Perhaps a bit of an unexpected review today. Those that know me, know I couldn’t really care less about soccer (hereafter correctly called football). This said, one of my most joyous gaming experiences was a group of us busting out some Pro Evolution Soccer early last decade. It wasn’t the sport I enjoyed (I suck at football), it was the fact that for a while I could pretend I was an international superstar. Along with the silky skills comes the emotions, the joy along with each goal, the anguish when your opponents score, the anger when the referee awards them a free kick. It’s been quite a while since a game about sport interested me, but now I’ve found New Star Soccer.
Available for free online, or on iOS and Android, NSS sees you playing as a single player rather than a full team. Not a fan of football? Not important, neither am I, but I am a fan of this game. Read on and find out why.
New Star Soccer is essentially a combination of in-game play, and a career mode. You start as a moderately skilled player in a minor league club. The better you play, the more chance there is that a bigger club will spot you. Between each game you’ll spend time training, signing autographs, going on social outings with the team etc. Each activity uses energy, which you’ll need to dole out sparingly if you want to be in good shape for the next match. Use too much and you’ll find yourself on the bench, meaning you can’t score goals for the team, and won’t be getting scouted any time soon. Any spare cash can be put towards new equipment, houses, football boots etc. Some of these improve your performance, while housing will increase the amount of energy you gain between matches. Some, like your girlfriend, will act as annoying distractions that interfere with training.
I’ve made it into league 1, and with Carlisle we’re top of the league!
If you perform well, then eventually your team might make it into a higher division. Or, easier than that, you might receive an offer from a larger club. Between seasons there might also be a Euro competition, or World Cup to play in. You probably won’t be selected for those until you’re a lot more skilled, so during those weeks it’s best to just stick to the training. If you perform badly, you’ll find yourself on the bench, you might lose sponsors or fans too. When things are going well, this game will give you warm feelings, while a run of poor form will seriously sting.
The career mode in this game is nothing revolutionary. This is not a criticism particularly, since the career mode serves only as a basis for the match play. It’s the football itself that really makes this game shine, with gameplay that’s ideally suited to handheld devices. Unlike most football games,NSS uses a turn-based system. The majority of the match is shown in text form, much like early championship manager games. If your player becomes involved in the match, you’re switched to a snapshot of the field, and have to make a decision about what to do next. For example, you might read “You have an opportunity to intercept the ball,” at which point you’ll find yourself on the pitch, running to intercept a long pass. Perhaps you’ll read “You receive a long ball,” before finding yourself outside the opponent’s box with a decision to make.
Not a bad game all things considered. The boss is pretty hard to please!
Depending on your character’s skills, you’ll find subtly different scenarios played out when it’s your turn to kick. For example, a higher vision skill will mean you notice more players around you, meaning there are more opportunities to pass the ball safely away. If you’re near the goal, you can opt to shoot instead, weighing up the risk of annoying everyone if you miss, with the glory of a goal. In either case, you kick the ball away by aiming an arrow representing both power and direction. After this you’re shown a brief screen with a stationary or bouncing ball, at which point you have to apply spin to affect the trajectory. Think of it a little like Angry Birds, except you can also curve the ball above and around players. A description of this mechanic doesn’t do it justice, it’s a tricky thing to master, which is exactly why this game is rewarding. To begin with a large percentage of your passes and shots will veer off course, or travel straight into the keeper’s waiting arms. As you get better, and as your character’s skills develop, you’ll find yourself making more ambitious and impressive shots, until eventually you’ll be sending screaming 41 yard balls of awesome into the bottom corner.
Because a large percentage of the game is played out in text form, there will be times when your team, or the opponents, will score without you having any control. I actually much prefer this in a football game; it’s a lot more realistic. You can influence the game to an extent, but if you’re up against a better team, there’s often nothing one man can do. If you brought along an energy drink, you’ll probably have enough energy to step up your work rate, which slightly increases the chance that you’ll receive the ball. If your team is down on goals, you’ll be crying out for the team to pass it your way.
Hmm, a powerful right aimed shot, with a little right spin, looks like it’s going wide.
This is another thing the game does brilliantly, since you don’t get that many chances on goal, it’s your job to make them count. If you’re 1-0 down, and there’s 1 minute to go, this could very well be your last chance to make a crucial point, or prevent your team being knocked out of the FA cup. This understandably piles on the pressure, I’ve choked a number of times, miss-hit the ball and sent it flying over the crossbar. If you do hold your nerve, then any goals or assists mean so much more.
Not everything’s perfect in this game of course. It originated on the web, so was developed in flash. I actually like flash games, but when ported over to phones they often have slight issues, and use excessive amounts of battery. This game is no different, although there seem to be updates with fixes and new features regularly. Juggling relationships with teams, managers, fans and girlfriends, while staying in good shape for matches is quite a task. It can become frustrating when facing off against crucial opponents, only to find that your girlfriend wants to sap your energy going on a holiday. Perhaps this is realistic? But it sometimes feels like you’re faffing about with filler, when you want to get back out on the pitch. I’d also prefer a little more depth to the rating system. After each match your performance is rated by your boss, team and fans separately. For example, your boss cares about your general performance, your team about the standard of your passing and assists, and the fans mainly care about the result. This is a great system, but it sometimes seems unfair that your performance can be slammed if your shots are saved, or you hit the post. Personally, I think hitting the post from 50 yards is a lot more impressive than simply scuffing the ball back to the opposing team, even if you didn’t score.
Intercept to gain possession. Pass to team-mates who might score, and bag yourself an assist.
There are minor issues, and some people may find the game gets repetitive after a while. I, however, have been playing it at every opportunity for the last two days, and thoroughly recommend it. Each match lasts about a minute, which combined with short loading times is perfect for the brief opportunities phone gaming gives you. Fire up the game again, and you’ll pick up right where you left off. The problem is, you won’t play only one match, this game has that “just one more game” quality. “Ok, I’ll play to the end of this season”, “Fine, just until I get transferred to a bigger club”. This game will steal hours from your life.