Despite the appeal of the 3D effect of Nintendo’s latest handheld, I’ve found myself falling for one of the 3DS family’s lesser-known innovations – Streetpass, the Wi-Fi handshake that two 3DS users have in general proximity. From a manufacturer known for being a little behind the curve on all things online, it’s a welcome differentiator. A light, low-maintenance social dimension, a way of showing off your best times or the layout of your in-game home, or just expressing something about yourself to other passers by.
In Nintendo Pocket Football Club, Streetpass actually helps to negate one of the simulation’s inevitable weaknesses. Unsurprisingly, this eShop-only simulation title lacks the official leagues, teams and players that you’d expect of a Football Manager (or Fifa) title – a fact that matters all the less because it frees you up to customise team and player names and share the results with the world at large – via Streetpass and a number of online modes.
The depth of this simulation is impressive, but not obtuse. Individual players have eight core skill ratings, a fitness rating, a measure of ‘potential’ and running tallies of things like appearances, goals, assists, bookings and injuries – these are constantly modelled in four national leagues as well as a pool of international clubs that can be encountered in international club competitions. There’s a transfer market, player training and a system of training and friendly matches that will help you to build a competitive team in-between regular league and cup fixtures (there being few of the latter until you’re a lot more competitive).
This macro-level sufficiently resembles modern managerial duties whereas the match-by-match activity takes a few more liberties, for better and worse. Most ‘weeks’ in your Nintendo Pocket Football Club game revolve around spending or harvesting training cards – diverse training activities such as ‘dribbling’, ‘shooting’, ‘analysis’ and ‘karaoke’ that can be used on players to increase one or more of their core skills. By combining cards, you may find special combinations – teaching skills such as “Iron Defence” that can change your player’s behaviour alongside the usual stat-boosts.
You harvest the cards in every training, friendly and official match your play. Playing top-league sides is likely to net you more cards, though if you choose to opt for a full 90-minute friendly rather than a 45-minute training match, you can expect the larger haul of training cards to come at the expense of your fan approval rating when you suffer a defeat (and yes, lose too many times and it’s possible to be Moyes’d out of your job).
The cards work as a way of indicating the areas where your little band of pixellated players need to improve, but the logic behind the issuing of cards isn’t very clear. I have, for instance, been issued a ‘shooting’ practice card when my defenders were passing the ball inside my own half. There are cards that you’ll trigger in every single game and others that you’ll see only once or twice a season. It will be a familiar lottery to anyone with a lifetime’s worth of incomplete Panini sticker albums, but considering the cards are nominally for things like practising set-pieces and weight-lifting, you’ll be frustrated that you don’t have more control over getting them.
Unfortunately, the level of control is where the game starts falling apart a little. While it feels like your choices matter between games, and that the formation, tactics and starting line-up you choose for a match have an effect on how things unfold, there is little you can do to direct play once the game kicks off.
Inexplicably, all formation changes in a match must be done manually and laboriously – though at least you can change formation at any time, unlike your play zones, tactics and ‘players to watch’. These can only be changed at half-time or when you make a substitution, and if you’re deep in the second half having used all three of your substitutes, you’ll just have to watch and hope things don’t suddenly fall apart.
And watch you shall, for in the game’s biggest misstep, it has been decreed that everything in the game must be played out in full. Sure, 90 minutes doesn’t take 90 minutes, but it takes long enough that even the most forgiving player will be wishing for a skip or fast-forward button after their first season of play. By the time I kicked-off for my second season, my 3DS’ activity log clocked me at about 14 hours – at no point had I replayed matches, or left the console open and idling while I went for a long jog.
Because of that, it becomes a little harder to reconcile Nintendo Pocket Football Club with the intention stated in its title. Remove some (though not all) of the desirability of playing it on the go, and it becomes a little more difficult to recommend. Hardcore simulation fans are just going to wonder why they wouldn’t just boot up Football Manager again, but then, not every Football fan needs something quite that complex – and the 3DS isn’t exactly buried in Football related games at a time when fans are likely to be most enthusiastic about the sport.
Fun but flawed, Nintendo Pocket Football Club is at least a game that I can’t imagine I’m entirely done with – because the next time I’ve been out in town and I come home to Streetpass’ blinking green light, chances are good that I’ll be booting the game up to play a few more matches, and tip-toeing towards the conclusion of my next season. Backhanded praise for a simulation of reasonable depth, but praise nonetheless.
Verdict – On Target
Platforms Available – 3DS
Please check this post for more on our scoring policy. Review based on code supplied by Nintendo PR.