FIFA for Wii is a standard football game with unique control options.
I was really stoked to be reviewing a football game, having been out of the action for some time, and I hoped I'd skipped enough FIFA games over the years to give the series plenty of time to be refined. This is certainly the case, but EA has given a lot of thought to how to make this version unique to the Wii both in its controls and visual style. They included plenty of game modes that will engage almost anyone from the hardcore right down to your Wii Sports-playing Dad.
When you boot up FIFA 11 there are two main options: 11v11 or 5v5 exhibition matches. These two styles of play fall into the simulation and arcade categories, so either way you like your football, you're covered. Apart from the quick exhibition matches, there are several other ways to play. Hit the Pitch and Hit the Streets are the 11v11 and 5v5 modes, the latter featuring power-ups not dissimilar to those found in Mario Strikers. Streets to Stadiums lets you create a player and try to become a pro, while Battle for Glory is a team manager-style mode. Finally, there is an online mode, which runs well but doesn't offer anything more than 11v11 exhibition games.
Overall, I was very impressed with the variety, since I like my game arcadey and fast-paced, but if the mood takes me. I do like a strategic 11v11 game on occasion.
I grew up playing Elite Soccer and International Superstar Soccer and I always head for the 5-on-a-side modes first. That's why I liked the Hit the Streets mode; I think it's a decent throwback to those types of games. Some of the special powers are reminiscent of the aforementioned Mario Strikers, like super-powered shots and even shrinking the opposition to half your team's height, and they are all great fun.
There are also a variety of nets, such as an elevated one that turns the game into a kind of football/basketball game, and more. I found all these combinations and options to be great fun and an absolute blast with friends. The only downside is that none of the 5v5 games are available for playing online, which I feel is a real missed opportunity it had the potential to be a great Wii-exclusive online feature.
Streets to Stadiums, is basically the RPG-like feature now standard in most sports games. If you meet certain wagers you place before each match you get experience points. Some range from the incredibly easy (pass the ball to a teammate) to the relatively difficult (don’t get tackled once). This added a nice challenge, but also an extra thrill to the match, as it wasn't just about scoring more goals than the other team. I can see this feature eating up a lot more of time because it is a great alternative one-player experience.
I wasn't so keen on Battle for Glory, which is similar to the previous mode except that you choose a team to manage. This mode is a much simpler version of the Football Manager series, which is super popular in the UK. It's just isn't that interesting, even though it includes match wagers that are in Streets to Stadiums. If there was more character to this mode it could have been more interesting, but the stock photo presentation and flat menus just left me bored.
On a minor technical quibble, I noticed that my Wii’s disk drive went into overdrive during this mode; there was also noticeable menu stuttering and slowdown when matches were being simulated or stats were being calculated.
This actually discouraged me from spending time adjusting my team or setting up transfers as it felt like my disk was being sanded down by every passing minute.
The control options are All Play (the Wii-specific semi-automated one-handed option), Nunchuk Mode (a relatively standard control system with sliding tackles handled with a shake of the Wii Remote), and Pointer Mode (which gives you an on-screen cursor with which you can literally point, and shoot or pass). There are also two Classic Controller setups.
If you’re worried about shaking the Remote for such a vital move as a slide tackle, don't be. It's an overused move in most footy games, and I considered it therapeutic to violently flick the controller when I did want to take someone out. These control options really make the Wii version stand out, as you have the same standard control setup as the other consoles, but you also have a Pro Evolution Soccer-style pointer game and a Dad-friendly option thrown in for good measure.
I personally liked the pointer setup; after some practice, I really got into the flow of passing and crossing the ball exactly where I wanted.
Running down the wing whilst positioning your cursor in the box gives a great feeling of pre-planned, , pro-like execution. You can charge up your pass/cross with A, and you know that the ball will go exactly where you want it, leading to some spectacular headers and volleys from the six-yard line.
The precision passing also applies to the other non-pointer control methods. When you press pass, it does not automatically send the ball to the nearest player; instead, it goes in the exact direction you were holding on the analog stick. If you're playing with people unfamiliar with the controls, you'll see lots of erroneous passes (more often than not with dire consequences); however, when this new passing technique is mastered, the flow of the ball can be extremely satisfying and smooth. This control style puts more control and skill in the player's hands, rather than relying on the game to determine who you probably should pass to.
The stylised and simplified cartoony look from last year's version has been retained in FIFA 11. if you didn't like it then you won’t like it now. It was hit and miss, I liked the blocky-headed Wayne Rooney, and the general cell-shaded look, but I also saw lots of repetition in the models for the non-famous players. I lost count how many times I saw "pony-tailed Mediterranean man" and "no-necked angry face," but considering how many teams and players there are in the game, it isn't a huge deal.
Audio is what you'd expect, featuring commentary from Clive Tyldesley and Andy Gray, and it feels like almost every player in the world has had their name recorded, but the reactions to match events are not always accurate and can often be overenthusiastic at times or vice versa. If they recorded all the players names, why not put that to use and mention them more than just saying "Lampard" when he gets the ball?
Elsewhere the presentation is a very standard affair, with perfunctory static menus and big buttons that your Grandma will be able to see from afar with ease.
The stadiums look fine, the 5-on-a-side arenas look OK, but there is nothing special that stands out in any mode or part of the game.
FIFA 11 doesn't feel particularly ambitious, but it's still a well-made game. The gameplay is fast-paced and fun, the passing game is accurate and realistic, the difficulty to score makes it satisfying when you do, and there are modes and control methods to suit almost anyone. FIFA 11 is decent effort, but not worth upgrading if you have last year's version. I hope next year's game can build on this and be more than satisfactory.