Is there a more perfect time to release a game about the beautiful game than when the World Cup is in full swing? That’s exactly what developer Panic Barn has done with Soccer Story but don’t worry, it’s still a solid game in its own right.
Soccer? What soccer?
Set some years after an unexplained “Cataclysm” rocked the world during the Apple Cup finals, almost destroying soccer forever, Soccer Inc. have made it their goal to ensure that no one, except a specifically sanctioned few, will even admit to knowing what a soccer ball looks like. However, a magical soccer ball has other ideas and has chosen you as the beautiful game’s saviour.
Choosing from a pair of twins, it’s your job as the “Chosen One” to reignite the passionate flames of soccer in peoples’ hearts and follow in your father’s footsteps. Your goal is to restore the Apple Cup and win it but you’ll first have to convince the legendary local teams to gear up again by beating them in local cups and sticking it to Soccer Inc. however you can. While you’re at it, maybe, just maybe, you’ll find out what the Calamity actually was and what that floating island in the sky has to do with it all.
Do we call it an SRPG?
As you might have gathered from that narrative overview, Soccer Story isn’t a traditional soccer game. It is, instead, the latest in a long line of games mixing sports and RPG elements to breathe new life into traditional sporting games. It’s your “career mode” if you lived in a fantastical land filled with soccer-playing sharks and panda goalies. The game is full of mini-games to play, side quests to embark on, and people to talk to.
The world of Soccer Story is gated off at first, with each of its zones requiring you to complete a story quest to unlock the following ones. Usually, you’ll have to find some way to get a team to put their cleats on again, beat them in a soccer match, and help some other people around the zone before taking part in zone cup finals – which sees you replaying the previous team along with a new one made up from previous Apple Cup stars.
Between your core task, you can run around each area doing side quests and minigames to earn yourself coins or upgrade medals. You’ll be doing everything from hitting targets, preserving goalposts (by scoring in them?), digging up bones, and more. While each zone has a general set of busywork quests, it’s the more fun ones – such as having to slide tackle sandcastles controlled by angry dads or saving a bunch of swimming kids from hungry sharks by bopping them with your controlled shots – that liven up the experience. That’s not to say the main quests and storyline aren’t fun, but repetition does begin to set in with the formulaic approach to unlocking each zone.
It’s a traditional playing RPG at heart, but it’s the simplified soccer mechanics that ensure the minute-to-minute gameplay shines. You interact with the world through a variety of soccer skills, most notably shooting, passing, and sliding. Your magic ball can be summoned at any time and pushing the right analogue gives you control over your trajectory and power – think height and distance. Passing and standard shooting will bop the ball in whichever direction you’re facing and sliding is a simple button press to help you deal with a variety of minigames (or simply slide through shining grass to pick up coins). Think of it as Link’s sword swing, except that it’s soccer-themed.
Upgrades for yourself and your team are handled through medals which you earn or can buy. They improve your speed, strength, shooting and energy, which contributes to your abilities in both matches and navigating the overworld.
There’s still plenty of soccer to be had
Of course, you’re going to be playing plenty of soccer matches as well and, thankfully, the system shines. Admittedly, I don’t play traditional soccer games, but Soccer Story’s mechanics are stripped down to basics for an everyone-can-pick-up-and-play experience.
Whether you’re playing one-on-one matches or five versus five, you’ll have access to the same abilities. You can shoot, pass, and slide tackle the opposing players. Holding down the shoot button charges up your shot while you can sprint for short distances before needing a recharge. In keeping with the fantastical theme of the story, you’ll gain access to some special abilities – like the “Shark Tackle” that lets you shoot out a projectile to take another player down.
The game’s A.I. does a pretty good job of controlling your teammates when you aren’t controlling them yourself, but I did find it was better to quickly swap between them – which can be done handily with the pass button – for more accurate and defensive play. Matches can get quite challenging, regardless of difficulty, but it’s not difficult to exploit the opposing team’s goalie by quick passing between players before making your shot.
My first match – which was against a group of toddlers – left me on the losing side until I got used to the mechanics, at which point I seriously trounced them with a wonderful 6 – 0 score. Thankfully, matches only last four minutes. With easier matches, that can feel like a lifetime once you’re well ahead with two or three goals, at which point I just exploited real-world tactics and kept the ball away from the opposing team while wasting time. During the harder matches further into the game, every second counts – especially that last minute when you’re desperately trying to score just one goal to equalise or claim a win.
I loved the stripped-down mechanics as they made it enjoyable for me, while maintaining the game’s light-hearted and easygoing vibe. Losing a match just means you learn and can retry, with no actual penalty for losing – at least not if you want to keep the story going. And if it does get too difficult, you can always change the difficulty setting mid-game to compensate. If you want extra practice, Soccer Story also supports a separate “Quick Match” mode that lets you play matches locally or by yourself against customisable AI.
Charming, sedately paced, and entertaining
Part of Soccer Story‘s charm is the top-down, chunky polygon stylings and super-deformed sprite work that are always pretty to look at. There’s a performance and quality mode as well, even on the Nintendo Switch, and while the quality mode only seemed to add extra shadows, it did affect the frame rate. The game runs better in performance mode with only minor frame rate dips while swimming so, as it’s better to have smoother gameplay during soccer matches, this would be my suggestion.
The game’s story, along with the gameplay, moves at a nice, sedate pace, making Soccer Story the perfect afternoon, relaxation-time kind of game. The game aims for a humorous approach to its story and dialogue and while not all of it lands – particularly some of the inconsistent character writing – it’s still a charming ride about following in someone’s footsteps and striving for your dreams.
Ultimately, Soccer Story is not a perfect game, relying on a significant amount of repetition, but with relaxed pacing and quirky humour, it scores more than it misses.
Soccer Story (Nintendo Switch) ReviewSoccer Story (Nintendo Switch) Review
Gameplay8/10 Very Good
- The simplified soccer system is great
- Entertaining sidequests
- Enjoyable yet relaxed pacing
- Inconsistent character writing
- Repetitive progression