After watching the British Academy Game Awards two nights ago, I was curious about the nominees in the Mobile & Handheld category, which was unsurprisingly won by Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead. But what of the titles that hit the woodwork? Of those I could play, it was New Star Soccer (iOS) by New Star Games that has wormed its way into my heart and rightly equalised by taking the BAFTA for Sports/Fitness.
Kick Off Meets Football Manager
New Star Soccer is an iOS game whose graphical simplicity just doesn’t do justice to the depth and character of the gameplay. Essentially, the game is a simulation of the career of a professional football player (“soccer” may be in the title, but I’m using the sport’s proper label).
At the core of New Star Soccer is a series of simple mini-games which equate to passing, shooting and intercepting the ball. Although these appear very basic, with striking the ball comprising picking a direction then tapping a large moving and rotating football, the analogue nature of the interface allows for a significant degree (or at least the illusion of) skill. The difficulty curve is quite steep and what initially seems too easy, quickly becomes infuriatingly challenging.
Each of these mini-games can be practiced ad infinitum in ‘arcade mode’, but, despite the smooth execution and appealing ball physics and animation, they wouldn’t hold most people’s interest for long. Step forward career mode too – but beware – that way lays hopeless addiction. At least, it has for me.
When Saturday Comes
After giving my bright-eyed 16-year-old hopeful a name – Dylan Henry – he was signed up to a team in an obscure league. Suddenly, I found myself presented with a myriad menus and options; league tables, performance statistics, training (essentially the ‘arcade mode’ but with an impact on Dylan’s energy levels) and even the extra-curricular aspect of a career sportsman’s life – clothes, cars, girlfriends, gambling, property and so on.
When a match finally gets under way, the ebb and flow of the game is delivered in a simple text bulletin format, similar to football management games of yore. But when something occurs involving our intrepid hero, one of the mini-game interfaces kicks in, providing opportunity to influence the match. This is a brilliant device for weaving the player into the narrative of the match and works so well. I often find myself cursing a fluffed shot or shouting at a team-mate for not making enough effort to pick up my slightly awry pass.
There’s No ‘I’ in Team (even on iOS)
The number of opportunities to influence play depends on several factors – your work rate chief among them. This can be set to one of three levels, but the higher it is set, the quicker your energy is depleted. If not managed correctly through the match, you’ll be substituted off. This also happens if you fluff too many chances and the way you perform in-game influences how The Boss, The Team and The Fans feel about you. Shoot for goal when your team-mates are in a better position and they’ll hate you regardless of how well you play.
All of this has ramifications beyond the match and before long you find yourself playing a tricky balancing act between improving your skills, managing your energy levels and keeping on the right side of your colleagues and your girlfriend. Special mention is deserved of the humorous post-match interview interface, which highlights the cliched ramblings of the average footballer.
The Final Whistle
New Star Soccer is not without its flaws; I wish the peripheral players in the in-match mini-games were less static, and play inexplicably stops dead after a pass is made – it would be nice to see the action flow on.
I appreciate that not all of GameSkinny‘s audience will have the level of cultural investment in “soccer” as the average Brit and even then, a certain amount of imagination is required, but there’s no getting away from the fact that this game is a little cracker. If you’ve ever played Football Manager and wished you could personally take control of one of the players, here’s your chance.
New Star Soccer is free to download from the Apple Store but a £0.69 ($0.99) microtransaction is required to play beyond the first 10 matches of career mode.
[Edit: New Star Soccer in fact won a BAFTA for Sports/Fitness, rather than “going away empty handed” as initially reported. This article and title has been edited to reflect this.]
New Star Soccer (iOS) Scores at the BAFTAs
Why did a little iOS football game get a BAFTA nod? I'd tell you, but I've just got to prepare for my F.A. CUP semi-final against Stoke.What Our Ratings Mean