Soccer Up 3D Review
Posted by Morgan Sleeper
These days, soccer games tend to fall on one of two ends of a spectrum: there's the relatively realistic sports simulation found in annual FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer instalments, and then there's the zany over-the-top action of the Super Mario Strikers and FIFA Street series. In the golden days of the Amiga, however, there were other alternatives — games like Sensible Soccer and Kick Off offered quick-paced, arcade-style gameplay still grounded in reality, and proved especially popular in Europe.
EnjoyUp aims to channel the spirit of those titles with Soccer Up 3D, a follow up to the 2011 WiiWare release Soccer Up!. Its heart is certainly in the right place and it fixes a few of its predecessor's problems, but its substantial potential is held back by a lack of polish, AI problems, control issues and game-breaking glitches.
Soccer Up 3D offers up its arcade-style soccer in one-off Exhibition Matches, a two or three-game World Cup tournament, and a Training mode that lets you control both squads to practice your moves. There are fifty national teams to choose from, with brackets for Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the unlikely duo of New Zealand and North Korea. You can choose which of the two fields to play on (though they look very similar) and how long you'd like the match to last; while the clock always counts to ninety in-game 'minutes', it can do so in six, ten, twenty, fifty, or ninety real-world minutes. Finally, you'll pick your squad's starting formation from three choices, which can be adjusted mid-game.
Out on the pitch, the game's controls are simple enough: the Circle and D-Pad move the current player, 'A' performs a high kick, 'B' takes care of low kicks, and both buttons perform slide-tackles when you don't have the ball. The right shoulder button triggers trick shots near the goal, and the left shoulder button cycles between team formations. The 'Y' button is used for a dash, but that isn't as useful as it sounds. Here, dashing is an undulating series of spurts that sees you kicking the ball out in front of your player, leaving it especially open to interception.
This 3DS release happily fixes one of the biggest issues with its WiiWare counterpart by letting you manually switch between players: tapping the 'X' button will swap control to the player closest to the ball. We also found the auto-switch option worked quite well, especially once you get used to performing the necessary Circle Pad about-face each time your player changes.
A good deal of the technique found in Soccer Up 3D comes from the borrowed concept of 'After Kick'. It's clearly inspired by Sensible Soccer's 'aftertouch' system, and allows players to steer the ball after it's been kicked using the Circle Pad or D-Pad. It feels great when you pull it off, and mastering it is really the only effective way to score — which makes it all the more baffling that the game doesn't seem at all concerned with letting players know that it exists. It isn't mentioned at all in the manual or the 'training' mode, and is only illuminated in a secondary screen under the controls menu, rather modestly labelled "Hints".
All in all, the controls get the job done, but not without some issues. The After Kick system is good fun, for instance, but it can be tough to reliably reach the middle ground between straight-on and nearly-right-angle shots. There also doesn't seem to be any way to control players defending against a free kick, and while you can aim a throw-in, your player won't turn to follow suit, or give any visual indication of which direction you're aiming towards. Finally, we were hardly ever able to pull off a slide tackle without committing a foul — it ended up feeling safer to just run on top of the opposing player and hope the ball would magnetize to our player's feet. These control issues are exacerbated by the game's AI, which swings to both extremes: sometimes a computer striker will pass backwards to your team instead of taking a shot on an open goal, and other times they'll land impossible passes without breaking a sweat.
Unfortunately, these relatively minor control and AI annoyances are eclipsed by a much bigger problem: glitches. We encountered several show-stopping bugs in our time with Soccer Up 3D, and they were both frequent and serious enough to overshadow the rest of our experience. One of the oddest occurred twenty minutes into a ninety-minute (real time) exhibition match: massive triangular figures sporting stretched textures of the 'sponsor' logos appeared above the pitch, completely obscuring nearly a sixth of the playing field. It righted itself after the half-time switch before coming back with a vengeance at sixty minutes, this time covering the entire field with an artistic but unfathomably frustrating pin-wheel of random textures. We optimistically slogged through to the end of match, but the glitch persisted the entire time, and the AI's final lead of thirty-something goals proves that invisible soccer is a difficult beast.
During a separate match, we hit another nasty glitch when the computer-controlled team took a free kick. As soon as the ball went flying, we slide tackled by accident; a whistle sounded, all the players marched back to their starting positions, the camera stayed fixed on our goal area, and we were unable to control anything at all for the rest of the game. We watched the clock tick out the remaining ten fast-forwarded minutes of the game, while the crowd cheered and every player on the field stood in place, bobbing their heads in unison. Then we watched the minutes roll well past ninety, finally giving up hope around the 163 minute mark and quitting to the title screen. This was an exhibition match — had it been the last round of a World Cup run, we would have been picking 3DS pieces out of our drywall for days.
Glitches aside, there's a good concept behind Soccer Up 3D, and sometimes it shines through. We're not sure if you'd ever want to sit down and play a ninety-minute match here — the gameplay isn't deep enough and the presentation isn't strong enough to last that long — but it's fun in shorter bursts. We enjoyed it most in six or ten-minute matches, not least because there's less potential for frustration from glitches.
Part of the problem with Soccer Up 3D's staying power is that it does very little to impress on the visual front, with generic-looking graphics and kits, low-res textures, and an overall lack of detail and personality. On the positive side, the 3D effect works well, and adds depth without lowering the framerate at all. The game looks its best during the slow-motion goal celebration sequences and replays, even if the latter sometimes pick the wrong camera path and end up showing a dramatically sweeping shot of the stands as your ball ostensibly flies into the off-screen goal. And while there's some catchy music in the menus, once you're out on the pitch it's nothing but crowd noise and the occasional non-specific chant. The Lo-Fi vocal samples, however, are an audio highlight, and feel like a loving tribute to retro sports games.
One of the game's more unique features is the ability to add your Miis to the game through the Edit Team mode. It's a cool idea, and it is fun to see your face(s) in the game, but it comes with a couple of caveats. First, the graphics aren't really detailed or zoomed in enough to do full justice to the concept, and you'll mostly be telling your Miis apart by their hair styles. Second, if it's something you're looking forward to specifically, it's worth noting that the Edit Team option only becomes available after you've clocked two hours with the game. If you play six-minute matches — which we'd recommend — that's twenty games before you're able to use your Miis.
In video games — as in reality — soccer is best enjoyed with friends, and Soccer Up 3D smartly sports a local multiplayer mode. Even better, it features one of the most generous implementations of Download Play we've ever seen: you can beam the entire game to any 3DS-owning friends, and they can play both the single-player and multiplayer modes until they turn off their system or quit to the Home Menu.
Adding another human to the mix makes Soccer Up 3D much more fun, and we really enjoyed the two-player games we played, right up until we ran into the same game-breaking free kick glitch we'd seen earlier in single-player. The following match seemed to be going well, until our testing partner started celebrating a goal that we hadn't noticed on our system. Lining up the 3DS's revealed that while our players were moving correctly on each screen, our game clocks and scores were out of sync; the rest of the match played out as a surreal Sliding Doors football fantasy until it finally dissolved into a connection error.
As an homage to the simpler soccer games of yore, Soccer Up 3D is a decent if unexceptional effort. What is exceptional, however, is the amount and extent of glitches we encountered during our time with the game, and that's a shame; when it isn't obscuring your view or arbitrarily rescinding control, there's definitely some fun to be had here. The After Kick system is satisfying and the Download Play-enabled multiplayer is a great addition, but they aren't enough to save the experience. We regretfully recommend a pass.