Goooooal América Review
Posted by Morgan Sleeper
New World, old game
For all the emphatic 'o's in its title's iconic interjection, Goooooal América is not a game about football. Nor is it a foosball game, as you might think. If you happen to have owned a certain toy as a child, however, you'll recognize the game's inspiration right off the bat. It's based on a particular small-scale interpretation of the Beautiful Game where stationary, spring-mounted players are flicked to send a tiny metal ball rolling into the opponent's goal, with dips in the field around each player catching the ball and altering its path. Goooooal aims to recreate this experience in video game form, and while the results prove that not everything is as much fun on the screen as it is in real life, there's still some enjoyment to be had here, with the right expectations.
Gooooal has two main modes, Classic and Arcade. Classic is the basic version of the game, where your plastic players square off against the computer in a turn-based race to a set number of goals. Using the stylus to stretch back and flick your figures, you'll aim the ball to pass to teammates or shoot at the goal, and your turn ends only when you lose possession. There's an interesting mechanic that makes your goal shots more powerful the more you pass the ball, with the meter gradually dropping while the other team has control, but it's difficult to rack up any real power with precision.
The Arcade mode promises to inject a bit more excitement into the proceedings by turning the tiny ball bearing into a time bomb. The bomb starts ticking down as soon as it's in play, but the timer refills a bit with each successive pass. That mechanic means you'll have to set the bomb speed to "Quick" in order to actually get anything out of the Arcade mode (i.e. actually see an explosion), but once you do it can be a lot of fun. The chance-based nature of the game doesn't allow for much time bomb strategy beyond flinging it and hoping it won't come back to incinerate you (in an always-satisfying animation that sends your player flying off the field), but that adds to the mode's chaotic feel — it's a welcome switch-up from the more quotidian Classic mode.
Both Arcade and Classic mode have Tournament options that let you work through a 16-team bracket, though this really just highlights the fact that Goooooal is better suited to quick play than marathon sessions. There's also a multiplayer option, unceremoniously accessed by unchecking a "CPU" box before a quick play match in either mode, which is a surprise highlight under the right conditions. As a pass-and-play experience, it's slow and tedious; but if you have access to two styli, placing the DSi or 3DS down on a flat surface and sitting side-by-side comes very close to replicating the feel of the table-top game, and can be great fun - the Arcade mode is especially well suited to multiplayer antics.
Rounding out the package is the Campaign mode, featuring a set of 24 challenges to work through. These run the gamut from mind-numbing exercises ("Pass the ball ten times") to skill-based trials ("Score three goals with your striker without passing the ball") and more imaginative experiences, like a fun round of time bomb bowling that tasks you with detonating a ten-pin pack of your opponent's players. It's a nice addition, and adds variety to the gameplay, though having to unlock each event by completing the previous one means it's easy to get stuck on a particularly demanding challenge. Playing through the Campaign mode is also a great way to learn the best shot angles for each position, which can make Classic mode much more enjoyable.
While Goooooal América does a pretty good job of transferring its tabletop source material to DSiWare, it's far from a perfect conversion. There are a few particularly notable issues which lie not with the concept, but the implementation, and are perhaps all the more disappointing for it. Part of the appeal of this game's physical predecessor comes from the visceral experience of frenzied flicking, and this aspect gets lost when Goooooal insists that players wait until the ball has settled down completely in the dip before taking a shot. We're willing to bet that anyone who played this game in their childhood spent just as much time snapping their players back with reckless abandon as they did carefully considering shot angles, and having to sit still until the ball stops moving takes away some of that frantic fun. Similarly, players are completely unable to act when the ball is in their opponent's possession, meaning that any hope of defending is out of the question - you'll just have to sit back and hope the ball finds its way into a dip instead of your goal. Neither of these issues are game-breaking, but they do feel like missteps. At the very least they make the game more methodical than you'd expect.
Finally, while the gameplay will definitely appeal to certain gamers, it's difficult to imagine Goooooal's presentation leaving a lasting impression on anyone. The graphics are basic and uninspired, and everything is static apart from the ball and the player being manipulated. There's only one field, and what little visual variety there is comes from the different kit colours of the various squads. As the title suggests, Goooooal América lets players chose to play as one of 16 teams from across the Americas, though the only difference between them is the uniforms. And honestly, this tenuous connection to actual football only serves to mix up the game's message. It's not meant for footy fans, and the sooner potential players figure that out, the better. The sound effects are suitably satisfying, but there's absolutely no music to speak of outside of the menu screens. We've seen games where silence makes sense, but this isn't one of them, and a little background music could've given the package some much-needed personality.
Anyone going into Goooooal América expecting a football game, or even a foosball game, is going to be seriously disappointed. That doesn't make it a bad game, however. Taken on its own merits, Goooooal is a decent digital approximation of a specific tabletop toy. A few gameplay limitations make the transition to the small screen rougher than it should be, and there's nothing special about the presentation, but players excited by Goooooal's particular premise will still find some fun on this plastic pitch.