The FIFA versus Pro Evo debate is almost as passionate as old football rivalries like Celtic and Rangers or England and Germany, albeit without quite so many shaved-headed hooligans with an overblown interest in smashing heads and shop windows.
On the DS, however, this clash of the titans is rather more clean-cut, as most would agree that FIFA 2007 was some way better than the particularly ordinary Pro Evolution Soccer 6. Free from any other noteworthy football themed competition on Nintendo's tidy handheld, this has left FIFA in the luxurious position of comfortably leading the genre on the format.
Comfort, unfortunately, can breed complacency, and it is not unheard of for game makers in this situation to be rather lazy with regard to sequels, so you'd have reason to suspect FIFA 08 on the DS is likely to be rather uninspiring. In some ways you would be right, as this is absolutely an evolution of something very familiar. Yet it is also a thoroughly decent football game with far more substance and material than we have come to expect from console games ported to the DS. There are the additional licensed teams, this time numbering an impressive 576 from across the collected leagues, a staggering 15,000 players, and the inevitable update to the stats, which will sadly date as quickly as a shot from Rooney hits the onion bag.
Thankfully though, this time around there is a custom team tool, meaning especially pedantic fans can make sure their team details are as up-to-date as a daily paper, and on the whole there are several improvements that let you tinker with the game to your own choosing. While it is nothing more than a slightly silly novelty, the most hilarious of these is the inclusion of a feature that lets you record your own chant using the DS microphone, with the option to add handclaps and whistles as you please. It is hugely entertaining, and though you will likely quickly fall back on blurting expletives, it makes brilliant use of the system's unique abilities.
'EA has made the wise decision of resisting the need to throw in too many unnecessary stylus controls...'
On a more serious note, again at the crux of the game is the management mode, though if you are looking for a statistic-heavy, in-depth simulation with the intricacy of Microsoft Office's Excel brace yourself for a let down. Just as with last year a slightly misleading title actually masks a fairly enjoyable career game that requires you to take the reigns of a team over a five-year period, meeting certain objectives across each season.
Satisfying various parameters such as 'do not finish in the bottom of the Coca Cola League one', or 'win at least 13 games' rewards you with points, while failing deducts points. In each season you can evaluate your situation and dabble in the likes of transfers, but the actual managerial control you exert is only over the usual variables in formation and team selection.
Similarly, in one of FIFA 08's new features, there are scenarios to be played, which are in essence individual parameter lead games. You can create your own, which can be played, or uploaded over Nintendo's wireless system, where they can be shared with other DS owners who can provide you with alternate scenarios of their own creation.
The fact that the perfectly well realised management and scenario modes feel a little like unnecessary chaff is a testament to the 'jumpers for goalposts' mantra of England's most enthusiastically supported sport. In reality, football's popularity relies on the fact that you only need the fundamentals, in the form of a ball and a basic goal, to enjoy the game. This core value has made the transition to virtual worlds, in that all you really need for a good football video game is a decent game engine for the moments from kick off to final whistle.
Which is exactly where FIFA 08 on the DS is most capable. Despite all the extras packed onto the tiny cartridge, the only parts you really need are the two halves that make a game, and it is they that will win this great little package the most fans. EA has made the wise decision of resisting the need to throw in too many unnecessary stylus controls, leaving touch screen interaction to four large thumb-friendly icons on the bottom screen that can be used to issue an impressive array of tactical commands to your team, and the surprisingly workable, optional stylus ball control for penalties, free-kicks and defensive walls.
The rest of the controls are delicately squeezed onto the DS's basic button set with a flair that makes playing a pleasure. The usual selection of passes are accompanied by enough variations such as chipped balls and skill moves to allow for some genuinely skilled play, and the switch over from attacking to defending and back is a wonderfully smooth process thanks to some instinctive design that makes losing a sense of the controls near impossible.
As DS games go the audio is significantly impressive, and the visuals, while dogged by the handheld's tendency to give 3D graphics a particularly blocky, rough look, are something of an improvement on last year's. EA has clearly listened to the critiques of the 07 edition as cart-sharing multiplayer returns, bolstered by the addition of a penalty shoot-out option, adding to the brilliant multi-cart single-player that was so popular last year.
If you haven't already got FIFA 07 for your DS, or you are desperate for a more topical edition, this is near essential for handheld owning football fans. While far from revolutionary it is a solid and balanced football game on a handheld generally lacking in technical muscle and raw power.
VideoGamer.com Score8 Score out of 10
- The best footy game on the DS
- The depth of a console game on a handheld
- A great football game at its core
- Largely similar to last year's version