The premise of football on the Wii is instantly confusing. How can a developer successfully represent the art of kicking (and that word is important) with arm-waving motion sensing? Sure, for years we’ve been playing soccer titles with a control pad where the whole scheme is focused on your hands, but a button press is far less manic and conventional. However, with EA already proving it’s well and truly behind the Wii, it was always going to give it a damn good shot, even it meant revamping a formula so that Nintendo’s new demographic – which we guess is everyone – could enjoy it. The result, as ever, is far from clear.
Let’s jump straight into what you’re all dying to hear about: the controls. Yes, a shot is taken by flicking the Remote up or down with your hand and although it doesn’t make much sense initially, there is some weight to it. After a few matches, a Remote thrust is a solid alternative for the more standard button press, but what’s not is how long it can take to respond on occasion. Countless times we attempted to follow up a gracefully fed through-ball with an instant shot, only for our character to pause for the slightest of moments before unleashing his wrath. This carries on throughout the whole game. FIFA seems to enjoy punishing those who dare hit the Z button to run. The moment you commit such a crime, you’ll take a second longer to turn or that elegant pass will be somewhat delayed before leaving your boot. It’s beyond frustrating because we just couldn’t replicate that genuine football feel that many other FIFAs have offered (especially the last one).
And then we had an epiphany – FIFA 08 is not aimed at those who rush out to buy each yearly iteration of both EA’s creation and Pro Evo before sitting down to meticulously see where the slight tweaks have been made. No, FIFA for the Wii is there to serve a single purpose: to be fun. Get a couple of friends in the room and what is essentially a poor footballing sim becomes a pretty damn good arcade experience – which is summed up perfectly by the way in which you curl the ball. As soon as the sphere is airborne, tilting the Nunchuk left or right will affect the path it takes. It’s a good idea and has been executed well, but man, can that ball move, or can that ball move? A slight twist will affect it in the normal, ordinary fashion, but once you start hurling your hand all over the place it’s as if the laws of physics no longer exist. The term ‘banana shot’ has never been more appropriate, but it’s so enjoyable to try and curl the ball in from a ridiculous angle. And again, it’s this fun factor that allows FIFA to stay above water. You’ll throw nearly every mechanic that you’ve been taught over the years out the window and bask in the light-hearted nature that shines through. Clearly EA is marketing this at families (hence the ‘Family Play’ control option which we’ll tackle in due course) and it’s easy to envision the entire ‘fam’ sitting around the TV, laughing with one another as they take pleasure in a videogame genre that before was only accessible to the most avid of fans.
Right, due course is now with us – let’s talk ‘Family Play’ mode. To be honest, it’s scarily bizarre! Only requiring he/she who is in control to pass, shoot, tackle and sprint is understandable (literally anyone, even granny Edna, can play), but the 22 players on the field still try to do their own thing anyway. On a few occasions when we were happy for our midfielder to run on, he’d decide to pass it. Wait a minute! We don’t care if you earn £50,000 a week – and you don’t because you’re nothing more than a bunch of pixels – but you’re already having the majority of the control; at least let us have something! Furthermore, the advanced controls, as they are known, are relatively simple to pick up, and enhance FIFA’s qualities to a much greater degree – sure, let your nan muck around with them when she tries it out for her one and only go, but make sure you go back when she’s done; it really is the only way.
Don’t get us wrong, though. We’re not just ripping the system for the sake of it – as we said, it does serve a purpose – but two teams controlling themselves does underline a glaring weakness in FIFA’s arsenal, namely the AI. Again, we recognise that it’s probably been designed to be relatively simple, but regardless of how old you are, in the midst of a tense match, no one (and we mean no one) wants to see their goalkeeper kick the ball out from the edge of his box and then proceed to just stand there. Yeah, that’s right. He’s not moving. He’s just glancing aimlessly towards the sky. And wait, what’s this? Oh, that’s the ball flying back over his head into the net! Cue the arguing that takes place between you and your buddy as you try and convince them that this match doesn’t count! It’s certainly not excruciating enough to sap the fun away, but it can be frustrating.
On the whole, however, it’s completely logical as to why someone would get addicted to the way FIFA plays. Hell, we’re still getting an urge to toy around with it because of how uncomplicated it is. But, even with our now confessed love for EA’s latest Wii entry, we cannot fathom the reasons behind the three mini-games, known collectively as Footii Party, that have been added in to take advantage of the Wii Remote. Admittedly there’s an odd sense of happiness to be had from seeing Ronaldinho in Mii form, but what comes afterwards just didn’t strike a chord with us. Table Football had potential thanks to the way in which the Wii senses motion – twisting wrists and all that – but it lacks the fluidity necessary to build up the intensity and fast pace of the classic pub jaunt. Juggling, a rhythm-action game of keepie-ups, is slightly better, but too effortless to really provide any form of entertainment. You waggle every now and then, maybe push a button or shake like crazy, but if you fail it’ll be down to giving up rather than a lack of skill. Finally, there’s Boot It. This involves aiming the ball at targets that pop up around the face of the goal, but actually hitting them is next to impossible. No matter how you move the Remote, you can bet your ass that ball isn’t going where you wanted it to. Somehow, going between the posts is even worse! We threw the controller in all kinds of different directions, but our keeper hardly ever responded accordingly. In a similar sense to what we said earlier, more casual players or those picking up a football game after years in the wilderness will probably get some delight from it. If you’ve got FIFA to see how it plays on the Wii in comparison to the stereotypical football game you know and love, however, none of them will appeal.
Mind you, with all this said, the game of football EA has put together on the Wii is very different but ultimately fun, which was clearly the intent from the beginning. Those who have been brought up on the typical formula may not get that same buzz as they do when taking it around two defenders before sticking it in the back of the net, but even they will be hard pushed to wipe the grin off their faces after demolishing someone with a sliding tackle by plunging the Remote forward. As for the ‘casual’ crowd – there’s no better footballing alternative.