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Brain Training, meets Pokemon, meets FIFA...
- Fun football trivia.
- Five leagues.
- Not enough depth to the card game.
- Clunky interface.
- Mix of gameplay not fun.
Former Chelsea manager 'Big Phil' greets you with a warm welcome after booting Football Academy up for the very first time. The static, yet slightly menacing, gestures that he pulls while providing advice on the basics behind the game portrays the big man in a suitable Mafioso fashion, but surely if he'd spent less time posing he'd still be in a proper job and Chelsea might actually have won something this season.
But that's enough of the Chelsea jokes for the time-being. Football Academy is the latest attempt by EA Sports to expand its lucrative FIFA license beyond the traditional yearly footie title. Essentially it's a rather peculiar mix of Brain Training and Top Trumps slapped into a football setting - perhaps one of the strangest gaming mongrels we've seen on the DS for some time.
Beginning with a couple of starter packs to get you going courtesy of Big Phil (who should know something about the perils of 'inheriting' somebody else's team), Football Academy challenges you to collect packs of player cards and assemble the ultimate team. Doing so is a rather convoluted experience, requiring a balance of questionable "IQ tests" and a card game that forms the basis behind the actual football match.
Variations on classics such as Hangman and Pairs (with a football twist) feel slightly tired and at odds with the game. Pitching them as daily IQ tests seems dubious, but they are key to improving the Team Chemistry and the quality of players you'll receive in the packs that are rewarded by winning games on the pitch. Perhaps the IQ association stems from the fact that most of the games can be solved by being a little crafty. One challenge requires you to scratch away at an emblem and guess what club it's from; the shrewd player knowing that the club's name is often at the top or bottom of the badge. Even worse is the game of Team Sheet Mix Up, a game of player name anagrams which rewards the player who quickly flicks between the letters without a penalty instead of trying to work out who it actually is beforehand.
With 14 different games there's a considerable number to unlock, and although the balance is skewed too heavily in favour of memory tests, further elements such as skill and a certain element of football knowledge are beneficial. Ultimately, however, they fail to provide any long-term draw to the game; it's hard to view their daily appeal in a Brain Training manner, and instead they extend the disjointed feeling that runs throughout Football Academy.
However this is only one piece of the higgledy-piggledy jigsaw that is EA Sports Football Academy. By the time you've amassed a team it's time to head towards the stadium and play the other half of Football Academy.
There's no particularly structure to this, it's largely competing against teams from across the five different leagues or putting a challenge to your friends. The concept of trading cards and swapsies obviously targets the game to a younger audience on the playground, but nevertheless the decision not to include any Wi-Fi support means Football Academy is a solitary experience unless you've got lots of like-minded friends with DS's.
Putting together a team before the match requires certain elements to fit. As the former Chelsea man advises without a hint of irony, playing players in defence, midfield, or attack of the same nationality earns a Team Chemistry bonus, along with ensuring individuals are playing in the correct position and in a preferred formation. With a limited selection of players to choose between this can initially be a little tricky.
The actual process of the match is mildly entertaining to begin with, although the lack of permutations quickly begins to grate. Little more than a card game and, ergo, as much a game of luck as it is any real skill, the match is dictated by key events flashing up on screen, such as a midfielder attempting a pass or an attacker trying to score. The specific attribute of each player tied to the event in question (shooting and goalkeeping when in a goal scoring position, passing and defence when attempting a cross) is displayed with various perks and bonuses coming into play. The challenge is to make the choice between two options, with the riskier choice having the possibility of adding more points if successful, but at the cost of a bigger points reduction if it fails. For example, Paul Scholes may have the challenge of dribbling past an opponent: do you opt for a cautious approach and play it into space or attempt a defence-splitting through ball; equally, when in a shooting position, do you opt for accuracy or power?
And that's about it. OK, so trying to describe it probably makes it sound more complicated than it actually is. It's really a very simplified card game that offers little in the way of tactical options beyond pressing forward or holding back and whether you play up the flanks or through the centre, which probably explains why Big Phil was chosen as the frontman. Although it's hard to determine exactly how much the flow of the game is affected by player attributes and data crunching, we have a sneaky suspicion that the 'Comparing Actions' where it calculates the outcome of success is little more than randomly plucking numbers.
And that's the problem with Football Academy. Although perfectly fine for people looking for a twist on Top Trumps, the overall feeling of randomness and inability to shape the outcome (beyond ensuring player fitness and team chemistry bonuses) fails to provide any long-term appeal. While we know it's a card game and not a rival to Football Manager, the inclusion of a little more depth wouldn't have gone amiss; for example, why isn't the choice of whether to pass or attempt to dribble round a player available and what's the use in substitutes when you can't actually use them?
Further problems stem from the interface, which is clunky, cumbersome and confusing when trying to flick between various player cards. Why the developers didn't take a look at Apple's iPhone or iTouch for inspiration is beyond us, but it did leave us continuously trying to drag and slide instead of hitting the up and down arrows. We're also not particularly fond of the game's static appearance, with Roy of the Rovers styled 'visuals', rough player likenesses on the cards and appalling banter from the crowd - "Go On, Skin Him...". Even shoddier is the attempt at the soundtrack. We're quite sure that if the game was silent instead of the overly repetitive and out-of-place sounds then it would have scored better in the sound department.
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