Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Kickin’ Soccer Review

Kickin’ Soccer, developed and published by Phelios.
The Good: Simple controls and theoretically easy to play
The Not So Good: Imprecise and unresponsive keyboard controls make the game extremely frustrating to play, game switches player control seemingly at random
What say you? Sloppy controls kill what could have been an entertaining soccer game: 4/8

Every four years, athletes from around the world gather in a single location to see which country is the best in a highly popular sporting event. I am of course referring to the World Equestrian Games. Apparently, there is some other major sporting event called the World Cup; since I am from the United States, I’ve never heard of it. Soccer is popular in most countries other than the U.S. (called “third world countries”), so it’s not surprising that a fair number of soccer games come out. There are two main franchises in computer gaming (FIFA and Winning Eleven), but there’s always room for independent, smaller titles. Kickin’ Soccer (you can tell it’s independent because they couldn’t afford a “g,” just an apostrophe) is such an arcade soccer game.

Kickin’ Soccer plays from an overhead perspective, and as such, feels outdated and well behind the other soccer titles. Obviously, the graphics will never stack up to the feats of more financed offerings, but the graphics of Kickin’ Soccer feel like they were developed 10-15 years ago. Everything is comprised of sprites superimposed on a flat, green field. It is certainly underwhelming, but I never felt as though the graphics were especially bad, just out of date. It’s easy to tell where the ball is, although players from countries with similarly-colored uniforms are a problem. The sound is simplistic as well, just some crowd noise (reacting to saves and goals) and some kicking effects. Still, the graphics and sound of Kickin’ Soccer are average for a low-budget arcade game (and the game is only $10).

Kickin’ Soccer features three game modes: one player single games, two player single games (using the same keyboard), and one player cup, which is a 16-team single elimination tournament. You can play using one, three, five, or seven minute halves, and change the difficulty setting. The difficulty seems to change how aware the AI players are of the ball and how well the pass and shoot it. Kickin’ Soccer has all the elements for a midly entertaining sports game, but the controls mess it all up. The game is played entirely from the keyboard, using the arrow keys to move, Z to shoot, and X to pass. The longer you hold down the shoot and pass buttons, the farther the ball goes. You can tackle on defense by using the Z key. There are a number of problems with the controls. First, the keyboard controls are rough and only allow for straight and diagonal movement, making lining up for a shot difficult. Despite these limitations, the game still expects you to make contact with the ball exactly where it lies, and this is not possible with keyboard controls. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run past the ball, the AI picked it up, and scored. Goal kicks are extremely difficult to field, as getting your little soccer player to run into the ball is almost impossible. The game also switches players for you when you are not in possession with the ball. This is infuriating, because you don’t know who is going to be picked and when. Imagine running left, the game suddenly switching, and then your defender runs left (because you were pressing left) when the ball is now to the right. Goal for the computer. Defensive matters aren’t helped, because tackle is the only defensive maneuver on the field of play. You can be on top of the offensive player and nothing will happen unless you press the tackle button. Inconceivable!

Kickin’ Soccer could have been a good arcade soccer game, an alternative for those big budget games. The game has 16 world countries to play, two player modes, and simple controls. But the controls ruin the game experience. I don’t mind having digital keyboard controls instead of an analog gamepad, but design the game with that in mind. Don’t require players to go exactly over the ball if it’s exceedingly difficult to do so. If I can’t advance the ball out of my penalty box, there’s a serious problem. Maybe I need more practice with the controls, but an arcade game should be pick up and play. Sadly, Kickin’ Soccer is too much of a bother to be any fun.