Even the best footballers in the world need to be placed in an appropriate system if they are to thrive. Put Lionel Messi at defensive midfield in a hard working long ball team and you'd undoubtedly still experience moments of supreme quality, but you wouldn't get the best out of him. That's an appropriate analogy for Football Manager Touch 2018 on Nintendo Switch. It's a brilliant game, and arguably the best football management sim experience on console, but it doesn't quite feel at home on Nintendo's hybrid system.
Even if you're a faithful disciple of all things Nintendo, there's a fair chance you've heard of Football Manager - perhaps under its earlier Championship Manager guise. This is the long-running family of football management simulators that has been responsible for countless wrecked marriages, such is its engrossing pull. It's also the series that has been used by professional football managers to scout new playing talent, such is its unparalleled level of detail and accuracy.
The 'Touch' genus of this family appeared fairly recently in response to demand for a streamlined mode that got back to the brand's core essentials. At around the same time, it answered the call for a mobile version with the same inherent depth as the PC original. Football Manager Touch 2018 on Switch, then, is the same game you'll find on iOS and Android tablets, as well as the simplified PC mode. You start each game by creating a manager, picking a real team from one of many worldwide leagues, and jumping straight into preparation for the current 2017/2018 season.
You can choose to get as hands-on with your squad as you'd like. For many casual football fans, the experience will consist of jumping from match to match with repeated presses of the 'ZR' button. In between games, you'll assign your favourite players to their real-life positions in the Tactics menu, perhaps giving them specific roles so as to maximise their productivity. You might even go scouring the game's formidably accurate database of real players, seeking to buy that Spanish superstar that gave your real life team the runaround in a recent match. Even then, you can leave it to your scouting team to dig up talent that fits your club's profile and budget. Similarly, your assistant manager and coaching team will take care of training by default.
Footy fanatics can get way more involved in every aspect, though. When it comes to match day, you can delve deeper into your team's tactical approach, setting its tempo, width, height, rigidity and more. You can have your winger dovetail with your striker to bamboozle a static defence, or have your keeper take part in the build-up like an outfield player. You can even extend the 3D highlights package that represents each match so that you're watching more of the game, or even watch the whole shebang.
In between matches, there's even more to do. Whole evenings can be spent refining your player search parameters, sending out scouts to produce detailed reports on them. You can take direct control of training to turn your raw winger into a 40-goal-a-season striker. It's also possible to buy a star player who's worth way more than your entire season's budget by structuring the payments and incentives just so.
Suffice to say, we've barely scratched the surface of the Football Manager Touch 2018 experience. This is a quite outstanding game that can suck as many hours of your life as the most engrossing RPG. It doesn't shine on Switch, though. Playing on your TV with a controller is a complete mess, because this is a game that was designed to be played with a mouse or a finger. Dragging a cursor around with the left Joy-Con stick feels like something from the '90s.
Portable mode is the best way to play FMT 2018, because you can interact directly with the game's countless links and screen prompts, and drag and drop players just like in the tablet versions. But it's all too cramped. There's a simple reason you can't play Football Manager Touch 2018 on your iPhone or Android phone: because even a 6-inch display isn't sufficient to cram in what is essentially a jazzed up spreadsheet. It shouldn't surprise you to learn that the Switch's 6.2-inch 720p display isn't up to the job either.
The game's text and virtual buttons are just too small here, and that means that it's often easy to miss them or activate another screen element altogether. Despite this shrinkage factor, Sports Interactive was unable to fit everything onto the Switch's screen. Essential side-menus have been shuttled away behind the 'L' and 'R' buttons, while the useful Back prompt is assigned to 'ZR'. As a result, playing FMT 2018 in the optimal manner entails some awkward hand gymnastics.
Those menus are clunky to navigate too. Can you remember the last UI that made you bring up an overlay menu, select an option, then manually close the overlay menu rather than jumping straight to your selection? Even in the simpler confines of the match engine, the commentary bar is cut off entirely in handheld mode. This means that you're left watching a static screen of information and a 'waiting for next highlight' message. Topping off the sensation of a sub-optimal port is the lack of Cross-Sync support, so you can't continue your game on PC.
All in all, it's brilliant that you can now play this wonderful game on Nintendo Switch. If you have access to a halfway decent tablet or laptop, however, there are better ways to get your portable Football Manager Touch 2018 kicks.
Football Manager Touch 2018 is a mostly feature-complete version of the best football management game in the business. For Switch-owning football fanatics, it's perilously close to a must-buy. Yet this is also a deeply imperfect and ill-fitting port that seems to have been crowbarred into Nintendo's platform.