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Game Review

Nintendo Pocket Football Club Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Damien McFerran

Back of the net

Although they are perhaps a little alien to those outside of Europe, soccer management titles have a long and respected pedigree among those who commit weeks, months and even years of their lives to playing them. In the United Kingdom especially, such games have existed since the days of the 8-bit microcomputers, with franchises like Championship Manager and Football Manager selling millions worldwide — an amazing achievement when you consider that much of the "game" is hidden behind pages of almost impenetrable statistics.

Nintendo Pocket Football Club is an attempt to create an experience that will keep armchair managers happy but deliver it in a more casual and breezy fashion. The sequel to Japan-only 2006 title Calcio Bit for the Game Boy Advance, this game remains faithful to the visuals of its forerunner; players are flat 2D sprites which trundle purposefully around a 3D pitch. Although this deliberately retro aesthetic has been hijacked in recent years by mobile studio Kairosoft and its line of addictive, bite-sized smartphone titles, it's still utterly charming. While the squat players look basic in static screenshots, they possess a surprisingly diverse selection of animations; there's no mistaking the despondency of your keeper as he is soundly beaten by a 30-yard screamer, or the heartfelt protestations of your defender as he is given his second yellow card for a questionable tackle.

Staying with the visuals for a moment, it's worth noting that Nintendo Pocket Football Club looks especially fetching with the 3D slider turned up to maximum. During a match, the top screen displays the on-pitch antics, and you can move the camera around using the slider pad. There are moments when things appear a little rough around the edges — the advertising hoardings which surround the pitch look like they were created using MS Paint, for example — but on the whole, this title has an infectious charm which is difficult to remain unmoved by.

Of course, as any seasoned Football Manager veteran will tell you, the presentation of such a game matters for little; this genre is governed by the depth and immersion provided by the core gameplay. In this regard, Nintendo Pocket Football Club does things a little differently to its rivals. The biggest change is that it's impossible to fast-forward or entirely skip a match; you have to sit through each one in order to discover the result. The game's designer Hiroyuki Sonobe has stated that this was an intentional move to ensure that players would feel more invested in the performance of their teams — his aim was to replicate the same excitement that a proper soccer match provides, making every tackle, run and attempt on goal seem even more exciting.

To a degree, it's a successful move — matches can be quite captivating affairs, and it's enjoyable watching your finely-honed team take apart an opponent based on your suggested tactics. The issue is that having to sit through each match can sometimes be a chore, and on more than one occasion you'll find yourself wishing that you could at least speed things up a little. Thankfully, you're not just a passive observer during each game — you can tinker with player positions, issue fresh tactics and pick out opposition players for close marking, all based on the progress of the game itself. Sadly you can't switch your team's formation once a match is in progress, and the degree of tactical control is still very slight — especially when compared to more established soccer management games — but your changes can nevertheless make quite an impact.

During each match, you earn special training cards which can be used to improve the talents of your players. The conditions under which these are handed out usually relate to areas where your team is struggling, and the accompanying comments — usually involving soccer-based clichés that wouldn't be out of place in real life commentary — make them both amusing and believable. In-between matches you can use up to three training cards per player, but deploying them requires deep consideration.

Players have a "Potential" rating which indicates how receptive they will be to training and how far their can be pushed based on their raw talent, so there's little sense in expending loads of precious cards on someone who isn't going to mature as quickly as his team mates. You'll also want to distribute cards logically; a defender will benefit more from increased tackling than a striker, for example. To make this system even more interesting, it's possible to create card combinations which unlock special benefits, so experimentation is vital.

Beating your players into shape is one way to ensure victory, but you don't have to rely solely on the team you've been given. A transfer market exists within the game which allows you to purchase new talent, providing your club has the required funds. It's also possible to share players with other 3DS users — assuming you have the required funds — as well as offer up members of your own squad.

As you always start from the bottom of the league, it takes time for your team to develop into a formidable, championship-winning outfit. In the early stages of the game you can expect to find yourself on the wrong end of some dismal scorelines, but with each match comes the promise of new training cards, and therefore gradual improvement. It's also possible to take part in training and friendly matches in the weeks when a league or cup contest isn't scheduled; both are vital when it comes to getting more training cards and augmenting your team, but friendlies count for more as they take place in front of a paying crowd — just like a real league match — and therefore effect your overall rating as a manager. During the game your status with the fans is constantly monitored, and if they decide you're not doing well enough then you'll be given the sack.

Eventually you'll spot the key players within your squad and can therefore build your strategy around them. Closely observing the statistics revealed at the close of each match shows where you need to improve, and by tirelessly analysing player attributes you can spot who needs nurturing and who is only fit for the scrapheap. Dismissing players frees up cash for new salaries, and before long you can start to shape a winning club. It's also possible to change the formation of your team, and experimenting with different tactics is vital when you're playing some of the stronger clubs in the game. Players also suffer from fatigue over time — denoted by a red circle next to their name instead of the usual green — and will need to be rested in order to regain match fitness. There's a balancing act to master here; lots of matches means lots of training cards with which to improve your team, but this strategy puts an intense physical strain on your squad.

Playing as many matches as possible is the best way to gain access to new training cards, and as you progress through the leagues you notice that new challenges are offered which allow you to track down new and unique cards. For example, it's possible — but entirely optional — to play practice games against Focused Training Teams and Challenge Teams when you move to the Advanced league, and these meetings offer the chance to bolster your team in specific areas you feel they need work. To play these special sides you'll need to dig deep, however — they are locked away behind a paywall and require an in-app purchase to access. Fans of FIFA's "Ultimate Team" mode will know all too well about frittering away precious cash on virtual goods, but casual users may find the experience rather exploitative, given Nintendo Pocket Football Club's already high price tag in relation to other 3DS eShop offerings.

Although it wasn't always the case in the very early years of the genre, soccer management games these days come with official licenses which permit the use of proper clubs and players. This is all part of the intrinsic appeal; you feel like you're the one calling the shots at your favourite club, and every time you face a team like Manchester United, Barcelona or Real Madrid, the status of those famous names adds some welcome drama to proceedings. It almost goes without saying that Nintendo Pocket Football Club lacks such finery; the teams and players are entirely fictional, although you are given the chance to name your club when you begin a career. You can also rechristen your players so that they accurately represent the real-world squad you wish to replicate, but everything else in the game is a fantasy, which could prove disappointing for soccer fans raised on real-world authenticity. Those old enough to recall when FIFA and International Superstar Soccer didn't boast official licenses are likely to be less dismayed, however.

Nintendo Pocket Football Club has an online ranking mode where you compete against other 3DS players in Europe to see who has the most talented squad. These matches are automatic affairs which don't allow you to make substitutions or change tactics manually. Therefore it's vital that you use the online mode's "Command" menu to ensure the team is setup exactly how you want it — you can change settings such as how aggressive your team is, or determine their level of discipline. Special tournament events are also scheduled to run when the game launches, and StreetPass connectivity is also utilized, allowing you to play against fellow 3DS owners who also own the game. This focus on social play is likely to be a neat aside to the single-player campaign — surely the meat of the game — but the allure of testing your mettle against fellow players and rising up the European league will surely keep fans busy.

Conclusion

Like all soccer management titles, Nintendo Pocket Football Club isn't about immediate action, but instead hides its long-term appeal behind a deeper and more involving style of gameplay. If you're willing to invest hours of your time in building the right team, observing the unskippable matches and training up your rag-tag selection of players, then you'll find it an engaging experience which is hard to put down. However, for all its charm, there's no escaping the fact that Nintendo Pocket Football Club will be compared to rival titles in this genre, and in that regard it falls short; there are no official teams, players or leagues — a massive part of the appeal of soccer management games — and the cute visual style is perhaps better suited to a release which doesn't take itself quite as seriously, like Kairosoft's Pocket League Story series. Still, its earnest approach — combined with impressive multiplayer options and a fantastic English localization packed with amusing dialogue — means that it gets further in the competition than you might expect, and those willing to put in the required time will be handsomely rewarded.

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User Comments (53)

cmk8

#1

cmk8 said:

Is there a more Championship Manager like alternative on the 3ds? Doesn't seem so so I'll be getting this.

Dyl_73

#3

Dyl_73 said:

At the end of the day it's a game of two halves and they look to have given it 110% and given it their all. So long as you keep your eye on the ball and don't make silly mkstakes the 3 points are there for the taking.... enough thick footballer cliches.... this game looks pretty good. I reckon I might give it a whirl.

Oragami

#4

Oragami said:

Can Nintendo make an Pocket American Football Club? I would get that for sure, and I might get this.

Ralek85

#5

Ralek85 said:

You know even Square realized very recently that not everyone in Europa and America loathes jRPGs and that they just might be to able to sell a couple of them here if they tried really really hard. I believe if Square can make such a giant mental leap forward every other decade or so, so can everyone else. Not every American loaths football (sorry soccer). For christ sakes it was merely days ago that Jon Stewart on basic cable did the next best thing to worshipping the ground Pelê walkend on in his studio. One thing that still baffles me on a more generall note, is that we still have this division even with purely digital releases between the regions, moving into the realm of the astonishing is that this is even kept up with products which are already localized. Nintendo is aware that we have a whole friggin island of English speaking people over here in Europe, aren't they ? So why can a digital game be published by Nintendo itself to be released in Europe .. but not in America. I get the other direction, since not any Europeans speak English but this is just very strange....
Sorry don't mind me I'm just ranting.

Oragami

#6

Oragami said:

Wait, never mind, I live in North America... Whatever Soccer isn't really my deal.

Tops

#7

Tops said:

LOL I thought you were joking when you said this review went up during the Smash direct! I'd get it if it came to NA

BenAV

#9

BenAV said:

I'm actually quite excited for this one.
I'll be making sure I have enough money in my eShop in advance.

Kaze_Memaryu

#10

Kaze_Memaryu said:

The visuals slightly remind me of Super Soccer for SNES, but other than that, there's nothing interesting for me here.

WesCash

#12

WesCash said:

The absurd popularity of Football Manager is something I will never understand. It combines the world's most boring sport with the excitement of spreadsheets.

Mahe

#13

Mahe said:

Was looking forward to this, but the price is simply too high for this kind of title. Nintendo is hurting their own titles by poor pricing decisions.

Agent721

#17

Agent721 said:

My team PSG could've used a few training cards today vs. Chelsea in the CL! This game looks cool, too bad I'll never see it in the US.

Meuz

#18

Meuz said:

Are the European leaderboards like that of Wii Sports Club, i.e. The different regions of each country, or are they just UK, France, Spain, etc.?

Nintendo_Ninja

#19

Nintendo_Ninja said:

Ugghhhh! Why is it that I don't have any Eshop credit the minute a fun little game like this comes along?!?!?

bizcuthammer

#21

bizcuthammer said:

I'd buy this if it came to the US. I love football/soccer and games like this, but i'm not really into all the teams and leagues enough to care about licensing. This looks like the kind of game i'd get into. It'd be cool if they branched into other sports too like American Football, Basketball and others.

Nintendo systems need sports sims like this, especially with EA being a no show on their consoles.

andrea987

#22

andrea987 said:

Thanks for the review, Damo. In-game transaction are always a let down, tbh. But since they are optional in this case I'll condone it. Not much choice for my footy manager fix on 3ds, anyway. You're not mentioning it, but is there an editor for teams and players names/stats?

Jahir

#23

Jahir said:

Why don't you bring this game to NA, Nintendo?! This seems fun and it could be a good way to start in this football manager thing.

DamoAdmin

#24

Damo said:

@andrea987

"...you are given the chance to name your club when you begin a career. You can also rechristen your players so that they accurately represent the real-world squad you wish to replicate..."

;)

You can't change stats, though. Just the names!

Peach64

#26

Peach64 said:

I'm really torn here. Part of me wants this, and I know Damo said it was better than Pocket League Story, but every screen looks like it could be from that game. There doesn't seem to be anything that says 'Hey, look at this, this is why you're paying more than ten times the price of that other game!'.

I think I'm gonna play very close attention to customer's reactions between now and the end of the month!

andreoni79

#27

andreoni79 said:

Thank god the game has been fully localized in many different languages, so it won't scare those who don't speak english.
@Meuz The official site says: "Register your team online and face challenges from all over Europe! Top the league tables by out-scoring other sides in Ranking Matches and see how you place Europe-wide or by your country. The world of football never stops, so watch your rank and set up fixtures regularly to hold your position!"

retro72

#28

retro72 said:

Great Review.
Day 1 (with price reduction £10.79) purchase for me.
Perfect game to 'lose yourself' in :-)

ROBLOGNICK

#30

ROBLOGNICK said:

It's the uber-realism that puts me off other management sims so this is why I'm all the more interested in this game. I hate real football. I quite like the Inazuma and Smash Football series of games though.,

mch

#31

mch said:

Its a tough world for me, because i don't really like soccer compared to other sports, but I love well made Manager games! I will get this one and try it. It's only a bit sad that it has no official license (it's not about icehockey!).

DamoAdmin

#33

Damo said:

@Peach64 Trust me, it's a much deeper experience all round. I loved the Pocket League games but they're nowhere near as deep and complex as this.

kalipso3

#34

kalipso3 said:

Fortunately it is solid enough. A pity it does not allow changes during match (particularly formation changes - maybe it would be too complex then?), and the in-app purchases aren't too nice for me as well. Fortunately, it appears it is more complex than Pocket League Story, and will hopefully have cool online features - looking forward playing some multiplayer cups!

SneakyStyle

#35

SneakyStyle said:

I don't even like soccer/football but for some insane reason I find these kind of games fun... I can't understand why but i'll buy it.. xD

andrea987

#36

andrea987 said:

@Damo Cheers, Damo. So it's only for your team, is that correct? I was hoping for the chance of updating all the names on a league, to give it more of a realistic feel.

6ch6ris6

#38

6ch6ris6 said:

i think it is good that this game does not have real teams and leagues. for me it would take away the feeling of being in an unique little football-crazy world. as an PES player i am also used to not have real teams :D

kalipso3

#39

kalipso3 said:

I also like fictional names for teams and players, this is my preference for management games - the imagination plays an important role and you never know what may happen :) And it does not get old that fast.

andrea987

#40

andrea987 said:

@Damo Thanks, I will get it anyway, it could have been an interesting feature. Being able to customise every team and making them available to download for others would be neat.

defrb

#41

defrb said:

can you control your characters, or is it only management?

Surely looks cute.

Galenmereth

#44

Galenmereth said:

@Damo How necessary would you say the microtransactions are for fully enjoying the game? Having played my fair share of iOS games through the last years, I've grown very, very, VERY sceptical to microtransactions. It's enough to make me drop this whole game, especially since it's already far from cheap.

Cesco

#47

Cesco said:

I hope it'll be fun to play. I don't play a football manager sim since the days of "Player Manager" on the Amiga ^_____^

Graeme

#50

Graeme said:

Can anybody tell me

Is this just league based or do you also play cups and euro type competitions?
How many seasons does it last, play say 20 then start again or is it rolling?
Can you play people online?

Cheers to anyone who can help

Dhughes147

#51

Dhughes147 said:

Everyone keeps saying you can't change your formation during the match. You can't choose a preset one but you can drag the players around into different positions on the formation screen during the match. Just tap on the coach sitting on the bench.

rylo151

#52

rylo151 said:

@Damo @andrea987 So you have to watch the whole match each time? Can anyone tell me how long each match gos for? A minute or two won't be too bad but 3 or more andit might get too boring.

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