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I think it is safe to say that it isn’t every day that a simple, unassuming game of the flash variety can change someone’s opinion regarding the sport on which it is based in less than a few introductory levels, particularly if the sport in question is football. As a casual member of the football indifference club (in addition to the society of marmite nonchalance), I assumed my stance on football would remain at least neutral, if not in constant danger of rapid decline into the negative due to the detestable nature of 90% of people involved in the “profession”. It therefore came as a puzzling surprise to me when I took somewhat of a moderate liking to ‘Soccer Balls 2’, a football-flavoured physics puzzler with a hint of platforming from the skilled people at TurboNuke. The title takes what little essence of fun that the game of football possesses and condenses it into a game that can be enjoyed by both fans and foes of the game. It’s got goals, referees, and footballs of varying size, and possesses a likability that the modern game of football simply doesn’t have, so I hope the chairman of the Football Association is taking this down in note form. Watch and learn, the entire sport of football. Watch and Learn.
It must have been difficult for the developers of the game to take the fun aspects of football and integrate them into a game because firstly, there aren’t many aspects of the sport itself that qualify for the honour of being described as ‘fun’. Secondly, it’s not like it hasn’t been done a few dozen times before to varying degrees of success by many non-console games such as Simple Soccer Championship; flash football games – whatever their format or appearance – are extremely plentiful in number. None, however, have ever allowed me to take control of a footballer who cannot move and must instead direct the ball into stationary targets (mainly goals) by navigating it through the surrounding environment with the use of various items and objects scattered about the place. To shake up the basic format which I just briefly described, there are some distinctly forlorn-looking referees placed throughout each level that you must boop gently on the head with the ball in order to proceed to the next level. There are usually various players (also stationary) that you can pass to during the game in order to be able to reach different sections of the level.
Look over yonder! The aiming system allows you to roughly plan your shot trajectory in advance. I can’t explain the ice cream van.
The main crux of the action is based on an aiming system whereby you must use the mouse in order to direct the ball’s movement, the trajectory of which is displayed before the shot is taken with a curved line that emanates from an arrow. The ball roughly follows the predetermined path, while often succumbing to gravity and falling a little lower than expected; this way, you do not become overly frustrated by being forced to blindly launch the ball without knowing its likely trajectory or power (an experience akin to playing a first-person shooter without the benefit of a crosshair for aiming), while still having to do a little compensating for the balls slightly-lower and actual trajectory. For those of you worrying about the action getting a little tough, there is also a walkthrough for the game available for your perusal, which comes in the form of a separate game that has been stripped of its actual functionality but where each level has been annotated with visual directions showing the location of all attainable items and suggested routes through the levels; the walkthrough can be explored by the player at his or her leisure at any stage of the game.
Mario would be Proud
Borrowing some features from more traditional games of the platform genre, the game also includes a number of modifications throughout the levels that provide a little variation to the straight-up click-and-kick format such as switches with different functions, pressure pads, ball-blocking goalies to make goal-scoring less straightforward, moveable scenery, ball-launching cannons, and some amusingly large footballs that can be manipulated with your more sensibly-sized football into also hitting the poor referee and scoring the goals.
Collecting gold coins that are additional but not essential to your progress also adds a little extra challenge to the game without taking the momentum out of the gameplay; the collection of coins simply awards you some superficial features (like big-head mode) and other such nonessential (but extremely entertaining) niceties. These niceties also include haddock heads for the players (attained by collecting all of the coins within the game), collecting all trophies gets you exploding referees, while collecting all the gold medals in the game will issue you with the golden football.
You are issued a limited number of ball-strikes according to the difficulty of the level, and various stars are awarded if you complete the level using under a certain number of strikes. Occasionally, the action will slow down to a halt should you fail to direct the ball towards a goal or receptive player; don’t panic though, because even though you just wasted a shot, the waiting can be minimised by press ‘F’ to fast- forward the mini-countdown that takes place before you are issued your next ball.
Action ground to a halt? It’s not sky plus, but you can fast-forward the action until the ball returns
The game is by no means a perfect imagining of a football-based physics game; there are a few little niggles that have it falling a little short of being ‘outstanding’ in any respect. Occasionally the taking of a shot feels a little anti-climactic, as though you could really do with some more power behind the shot. Even though some increased power is afforded to you by extending the arrow/shot indicator with your mouse, you cannot help but feel that the game is missing a dedicated power-bar for your shots, which would make things more interesting to a considerable degree. Further additions to the game in the form of a bigger selection of footballs with different properties would have been an excellent addition, as well as the ability to manipulate the large footballs more directly (they can only be moved by destroying the objects around them/underneath them.
Perhaps the only other criticism of the game that I could justifiably put forward is the fact that you cannot help but feel that the football element of the gameplay could be interchangeable for pretty much any sport. Swap the football element with pretty much any other ball sport and you would still have pretty much the same game; the referees, the goals and the footballing aspect feels like somewhat of an ad-hoc element as opposed to the whole thing being based around the essence of football. Essentially it is more of a generic physics-based game which bears some resemblance to the game of football, as opposed to a true football title. This kind of thing would really only bother the football purists among you anyhow, and I can safely say that I am not part of this crowd.
Though a football-related game involving no lateral movement of the players may sound about as interesting as watching an episode of Newsnight with the volume all the way down, Soccer Balls 2 is an incredibly entertaining bit of pass-timery that factors in some sensible trajectory-based skill with some lateral thinking and mild deductive reasoning along the way. I find that the only football-related flash games (or games in general) that are even remotely enjoyable to play for those who are unenthusiastic about the sport are ones that take only a few aspects of it and base the game around these features. In the case of Soccer Balls 2, the striking and shooting aspect is plucked out of the sport, dropped into some specially-designed, non-football-pitch surroundings and presented for the player in an entertaining manner. You can even say hello to a cheeky bit of customisation in the form of being able to select the club of your own team as well as that of the ‘opposition’, as well as being able to cycle through a variety of kit colours and even colour swatches which allow you to indulge yourself in some further editing of your kit down to the most meticulous of details. Soccer Balls 2 therefore cannot be accused of failing to do its best to please the football fan who loves to live vicariously through fictional players bearing the same kit as that of their club; a truly tailor-made experience (to within reasonable flash limits) is the result.
Are these colours a football faux-pas? Customisation of your kit allows you to live vicariously through your team’s fictional flash success
Perhaps the men and women at TurboNuke realised that the only way to make flash-based football title that was actually enjoyable was to take the sport’s rules, regulations, format and well-known stars and throw them out of a window whose excessive altitude would result in a fatal conclusion of the existence of anything that should fall from it. By taking the sport of football and cutting out its unnecessary features while allowing the bare minimum of the game’s characteristics to remain, Soccer Balls 2 manages to be nothing less than a triumph of flash-based entertainment and is a credit to the genre of physics-based puzzle games.
Quantatively Speaking: 75/100