Back in April, we likened Football Manager Touch 2018 on Switch to playing Ronaldo at centre back. It was an absolutely brilliant game, but one that was being showcased relatively poorly by the host system. What chance is there, then, that Sports Interactive has managed to make the necessary tactical tweaks in time for Football Manager Touch 2019?
Seven months might not sound like much of a turn-around time between versions of Sports Interactive's epic football management sim, but we're essentially dealing with tablet ports here, and the original version of Football Manager Touch 2018 came out a full year before this follow-up. The good news is that Football Manager Touch 2019 itself is a noticeably improved experience, if only incrementally so. The bad news is that all of the criticisms we had of the previous porting effort apply to this one.
But let's kick off with the good stuff. Football Manager Touch 2019 has the same relationship-ruining potential as all of its management sim predecessors, in which you pick a team from a comprehensive roster of real leagues and attempt to micromanage them to glory. It's quite possible to take control of every aspect of your team's operations, from transfer and contract negotiations to training drills and tactical set-ups.
Possible, but far from essential. Football Manager Touch 2019 makes it easier than ever to delegate responsibility and access only the parts of the role that really float your boat. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the remoulded tutorial component, which gets the series as close as it's ever been to 'accessible to newbies' status. If you've wanted to give a Football Manager game a try before but have been put off by its daunting spreadsheet-like complexity, this is your best jump-on point yet.
The first time you encounter a major element of your management role – be it scouting, training, or tactical preparation – Football Manager Touch 2019 will engage you in a brief guided tour. These sections are far from comprehensive, but they successfully nudge you in the right direction without overwhelming you. Towards the end of these tutorials, you can opt to take full control of the relevant arm of your football club or assign the task to your backroom staff.
Longtime fans might baulk at this hand-holding automation process, but it's wholly defensible within the context of the real game. The time of the Fergie-like club autocrat has all but passed, with specialisation the name of the modern game. This more accessible nature is reflected in Football Manager Touch 2019's slightly brighter, more inviting presentation and its cleaner UI. The game's various information screens use colour coding to excellent effect, making it easier than ever to pick out important information.
Meanwhile, the Tactics screen makes it much more intuitive to give your team comprehensive playing instructions. This time you're given a range of Tactical Styles to select from a drop-down menu, ranging from the fashionable Gegenpress to the Barce-like pass-and-move of Tiki-Taka. Select one of these styles and all of the tactical variables will be properly tuned to playing in this way. This includes individual settings for three distinct phases of play: in possession, in transition and out of possession.
Naturally, you can dip into any of these phases and make tweaks – instructing your goalie to either distribute quickly or slow the pace in the transition phase, for example. And you'll still need to take the attributes of your players into consideration, as well as the qualities of your opponent. But having such a range of preset tactical mindsets at your disposal helps with the flow and accessibility of the game enormously.
Unfortunately, while the core game strives to make things more accessible, the platform-specific concessions continue to hold the player at arm's length. The Switch's 6.2-inch 720p display continues to be too small and insufficiently sharp to run Football Manager Touch 2019 comfortably in handheld mode.
Text is tiddly, making direct touchscreen use quite hit-and-miss at times. Meanwhile, whole sections of options have been excised and shifted to sub-screens, with key side menus needing to be brought into play with the L and R buttons. This can be adjusted to, in conjunction with the smart application of the ZL and ZR buttons (go back and go forward respectively), but this approach also encourages you to use the left Joy-Con stick to navigate a free-moving pointer around the display rather than using the preferable touchscreen input. This is how the game controls when in docked mode, of course, and it continues to feel like an awkward fudge.
There's also just a general lagginess to the experience which exacerbates all of these control issues. This stretches from the long loading times to frustratingly extended pauses in-between pressing a button or touching a screen prompt and getting the required reaction.
Football Manager Touch 2019 is comfortably the best sports simulation on the Nintendo Switch, and the game marks a steady progression from Football Manager Touch 2018. But this still feels like an entirely non-native experience, with a clunky UI and sub-optimal performance. We're not sure any lessons have been learned from the previous version. Short of a complete (and likely impractical) rebuild for Nintendo's hybrid console, it's tough to see how Sports Interactive can rectify many of these issues. As it is, we're left in the unusual position of praising the depth, scope and newfound accessibility of this engrossing game whilst simultaneously recommending that you explore other means of playing it.
This is another dauntingly deep yet strangely conflicted sports simulator from the undisputed champions of the form. Football Manager Touch 2019 is the series at its peak, but it remains a sub-optimal Switch experience; if you can play it on any other platform then we'd recommend you do so, but if Nintendo's machine is your only option, then, by all means, give it a spin – just be prepared to find yourself occasionally frustrated by the many awkward concessions that have been made to get things running on the hybrid console.