Format: iPad (Reviewed)/iPhone/Android
Developer: New Star Games
The New Star Soccer series has been letting wannabe football stars live out their dreams since FIFA’s Be A Pro mode was but a twinkle in an EA Sports executive’s eye.
Its combination of old school footballing action, lifestyle management simulation and satirical humour have proved popular with PC games and has spawned several sequels, the most recent of which, New Star Soccer 5, was released to critical acclaim last year.
The indie series has now moved onto Android and iOS mobile devices in the form of New Star Soccer Mobile and, inevitably, some compromises have been made in the transition to the smaller screen. Some players will be disappointed that it isn’t an exact replica of the PC game, but the end result is one of the best mobile sports games to date.
There are two ways of playing NSS Mobile– Arcade and Career modes. The former is a minor timewaster that doesn’t hold any lasting appeal, but the latter is one of the most engaging campaigns that can be found on a mobile device.
In this mode you take your young professional from the obscurity of the non-leagues to worldwide superstardom. Once you have named your player, you will undergo a series of trials which will determine what stats you begin your career with.
There are five attributes – pace, power, technique, vision and free kicks – and these can be improved through training or from purchasing boots of varying quality and expense. Needless to say, the higher your skill level, the more impressive your ability on the pitch.
Eschewing the full 2D match-engine of its bigger brother, NSS Mobile focuses on a number of specific incidents during the match. Best described as a crossover between early entries in the Championship Manager and Flick Kick Football, there will be moments in the match where you can make an impact either by shooting, passing or intercepting.
If you are in possession, you use the touchscreen to aim and apply force by dragging your finger back from the ball. The screen then switches to a significantly larger ball, which may be static or in motion, and you must tap the part of the ball you want to hit, affecting its trajectory and spin. If you are not in possession, then you simply tap the part of the screen you want to run to in the hope of intercepting.
Match controls are effective and most importantly fun to play, but the lack of influence over a game can be disconcerting. If you haven’t been selected due to poor form or substituted, then it can be very difficult to make an impact on a match and it is possible to get stuck in a rut.
Off the pitch
However if you play well in matches, then your profile and overall level will increase. This means that expensive certain items will be in the shop, but it can also be used as a bargaining chip in contract negotiations.
Your first wage packet will be paltry, but improved contracts and a portfolio of sponsors will increase purchasing power as your career progresses. Lifestyle items such as cars and clothes will impress girls, while property speeds up recovery time in between matches.
Off the pitch, you must balance relationships with your manager, teammates, fans, girlfriends and sponsors if you are to keep your player happy. If the boss is upset, he won’t pick you, if you neglect your teammates they won’t pass to you and if the fans hate you, you may lose composure in a match. Sponsors will abandon you if they aren’t kept sweet and if you don’t pay attention to your girlfriend, then she will criticise the team in the press, attracting the ire of your manager and jeopardising your future at the club. Energy is a crucial factor in managing your off-the-field activities and if you are too tired you can’t play football or train. It can be replenished by purchasing energy drinks in the shop, which means if you have plentiful funds you can do as much as you want within the game.
Energy drinks increase in value as your level goes up, which means that energy management can be difficult, but if you restart your career, you retain all the money earned in your previous life, meaning that in the next playthrough, drinks are plentiful. While this is most welcome, it can’t help but hide the feeling that the difficulty curve isn’t perfect, especially when your failings can also be disguised by wearing expensive boots.
Managing relationships and energy levels can be frustrating, but they are a core aspect of the New Star Soccer series’ appeal. Sadly, and perhaps inevitably, the gameworld just doesn’t seem as fleshed out as its PC counterparts.
You can still partake in casino games and the news stories lose little of the series’ trademark satirical view on the world of football, but it feels as though something has been lost in translation. A recent update has added the much-missed continental and international competitions, but the transfer system needs some work. Teams will make offers for you during the January transfer windows, but in the summer you can basically choose what team you want to play for the following season, so long as you are of a decent standard.
Those looking for an exact port of the PC series are expecting too much of NSS Mobile as it never claims to be one. It’s a good game in its own right. The career mode is not as deep or comprehensive as New Star Soccer 5, but it’s uncomplicated, ideally paced for gaming on the go and seasons can be completed in no time at all.
Its retro feel, solid gameplay and intuitive touchscreen controls will endear it to newcomers as well as seasoned veterans, and given that iOS users can play three games a day without paying a thing, there really is little excuse not to try.