FIFA is somewhat of a religion here at the NZGamer offices and when it was announced that EA were bringing it to the Vita, we were in two minds. Would we have footballing brilliance in the palm of our hands? Or be faced with a watered-down port of the beautiful game?
Thankfully, the answer is overwhelmingly positive. FIFA Football on Sony’s new handheld delivers nearly every facet of the console version, without compromising a detail - despite its shrunken format. In fact, thanks to some innovative touch-screen controls, it even adds a level of accuracy that FIFA players have never previously experienced.
On the surface, FIFA Football looks, feels, and plays just like FIFA ‘12 for the PS3. The team roster is all intact and the menu interface is instantly familiar. Amazingly, even the player animations, level of commentary, and the killer soundtrack all appear in this pocket edition. With the dual analogue sticks and similar button mapping to a PS3 controller, players will be able to pull off tricks just as they would sitting in front of a 40” plasma. The only gripe is, due to the smaller size of the sticks, they are ultra sensitive and players will need to adjust their finesse slightly to prevent heavy touches.
As aforementioned, FIFA Football goes a step further in the controls department as well, thanks to the dual touch capability of the Vita. Now players can tap the front (on the screen) to pass the ball with fingertip accuracy. This includes both tapping on a player to pass it direct, or tapping open space to play the ball into it. Holding down your finger longer, results in a harder or lobbed pass. Naturally, taking your thumbs off the sticks is a bit strange to veterans of the game, but with practice it can be a helpful tool, especially when using a zoomed-out camera view that presents a large chunk of the pitch.
I often found myself relying mainly on the traditional button controls, but mixing in the occassional “tap’n’pass” for long-ball counter-attacks with players running into space. No more guess-work as to where your ‘killer pass’ will actually go, depending on what mood FIFA is in.
Meanwhile, the back multi-touch surface of the Vita is only used in the attacking third - or more importantly, when taking shots on goal. Imagine that the rectangular back of the Vita is the frame of the goal and that tapping an area corresponds to where your shot will go. For example tapping the bottom right hand corner of the back-pad will send a shot to the bottom right hand corner of the goal. Your strength (and accuracy) is determined by how long (or how hard, as it’s pressure sensitive) the tap with your finger is.
This level of accuracy is a God-send with penalties and free-kicks. Nailing that unsavable, top right corner of the net from the spot is now easier than ever and removes a large amount of luck that was frustrating in FIFA ‘12.
However, there is a drawback.
Due to the size of the back touch pad, which basically covers 85% of the Vita’s reverse side, accidentally resting your fingers on it while playing is an easy mistake to make. Even for me with my small, delicate woman's hands. In fact, it’s how most players would hold the Vita for comfort’s sake.
The problem is, as soon as you enter the attacking third of the pitch, you might find your striker suddenly taking a shot on goal as your finger grazes the back. It’s easily solved though; you could either have your middle finger amputated or simply disable the rear touch or front screen separately via the Controls setting in the game [or force yourself to locate your fingers on the handy-dandy indented grips that are placed either side of the rear touch panel - Ed.]
Overall, FIFA Football is a very worthy addition to the franchise. While a lot of titles fall short when transferred across to a handheld format, this game shines in its pint-sized glory. The graphics, although minus a few polygons in comparison to its bigger console sibling, are almost identical, paying careful attention to both detail and fluid animations. But more importantly the gameplay feels right at home for FIFA fans.
Thanks to timed matches, it’s also the perfect game to play if you have 10 minutes to kill before that next train. Whip up a friendly with 4 minute halves (to allow for injury time of course) and you’ll be away laughing, especially thanks to FIFA Football’s sweet load times.
A concern for people that opt for the download version (rather than buying it at retail), however, might be the game’s size: at 2.89GB, it is both a strain on your bandwidth and your memory card capacity. Coupled with ~150MB save game files, you’ll start wishing you had at least a 16GB or 32GB card. That said, FIFA Football is worth every byte - look out for it when 24th February rolls around.