Foosball 2012- PlayStation 3 version
Table Soccer for me holds fond memories: evenings at the local bar, a few beers deep, having a jovial and excited time playing socially amongst friends. As a child, our table at home was the scene of many elaborate World Cup Final victories. You can imagine then my sense of anticipation at the announcement of Foosball to PS3 and Vita, from Czech Republican developer, Grip Games.
The preview trailers showed real promise, with multiple table designs, a variety of "player" models and gameplay that looked to accurately reproduce the quick-fire buzz of the best table-top soccer game outside of Subbuteo. Add PS3 to Vita cross platform multi-player and this PlayStation Network title starts to look as exciting as kung-fu lessons with Eric Cantona (source: YouTube).
World Tour Mode is the basis of the single player experience. Countries across the world host you for a single match of either "first to" or "best of" goal count, each providing a unique combination of table design, players and ball texture (I originally used "skin" there, but thought better of it).
Amidst the variety and artistry on show in all these elements, my purist nature wins out, preferring the "vanilla" original table layout, Red vs. Blue teams and the black and white patch-work football. They look great, and the ambience is further enhanced with the inclusion of authentic Foosball sounds, for example the rattle of the player handles and the rolling noise of the ball as it travels the field.
The player perspective is worthy of a mention too, as the default camera sits nicely above the table and tracks the ball movement as you would standing beside a real table. Though it sounds like a small detail, camera angles can ruin games, but Foosball does not disappoint here.
AI matches become progressively harder, but enter stage left the first of Foosball's red cards. Master level is the highest difficulty, yet even against this daunting opponent, I was able to pull off a string of 10-0 victories. Not because I'm an "Uber-Master" foosballer, but mainly because the same tactic works almost every time for gaining territory. I'll leave it for you the dear readers to work out for yourselves, but it won't take you long, and before you know it you'll be more dominant than a entire team of Lionel Messis.
By retaining possession of the ball in play, a Street Fighter style Super Combo Gauge progressively fills, which at certain points makes set moves available to the player as a single button activated canned action. Second red card, I'm afraid. Said moves are not available at all from the start of your campaign, though are unlocked by earning stars, awarded up to 3 in number by winning matches dependant on the margin of victory. Once unlocked, the rage gauge progressively makes each move available, the use of which drains the meter a little, until your super slick soccer skills re-charge it. All this is true, unless you are prepared to part once again with real money on PSN to make the moves unlocked and always available. Though not to my personal liking, this revenue model is acceptable to some extent, but take the idea to multi-player and things become uneven. Those prepared to spend additional money on such features have bought an immediate advantage, with the ability to spam "power" moves from the opening whistle, without having to care for re-charging the meter with skill. Is this in the spirit of fair sporting play? Rhetorical answers on a post-card (old school, I know).
Sadly, these two flagrant fouls are over-shadowed by the one thing that could have otherwise made Foosball an essential purchase: the gameplay mechanic itself. Real-life table soccer demands deft and close control of a free spirited ball, which often wonders off, despite your best efforts to keep that damned thing under the feet of your upright Ronaldos. In this virtual game, the players have magnetic feet and have craftily impregnated the ball with iron, thus removing a key element of what makes real table soccer fun and skill based. Furthermore, movement of the ball in part is achieved by actual control of the ball itself, rather than control of the players forcing the ball in the desired direction. Imagine Gran Turismo 5 where the player moves the track, rather than the car, and you get the idea. I found this concept, and the canned trick shots, as ill considered as a head-butt in the chest from an angry Frenchman. Not good.
I like physics based ball games based on real-life models, such as the recent (and excellent) Pinball Arcade, and the venerable Hustle Kings. I dislike games that appear to replicate the real thing, do a fine job in presenting themselves, but play entirely differently. Foosball comes close, but regrettably loses on penalties.