The beautiful, small game.
Nintendo Pocket Football Club is Nintendo’s answer to the ever-popular “Football Manager” genre, in which you take control of a football team, setting up tactics, deciding who to play, buying and selling players… you know the role of a manager of a football team.
Nintendo Pocket Football Club however strips back the experience to its bare-essentials – this is a vastly simplified version of the football manager sim and it works fantastically. You feel a thrill when your team crafts a wonder goal, or your goalie pulls of a magnificent save, and tension remains when penalties take place, or you are only one-nil up with ten minutes to go in a championship game.
In terms of what you can do in Pocket Football Club, it is fairly limited; you choose and create formations for each match, play season matches, make substitutions, play training matches, buy players, play friendlies, play online and local multiplayer matches and you can choose your stance as a manager in a variety of different disciplines for the multiplayer matches you take a bit less control in. There is also a neat Streetpass feature that lets you play against the teams of other managers you pass in the street.
The aim of the game is to win the coveted treble – the domestic Premier League, the European Cup and the Federation Cup (equivalent to the FA Cup). And while the game sports a happy, cutesy aesthetic full of chibi sprites (it looks great in 3D by the way) it is harder than it sounds and, indeed, looks. There are four leagues in total, each of a different size and calibre; it is your aim as manager to take your team to the top.
To take your team to the top, you have to improve your team, which in its first season, is quite lowly and meagre. To improve your team you could buy new and better players, channelling your inner Harry Redknapp, and use training cards – cards you get after during every match. The game’s employment of cards to level up your players is quite simple and intuitive, as each one improves different attributes, but to get the full benefits of training cards you need to discover combinations –as you can use up to three cards on a single player during any one week (the game works in a week-by-week basis).
However, it is not made clear at all what some cards improve, the only way to know is to use them, but you will forget what they do. There is a list of what combinations you have found, and what cards you need to use them, but none of them tell you what they actually improve, or in some cases, make worse. Each player has several attributes to improve from their initial “E” rating to the maximum “S” rating, so cards could easily show what individual attributes they improve, rather than relying on you guessing and trying to remember based on the picture on them.
Each player has a price rating, acting as a guide to how good they are, and they also have a potential bar, which rises the longer you have them, until it eventually dissipates where their stats will be on the decline. Players can also become special-type players, but this is never made clear how, or what actually changes when a player becomes say a “dynamo” instead of the standard “balanced”. Again, this system isn’t entirely clear from the offset – a trying aspect of the game’s design.
However, the most trying aspect of the game’s design is that each match lasts 8 minutes, which cannot be sped up, which could’ve been easily added into the design. The length of the matches doesn’t ruin the experience per se, as it is fun to see your team struggling, or succeeding, and it gives you plenty of time to change the formation or make substitutions if things aren’t going your way. However, that is all you can do during the match and this is where the game is most aggravating in its simplistic design.
Before a match you set up your formation, choose which players start, and which ones make the bench (which can be decided by the helpful stamina gauge, green for fine, yellow for getting tired, red for tired – this builds up during the match for each player and it can overrun into the season overall if you play players too much). While setting your team up you also get three choices for how you tackle the game; all-out attack, balanced play or all-out defence, but you cannot change this during a match until you make a substitute or at half-time often making you feel powerless when things are going wrong or when you want to defend a lead.
More options during match-play would have gone down well, even if they made it so you could change from attacking or defence at any time. And while I loved the game, aspects such as this did wind me up at times; as it made being a manager seem less powerful than it does in Sega’s Football Manager franchise. However, I preferred Nintendo Pocket Football Club’s more simplistic approach to the complicated nature of the aforementioned franchise; I just think Pocket Football Club could have added in a few more features that were annoyingly kinda there to begin with.
Nintendo Pocket Football Club has its fair share of flaws, but for £13.50 you get a solid football managing game to sink your teeth into with a fantastic aesthetic and gameplay that keeps you coming back for more, and more, and more – Streetpass is great too.
Go on, try to win the treble, I dare you.