The commercials that have been bombarding my TV for FIFA 10 have been asking the question: "How much bigger can soccer get?"
It's an odd question to ponder, due to the fact that I live in Ottawa, the equivalent of a soccer Siberia. Here in Canada, professional franchises are few and far between outside of Toronto, and most sports fans around these parts want to discuss hockey and on occasion, hockey related topics. Bring up soccer, and they'll describe it is a slow motion, low scoring version of hockey with no sticks or hitting. Of course, there's much more to the sport than that, but the intricacies of the sport haven't presented themselves very well to an audience that spends six months of the year under a blanket of snow and ice.
It's been a bit of a hard sell for the game known around the world as football, especially in the frozen tundra that is Canada. However, if you want to educate a casual fan on the possible fun of soccer or are a casual fan yourself, then FIFA Soccer 10 on the Wii is a great choice.
While the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game are presented as hardcore simulations of the sport, the Wii version is much like 9 out of 10 games for Nintendo's little waggle machine; casual and easy going. This decision seems to have worked in the game's favour, as it resulted in a fun, fast paced game of soccer that will undoubtedly appeal to this demographic.
FIFA 10 is certainly a breezy take on the sport. This is an interpretation of soccer that encourages liberal use of a turbo button, wacky special dekes and kicks, and gets you from start to finish in a game in mere minutes. Every game I played on the default setting was over in less than 10 minutes, perfect for gaming in short bursts.
Like most Wii games, motion controls play a large role in FIFA 10, but not quite to excess. Kicks are controlled by shaking the wii-mote, and are accompanied by a cheesy yet strangely satisfying WHOOSH sound. Slide tackles are done in the same manner, but don't get too used to them, it seemed like half the time I used it I got my player ejected from the match.
On corner kicks and penalty kicks, both player and goaltender have to shake the Wii-mote at a pre-determined moment. The player with the better timing will win possession of the ball or stop/score a goal. The Wii version of FIFA 10 certainly rewards skill, reflexes, and timing, probably more so than any intimate knowledge of soccer strategy. That's not to say there's no strategy to the game, as the game gives you a few options to tweak your team's formation and tendencies, but they're minor and likely to be ignored by most players.
There are lots of options for controls, so you're bound to find a configuration that works best for you. Players can use a classic controller, just a Wii-mote, or a Wii-mote nunchuck combo that is really the way the game was meant to be played. When using just the Wii-mote, the game will take control of the players, allowing you to focus simply on passing and shooting, perfect for smaller children who want to be able to keep up. When playing with the nunchuck, you have full control over your team, and the choice to pass with the Wii-mote pointer, or by pointing the analog stick on the nunchuck. I personally preferred the pointer passing, but it's great of EA to provide the option. With so many options for controls, it can be a little daunting to remember all the controls. Unfortunately, there are no options to check your controls midgame, which is a bullet to the casual foot that EA seems so eager to please.
For such a casual game, FIFA 10 is actually really challenging. It wasn't until my second game that I was even able to record a shot on goal, and it wasn't until my fourth game that I was able to actually score a goal. The CPU is absolutely tenacious on defence, and getting deep on your opponent's half of the pitch is really challenging. It will require
Beginning players would do well to start with the helpful tutorials and practice modes, and play on easy mode for a while. It's a real shame that the game doesn't let you change the difficulty in the middle of a season, because players will inevitably improve at the game as they go on.
Speaking of season mode, there's a disturbing lack of modes and longevity to the game. When you first boot up the game, you're given the option to "hit the pitch" for an exhibition mode, Battle for Glory (season mode), enter a tournament, play online, or go through training. That's it, that's all.
Battle for Glory mode is likely where you will spend most of your time with the game. You're given the choice to pick any team from dozens of leagues from around the world. Every league I've ever heard from is in the game, along with a plethora that I haven't. While in battle for glory mode, you have control over certain elements of your team, but it's all pretty basic stuff. You can transfer players for cash or other players, set a few strategies, and… that's about it. This game is focused entirely on the on-pitch gameplay, and it loses most of what makes it compelling when in between matches.
Let me make this clear: I hate the team owners. They're total jerks. Before you play any match, your owner sets expectations for the upcoming game. All of these are quite challenging, but if you manage to accomplish them, you'll get stat upgrades for your team that last a few matches. Don't succeed, and your team will lose a significant statistical advantage for a few games. This is a huge annoyance, especially for beginning players. You tell me if it makes any sense: you have someone just starting out, and you force them to agree to a challenge. When they inevitably fail, you make their team worse for the next game. How does that welcome in new players? It's a frustrating system. It would be one thing if you could opt out of it, but you're forced to pick a challenge before every game, and it won't be long until your 70 ranked team becomes a low 60 because you can't accomplish these goals. Furthermore, the goals are always pretty hard, like keep the CPU to fewer than 8 shots in the game, score a hat trick with your star player, or allow less than 3 goals.
Presentation is one area where FIFA 10 shines. While the menus are pretty barren in terms of options, they're colourful and a joy to navigate with the Wii-mote. Once the game hits the pitch, things look very good by Wii standards. Player models animate beautifully, the crowds show a good level of activity, and the pitches are bright, colourful, and show deformation throughout the match. During the replays, the low polygon player models show a few seams, but overall, FIFA 10 is a good looking game of footy.
The play by play keeps up with action well, and conveys the proper level emotion during the peaks and valleys of excitement throughout the match. Within the stadium, the aforementioned sound effects add a little pizzazz to the proceedings, and the crowds chat and sing appropriately through the ebbs and flows. The soundtrack on the menus is also catchy in that pop and club music sort of way. Overall the sound presentation is breezy and fun, much like the rest of the package.
FIFA Soccer 10 is a fun excursion to the pitch, perfect for the Wii's typical target audience. What it lacks in depth and simulation aspects it makes up for in straight, casual fun. This isn't a game for the elite soccer fan, but rather those who would rather kick a ball around with some well designed motion controls. If this sounds like you, feel free to jump in with both feet. For the rest, FIFA 10 comes with a yellow warning card.