There are moments in Legendary Eleven that are very enjoyable, such as super special moves that juggle the ball before launching it into the back of the net with an overhead kick and a button dedicated to dribbling, meaning you can fake and nutmeg your opponents as you approach the goal. Then there are the game-breaking bugs, like the ball going out of play before rolling back onto the pitch while everyone dashes about not touching it – yet the clock keeps ticking down, forcing a reset. Replays of goals are often full of glitchy movement, with players nodding their heads enigmatically or stretching their legs like a contortionist. And even then, most replays are dull as dishwater because they’re limited to certain viewpoints.
As a football game that leans heavily on an arcade attitude – rather than a straight simulation – some wackiness is acceptable. The style falls into this category; as the game focuses on the heady days of the '80s, there are gangly players in impossible tight-fitting retro kits and heads topped off with perms; it all taps into the nostalgia for that time. It’s a genuinely nice spin and the developers have added an almost sepia sheen to the graphics which emulates the old fuzzy CRT TVs we all crowded around to watch Mexico ’86. While this looks the part at first, after a while it becomes tiring squinting through what seems like a layer of Vaseline over the display.
Because of the arcade feel it’s easy to jump into a game, though it’s worth turning the tips on, otherwise nobody will tell you what button does which action and you’ll end up hoofing the ball up the pitch rather than gently tapping it to your teammate. Thank goodness for those tips, otherwise basic skills like a one-two pass are anyone’s guess. There’s also a long pass, which doubles up for shooting, which isn’t ideal – hold it down to wazz it at speed – a short pass and a through pass. The shoulder buttons handle the sprinting and trick shots, the latter being charged up with successful passes and tricks.
It would have been nice to see more tricks, and while the powerful shots are impressive, being on the wrong end of one is demoralising as there doesn’t seem to be a defensive act to balance them. Taking a corners or free kick brings up a decreasing circle – let go of the button at the right time to hit the sweet spot and see the ball fly in a gorgeous arc. The same goes for penalties, but let go of the button too early and the ball will scuff the crossbar or swing off-target wildly.
Once the controls are nailed down – and they really are simple – you can jump into a friendly game between any of the teams from around the world or pick one of the five championships – Africa cup, Asia cup, America cup, Europe cup and, of course, World cup. It’s all pretty standard fare from there, with group matches followed by the knock-out stage of the tournament. Where Legendary Eleven does separate itself from the pack is in its use of stickers that boost the stats of your teams. These are selected before the match begins and are broken down into four categories, of which you choose one in each.
Special stickers will give more accuracy on free kicks or allow for a more relaxed half-time, while defence stickers boost differing stats on your defensive line. Midfield stickers are similar, but also allow for longer slide tackles, while attacking stickers will fine-tune your shots on goal. While you start with a nice selection of stickers, a lot are unlocked through winning certain cups with particular teams. Not only is this a nice addition to the gameplay, it adds to that nostalgic feel of genuine World Cup sticker albums, reminiscent of days of ‘need it, got it’ in the school playground.
With so few football games on Switch, Legendary Eleven might be tempting, but be prepared for a scruffy 0-0 draw rather than a 5-4 thriller. There are some highlights that impress, but the game's many technical flaws, lack of depth and unbalanced gameplay will most likely cause you yearn for something more refined and exciting. It really is a game of two halves.