After 60 years since first release Subbuteo is the probably world’s biggest selling soccer game. Yes that’s right, not Fifa or Pro Evo nor the classic Sensible Soccer; it’s Subbuteo that blows them all away. Now fair enough up until now Subbuteo has always been a board game of sort’s but it was only a matter of time it made its way onto our screens.
Having been born into the digital generation with video game consoles such as the Atari 2600 (released in 1977) it’s hardly surprising to say that Subbuteo passed me by. Why flick little plastic dudes around on a green piece of felt when you can move a few single coloured 6 pixel characters around your TV screen?…Exactly! So what with the aforementioned Pro Evo 2009 and Fifa 09 here to admire, what can this portable board game bring to the football video game simulation table? Let’s take a closer look and find out in my Subbuteo for the Nintendo DS review.
Subbuteo for the DS was developed by an Italian outfit called Artematica…no I’ve not heard of them before either but a quick check of their website reveals they’ve developed some interesting PC titles in the last few years and now seem to be moving towards the console market with some interesting sounding Wii games in development.
After booting the Subbuteo DS cart you’re treated to an FMV intro, it’s not too bad but the video compression is quite noticeable but considering the Nintendo DS cart restrictions it’s still impressive. As far as the main game options go its slim pickings; you can choose from either a quick match against the CPU, World Cup mode or Multiplayer. Options such as match length, auto/manual keepers and offside can be changed if desired,.
Quick match is your typical friendly game against a CPU opponent, choose the teams and get playing. You don’t get anything special for winning but its good practice for World Cup mode.
The World Cup is where things become more interesting; with a 32 international team group stage split into groups of four. Only the top two from each group will go through to the knockout stages where it’s one for all on the route to winning that coveted Golden Trophy. With extra time and penalty shootouts in the offing it’s just as tense as the real thing.
Your reward for winning the World cup is an optional shiny new base for one of your little men. These bases add different properties to your shots; the red Sidewinder allows for greater swerving skill, meaning you can flick your player around opponents with much more ease. The blue Cobra base is smoother and designed to travel further and is much more powerful when it comes to shooting.
So how does it all work?
Well looking at the basic fundamentals and controls first I’d have to describe Subbuteo DS as more strategy than soccer. Both screens always focus from a top down perspective, the top screen in zoomed in on about 1/4 of the pitch at any one time and like most other football games the score and match time are displayed in at the very top. The bottom screen is where lots of the work takes place; here you’ll find a full overview map of the whole pitch showing every player and the ball. After tapping on the desired player you move your eyes over to the right hand side of the bottom screen where an interactive panel is waiting, this features your virtual hand and an oversized Subbuteo player. By moving the floating hand around about you are adjusting the direction in which your finger will strike the ball (the spin/swerve) and the height of the shot. Choose the direction of the shot by either pressing the left or right arrows on screen and then it’s onto the shot power, simply drag your stylus up and down over the index finger to set the strength. Tap the little guy when you’re ready and watch the proceedings back up on the top screen.
Yes I know that all sounds complicated but that actually pales in significance to the nature of how it actually plays. Once your team has possession you can kick the ball around as much as you like as long as each player doesn’t kick the ball more than three consecutive times in a row, if that does happen then play switches to the defending team who then obviously become the attacking side. If the ball strikes an opposing player then possession will change over to them, this forces you to be accurate when aiming your shots and dribbling towards goal. At most major events (free kicks, throw ins, etc) the defending team get a set amount of moves to flick players into defending positions before the attacking side can make their move, usually this means moving a defender or two in between ball and goal. Whilst Subbuteo fans will be pleased to hear that Subbuteo for DS follows the real game as closely as possible with its slow pace and tactical moving, it’s not that much fun for a Fifa fan.
The good stuff:
Subbuteo for DS is a nicely presented title and does replicate the genuine Subbuteo very well indeed. The FMV sequences are a nice touch and it’s great to see a developer adding extra polish to their Nintendo DS football games. The World Cup mode is fun to play through and is challenging even on the easy difficulty setting, prepare to be beaten by an ultra accurate CPU opponent if you set it to the hard setting. With extra footballs and bases to unlock Subbuteo does have a bit of incentive too, but is it enough to outweigh the bad points?
The not so good stuff:
Whilst in early development there was speculation that Subbuteo DS would feature online play via the Nintendo Wi-Fi connection, sadly that hasn’t materialised and as such requires a head to head match to be played locally with each player needing to own a copy of the game, that’s right – no single card download play at all, thankfully they do manage to give us the option to take turns on a single Nintendo DS video game. It’s not great and reeks of the 1990’s but it’s better than nothing right?
Even though the game box suggests you can create your own team, it’s not exactly true – the in game editor basically lets you rename one of the 32 countries to one of your choice, whilst you can also change the shirt colour (to that of another nation) it’s not really what I call creating a team. But if you’re like Matt and would like to pitch Liverpool up against Brazil then the option is there.
However all that aside the biggest disappointment for me was that you don’t actually use the touch screen to flick your players which in my opinion is really the main focus of Subbuteo. Perhaps during development and testing they found that sliding the stylus around the touch screen just didn’t feel right, it’s hard to believe but could well be the case – all I know is that the shell sliding mini game in Super Mario 64DS worked fine. The ingame visuals are pretty poor too; the players are far too small and when you rotate the camera everything the players and pitch lines all look jagged. It’s such a shame because the menu’s and game screens are nicely presented. The sound effects are another sticking point, there only seem to be five of them and to make matters worse two crowd sounds are excruciatingly bad and become very annoying very quickly.
To sum up I would say that to genuine Subbuteo fans this could be a fun game to buy; it’s fairly accurate to the physical game and does at least provide a CPU to play against…perhaps you could even learn new techniques from. The downside for non Subbuteo lovers is that this game doesn’t bridge the gap; if you hate Subbuteo in real life you’ll hate it here. For being an authentic experience for genuine Subbuteo fans I have to award this game 7 out of 10, but if you like your footie games less like Chess then look elsewhere.
Related: Fifa 09 review, Pro Evo 09 review
I must admit that this review pretty much sums the game up perfectly. I loved Subutteo the board game, and this actually made me phone my parents and ask them if they still had it in their attic! Sadly, they moved house about 2 years ago and it was “lost” in the move. Ah well, the good news is that I now know where they live again! :)
Anyway, back to the game. I was convinced that flicking the screen would be the way to go (until this review explained otherwise) but I do have to say that I am completely hooked on trying to win the World Cup now. It is hard, but that makes scoring feel so much better, because you really have to work hard just like the real board game. One reason it is actually better than the board game, is that the rules are enforced on you – in real life we could never remember how many flicks we had had! On the down side for me, the rules are not fully explained during a game, and so I found free kicks being awarded against me, and I don’t know if they were from one of my players being off-side or because I flicked more than 3 times in a row (although I think it stops you from doing this automatically). At the end of a half or a game, the action just stops and flicks directly to the end game screen, which can be distracting. A bit more information about what is going on, wouldn’t go a miss, and I look forward to this being included in the follow-up! :)