It's the only Australian Football League game on Wii, but that doesn't mean it can't be the best.
For many Australians, Aussie-rules football is a way of life, an age-old tradition. Players booting the spheroid-shaped ball up and down the field, the white-clad umpires whistling in the goals to the cheers (and often chagrin) of the fans, the echoing siren signaling both victorious triumph and brutal defeat all at the same instant. Now Wii owners can experience all of that tradition within their own homes.
Like all good sports games, there are multiple control schemes - the Wii Remote and Nunchuck combo, the Wii Remote on its own, and the GameCube controller. There's the standard fare of Wii swinging, shaking, and pointing with the Remote options. For example, to kick the ball, hold down the A button to build up power, then swing upwards and release the button at the required power. If tackling another player for possession of the ball, there's a frantic wrestling match to see who can shake their remote the fastest. When multiple players go in for a mark (that is, a contest to cleanly catch the ball as it descends from the air), a picture of the football bounces about the screen, and the first player to point their hand icon at it and press A will steal the ball away. Though it works and is entirely playable with the motion controls, it's rather awkward and ultimately the GameCube controller gives the smoothest experience and is the most fun.
There are a lot of modes to explore, from quick, single matches to entire seasons where players can jump in and control one or several teams as they climb the ladder to the finals. There's also a Career Manager mode allowing you to take command of a team of your choice, allocating funds to various assisting roles, organizing team members and seeing them through the footy season as best you can. Any of these longer modes can be halted and resumed from where you left off, which is a handy feature.
There's a small collection of mini-games that are fairly simple but pretty fun for a quick multiplayer jaunt, including the tried and true handball competition. Finally, of course, there's a big list of achievement medals to earn, which unlock new stadiums to play in, special teams and game modes. Striving to collect everything can be a big part of the experience, and quite satisfying.
At first glance, AFL is not a pretty game. The character models are blocky and texture mapping, particularly on the players' faces, looks stretched and disproportionate. The audience stands consist of a blurry collection of colored blobs that cycle through all of two animation frames. Given the number of players on the field and the simultaneous detail required this is understandable, but compared to other games it sometimes looks a little under polished.
With that said, however, all the graphical foibles are meaningless when in the throes of competition, players running about lunging on top of each other, squabbling like seagulls over the ball. The action is fast paced and the visuals show what they need to – you can differentiate players and team uniforms, and most importantly the ball is always visible. Add to this the recreation of many stadiums from around Australia, the locales do look like their real life counterparts and make you feel like you're actually there. The game menus are crisp and clear, with logos, icons, and team emblems looking great. The artistic detail of the achievement medals looks especially nice.
AFL is officially licensed, meaning everything is spot on – there are over 50 teams from the AFL, VFL, TAC Cup and Under 18's leagues. All the team colors are exact, the player names are real, even official announcers Dennis Cometti and Brian Taylor are there to relay the goings on for that extra touch of authenticity, though the commentary is a mixed bag. The two voiceovers provide plenty of official-sounding lines and amusing observations of the game, but there seems to be very little variation in the recordings of the team and player names, often resulting in uncomfortably large pauses and robotic phrases. "The Saints! Lead. Brisbane? By... twenty. SIX! Points." On occasion they randomly pipe in with a confusing or irrelevant comment – at one halftime break Brian said he could see no clear advantage on either side and the match outcome was impossible to tell, despite the fact that I was leading at 0 to 15 points. This is balanced out with high-quality recordings of the official team anthems, as well as one or two footy theme songs from the last decade to round out the package. None of the songs or tunes are ever annoying or grating, even when looping endlessly while checking menus and stats.
One small inconvenience is the choice to make the player skip through multiple publisher and developer logos before getting to the file select screen, each one slowly fading in and out. The game doesn't continue loading if nothing is pressed.
All in all, despite its share of flaws the game is still very enjoyable and easy to pick up and jump in. It provides a great experience to fans of Aussie-rules footy and has a complete set of features. There is a ton of content packed in, and it fares exceptionally well against this year's PS3 and Xbox 360 AFL Live games as it is not affected by the reported system-crashing glitches that freeze the console when certain teams compete. The motion controls help add to the immersion, but serious players will dust off their old GameCube controllers.