Everyone has football fever whenever a world cup comes around, so you can understand why developers PanicBarn tried to capitalise on this by releasing Soccer Story. Unlike most football – or ‘soccer’ – games though, it’s not a sports simulation, nor is it really an arcade-like sports offering. No, Soccer Story is in fact a physics-driven, open-world adventure RPG interpretation of the beautiful game.
Does it provide a quality and refreshing experience, or is Soccer Story more akin to Sunday league standard?
Soccer Story begins with a mysterious and rather destructive event known as ‘The Calamity’, which occurred during the Apple Cup final. From that point on, Soccer Inc. and the villainous Bep Jatter brought an end to soccer as the world knows it. No longer are regular folk of Soccertown allowed to have a kickabout with their friends, and they definitely weren’t permitted to play a match. Not unless organised by Soccer Inc. of course, as the devious corporation puts a stranglehold on the much loved, now outlawed, sport. The only hope to stop them rests upon a rebellious child and a magical ball that appears out of nowhere.
So, in a nutshell it’s the 1980’s film Footloose, but with soccer instead of dancing. On a serious note though, the premise is decent enough as you’re instantly going to dislike the nefarious Bep Jatter and his devious ways, which pushes you on to be the saviour everyone needs. Soccertown is full of interesting and slightly strange characters, like Sharky the ice-cream selling shark and Panda the chilled out panda. Being a light narrative however, expect to find quantity over quality here, with no real depth to many of the locals – which is fine in the grand scheme of things.
In order to reignite everyone’s passion and start an uprising, you’re going to have to prove your worth to the rest of Soccertown. This entails roaming around the open-world from an isometric perspective and completing tasks; the most important ones consist of forming a team that’s good enough to compete and then winning numerous trophies to get Soccer Inc. to actually take any notice. That’s merely scratching the surface of what Soccer Story has you doing however.
Focusing on the off-the-pitch quests specifically for the time being, PanicBarn have whipped up a really creative batch of activities. No matter whether it’s a main or side objective, there are some clever usages of the soccer ball, which can be magically summoned to your character’s feet at will. There’s all sorts to do from hitting crossbars and scoring goals in the most obscure places imaginable, to knocking out sharks to protect kids and even slide tackling sandcastles to irritate a group of adults. Heck, you might end up fishing, participating in athletic events, and digging things up – Soccer Story is genuinely full of variety.
Sure, fetch quests are present, but the balance between those and the rest outlined above is spot on. I haven’t mentioned the crafty puzzles that will cause the old grey matter to be tested, which are tricky in terms of figuring out the concept as well as the solution. It actively encourages you to take on every task and puzzle, because who knows, it may reward medals to upgrade the team, new boots to traverse different biomes, or coins to then exchange for medals. You’ll want to ensure every member of your eventual five-person squad is at their best for the upcoming matches.
That’s right, Soccer Story features matches – mostly 5vs5 – lasting a few minutes each as you attempt to outscore the opposition in knockout cup competitions. Finally, some real football (sorry, soccer) to get stuck into, and wow it’s so disappointing. Passing, shooting and slide tackling are your options for the very simple arcade antics, but that’s fine. The issues arise in the generally unfulfilling nature of proceedings and how awkward the gameplay is.
The first problem is found in the fiddly controls as, for example, pulling off an accurate and powerful shot could see you using a combination of four inputs. Aiming with one analog stick, moving with the other, while setting the power via a button and pressing another button to shoot, just never becomes intuitive – you end up just sticking to basic, imprecise shots. Secondly, and despite being able to alter it, the AI difficulty makes matches either boringly easy or ridiculously tough. Chances are, you’ll set the difficulty low to get through it without retrying multiple times.
The opportunity to play matches outside of the story mode, via quick match, is unsurprisingly not so appealing. That being said, the ability to grab up to three friends locally means there’s a little bit more enjoyment to be had, compared to computer-controlled opponents. Still, it’s just a tacked on addition that you’ll seldom return to beyond satisfying your own curiosity.
Moving on to the art department, and Soccer Story deserves credit for creating a lovely vibrant world through the use of pixel art. Each biome possesses its own character and feel, injecting freshness into proceedings as you progress and the map opens up more. From the luscious greenery of the mysterious woodlands, to the sandy and quite exotic Crab Beach, it’s done very well.
I’d love to end on a high note, but alas, it’s not meant to be. Unfortunately, Soccer Story is littered with irritating and, sometimes, progression halting bugs and glitches. A restart could be needed by an seemingly innocuous movement towards a bush, only to get stuck on the spot. Furthermore, during a certain water-based mini-game the hit detection is completely off, while another involving burning embers sees them turn invisible, which isn’t ideal when you need to tackle them. Those are merely the highlights from a collection of frustrating moments.
On the whole then, Soccer Story is one of those rare soccer games where almost everything apart from the action on the pitch is pretty good. It manages to conjure up a lovely world filled with a host of creative tasks and activities to keep you busy, whilst telling a fun little story along the way. That’s why it’s a shame to see a myriad of technical problems chipping away at the overall enjoyment.
Even if you can overlook the rubbish soccer matches in Soccer Story, the other issues make it very hard to recommend.
Soccer Story is out now on the Xbox Store