, the regular Exhibition Mode is met with more generous undertakings such as the My League mode – which is the App Store equivalent to FIFA’s Be a Pro mode, Season Mode, Cup Mode and an intriguing Dramatic Mode which challenges the player to overcome the odds in a re-creation of classic moments in the World game. It’s the mode which I had most fun with in my time with the game – well suited to the pick-up and play availability mobile gaming provides. However, in trying to put a kinetic style of play at the forefront, it only further highlights the often frustrating and underwhelming control scheme.
A virtual thumb stick – that can be positioned anywhere on the left hand side of the screen – has the same bugbears that have been rifled at on-screen controls in the past, but that’s not my main grievance with the setup; the whole style of play and pace of the matches are just painfully sluggish. Two buttons (one for passing, one for shooting) act as the very basic control system that is used to good effect – holding each button will see a stronger shot / lobbed pass. However, the game is let down by its insensitive and largely unresponsive input method, so shooting at the key moment is more a matter of luck than any well timed button press. It also doesn’t help that the sufficiently detailed sprites only move in 8 different directions, akin to more retro football experiences, that makes it insanely difficult to get any flow going whilst on the ball and staying hold of possession – let alone re-gaining it – can be highly frustrating! Maybe I’m expecting too much of the Apple platform, but it’s a poor implementation of play and a huge miss step that tarnishes what otherwise adds up to a well thought out game.
The aforementioned game modes are expertly designed and sufficiently deep. The My League mode, for example, has you design your own player and skill set, and then puts you on your way to international super-stardom. The season – that comprises of 26 matches – will see you gain popularity and morale based on your performance, with a summary from the manager that is based on the number of shots on goal, assists and fouls you make. As such, I didn’t see an option to change the position of your created player other than leading the way as central forward. Sufficient to say, keeping a hold of the correct position (marked with the ‘play’ arrows) and asking for the ball when in space (a click of the ‘A’ button) is surprisingly well designed, whilst a button for switching between cameras following the game or your own player, is a nice touch. In-between your stints on field, you can kit your player out with items that have varying effects, go training (which will see improvements in the player’s stats) or choose to attend an event, such as a fan meeting which can increase your popularity. Only allowing you to choose one bout of training or event per each match interlude means you will be given some freedom in the areas you wish to take your player, whether to the highs of a superstar or the might of a consistent goal scorer. Elsewhere, the management focused Season Mode is similarly well detailed and complex enough to have a hefty play-time, with a number of seasons on the cards to get through. Keeping a track of finances, player transfers and events will all play their role if you’re to win the league.
Gamevil should be applauded in the ambition and scale of the final product, however in trying to strive for excellence in its field, it falls way short. The presentation is first class, with neat graphics and well laid out, colourful and clear menus. The game play is its downfall in the end, not helped along by the iPod’s struggle at keeping up with the pace of the game, with some drops of frame rate. If the mechanics could be tightened, and the buttons made more responsive, it could turn out to be a much more enjoyable experience. Unless you can enjoy the superficial qualities of the game, it looks like you’ll have to look elsewhere for your portable World Cup fix.
MLG Rating: 5/10
Platform: iPod Touch (iPhone) Release Date: 03/06/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Soccer Superstars for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of four days on an iPod Touch. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.