Aside from the Wii Sports series, the Wii isn’t generally known for sports gaming. EA is trying to remedy that situation by revamping various franchises to better fit what the Wii has to offer. Case in point, FIFA Soccer 10. While FIFA 09 was by no means a terrible game, EA Canada reworked the entire engine to create a more action-oriented game. Usually, starting from the ground up on a franchise means the first game of a series going through the rebuilding suffers quite a bit. Thankfully, FIFA Soccer 10 shrugs off the growing pains, and delivers a football experience that, while a bit arcade-like, can still be enjoyed by soccer fans of any kind.
FIFA 10 on the Wii makes use of a handful of intriguing new gameplay mechanics. Instead of relying on user created set pieces like its 360/PS3 brothers, the Wii version has implemented the “Strike It System,” a new one-on-one mini-game, to get both users more involved in free/penalty/corner kicks. When kicking, there will be a meter on the ground between your player and the ball with three zones. Flicking the remote in time with your player approaching the zone closest to the ball results in a stronger shot, making it tougher for your opponent to defend. On defense, you’ll have mere seconds to time your flick before the ball flashes green while it’s in the air. Flick quick enough, and you’ll either make the save or kick the ball away. A mistimed defensive flick will more often than not result in a goal for the other team. It’s an interesting way to keep both players involved, and helps separate the Wii’s arcade feel from that of the sim feel of the next-gen version. Since you’ll primarily play as the goalie on defense during shots like this, you feel a bit more responsibility for trying to keep the ball out of the net. Getting the timing down against the computer isn’t all that difficult, but when playing another person, you’ve really got to bring your best twitch reflexes to the table.
The game’s standard controls are simple, and don’t rely on senseless waggle. You control your player’s movement with the nunchuk, while passing, shooting, tackling, and tricks are handled on the controller. You pass with either the A or B button depending on whether or not you want to lob the ball. Very simple tricks like sidesteps and heel flips are mapped to the D-pad, and you shoot by flicking the controller. The game takes care of angle and location, so you don’t have to worry about where you’re aiming. Since the gameplay has been tweaked tremendously over the last year, you’ll also notice plenty of small details like better trapping, more intelligent goalkeepers and defenders, and smarter offensive AI. It becomes apparent after a few matches that EA has a better grasp on motion controls in sports titles than many of their contemporaries. Occasionally, passes will not hit their targets, and through passes are almost impossible to pull of, but the game’s brisk pace is hardly disturbed by stoppages. In fact, the only real issue I have is just how nitpicky the referees are in the game. Slide tackles will almost always result in a free kick or a player getting carded. Even the lighter step-tackles will cause you to get singled out by a ref. I don’t know if it’s because EA placed such an emphasis on the “Strike It System,” or because the ref AI is really that strict, but the longer you play, the more tedious it becomes to get called for a foul when the game could easily let you play on.
Momentum plays a small part on the offensive side of the ball. Using a passive meter, located at the bottom of the screen, which fills depending on how aggressively you’re playing, your team might seize the momentum. When the opposition has full momentum, any shots taken can only be deflected by the keeper, which provides the attacking team with more opportunities to score. It’s not a cheap instant goal, and while it’s not like the gamebreakers from the Street series, it does reward players for pushing the advantage. It’s easy enough to regain the momentum by playing solid defense, and the only time you might ever feel slighted by the feature is if you’re actually not very good at the game, and you’re playing above your level. Higher difficulty levels have computer AI that punishes mistakes, and is almost always on the attack. Most of the time the AI is very fair and balanced, with team ratings spread pretty evenly across the major leagues. Draws and games where only a few goals are scored happen often, but you will run across teams that either you destroy, or that will dominate you from whistle to whistle. Overall, EAC did a very nice job replicating the on-field action despite the game being much less of a simulation than the 360/PS3 versions.
Sadly, as fun as actually playing a game is, there aren’t that many game modes for you to get into. Battle For Glory is the game’s franchise mode. You’ll pick a team, and play through a season trying to win your particular league’s championship. Before each match, you have the option of picking a “Manager Moment,” which is a stipulation or task your team must complete during the game. Ranging from “Don’t allow 4 or more goals” to “Take 3 shots on goal,” none are too difficult to achieve, and completing them gives your team a confidence boost for the next match. You’ll also unlock Game Boosters based on how well you perform. Boosters like “+3 to all player attributes” or “Better shots” can be used at any time once unlocked, and you can even combine several common boosters to create more unique ones. It’s an interesting concept for the more casual player, and adds ever so slightly to the core game.
Tournament mode allows for you and however many friends can fill out a league to compete against one another for a league championship. It’s fairly no frills, and you’ll only get as much out of it as you and your friends put into it. The quick play option, Hit the Pitch, allows you to play one game, or set up a short “Best of” series. It’s slightly more developed than most other game’s exhibition modes, but even when combined with the few other modes, doesn’t really provide a great deal of variation in how you play the game. No matter how you choose to play, FIFA 10 does a nice job of stat tracking the basic things like goals for, wins, etc., for multiple users, allowing you and whomever else plays on your console to see just how well you perform when stacked up against one another. It’s easy to read, which is nice for newcomers, but is almost too basic for stat junkies. It would have been nice to see an advanced stat tracking option included, but what EA implemented this year is more than serviceable.
Online has been improved this year, and in addition to playing one-on-one you can now play two-on-two, which adds a great deal of fun to the experience. Playing with friends on the Wii is still a chore, but that’s not EA’s fault. They’ve even included an in-game menu to make it easier to locate a friend to play with. Getting into a match is as simple as hitting the A-button a few times, and for the most part, online plays just as smoothly as offline. The few times I encountered lag it was very bad, but those occurrences were rare. There are no online leagues, but there is a leaderboard. I know asking for an online league for a Wii title is probably wishful thinking, but it would certainly help in drawing more fans to online play, particularly if it was as easy to organize as everything else in FIFA 10.
This year’s FIFA has received many changes to the game, but the most apparent when you start a game will be the graphical redesign. Like Madden 10 before it, the Wii version of FIFA has become decidedly stylized. Player models are a bit exaggerated, but still look interesting. Marquee stars share a healthy resemblance to the real players, even if they are more akin to caricatures. There’s a ridiculous amount of stadiums, and even though the people in the stands aren’t all that impressive, your favorite team’s home pitch will look fairly spot-on. The colors have been ramped up to create a more vibrant visual style, and the action pops off the screen. The lighting, physics, and animations are all very impressive considering the console, and most textures are actually pretty solid. Only upon closer inspection of the jerseys does any sort of blurriness creep in, and even that only happens on more intricately detailed unis.
I don’t generally look to the Wii for a quality sports gaming experience, but after my time with FIFA 10, I don’t regret getting the same game for multiple consoles one bit. Once again, EA finds some solid footing to build another strong sports franchise on, and even though FIFA Soccer 10 is geared towards a more casual audience, more serious fans looking for a change of pace will have just as much fun. Though there’s a lack of depth in the game’s modes, FIFA 10 does just enough right to keep you coming back for more.