EA Sports' long-running FIFA Soccer series is practically a lock on every new game system that makes its way to the market. After all, soccer is perhaps the most popular sport in the world. So while it's no surprise that the game is making its way to the Nintendo Wii, what is unexpected is how the development team has tailored the game to create a soccer experience that is unique on the Wii. During a visit to EA Canada, we had a chance to see a beautiful work-in-progress version of the game and how it is shaping up on the Wii.
The irony of creating a video game centered on hand motions, which is based on a sport that focuses almost entirely on the player's feet, hasn't escaped the development team behind the game. It's a big part of the challenge for developers to make the game familiar to long-time FIFA players, as well as Wii owners who may have never played a soccer game before. Although the controls weren't finalized when we saw the game, the basic system was easy to get used to: The Nunchuk is used to control a player's body, with the analog stick used to control the direction the player moves; the Z button is used for turbo running and to put spin on the ball once it's kicked.
However, the Wii Remote is used for the other primary functions of a soccer player: passing, shooting, and the like. To pass the ball, you hold down the A button and move the Wii Remote in the direction you want to pass. Crosses or lob passes are executed with the B button and a directional gesture. To shoot, you simply gesture upward with the Wii Remote, and the quicker you move the remote up, the harder the shot. You can also twist the remote during your kick to add some spin on the ball. When on defense, the A button is used to switch players, and the B button is used for checking an offensive player or throwing a tackle. To throw a hard tackle, you hold down the A button and flick the remote in the direction of the player you're looking to bring down. A throw-in is executed just as you might expect: by making a tossing motion with both the Wii Remote and the Nunchuk (though, unlike in the real sport, you won't be penalized for leaving your feet).
To accommodate these new controls, the default camera view has been moved to a north-south view. This is similar to how you might play in Madden NFL, as opposed to the traditional FIFA sideline camera. Playing with this view takes some getting used to, especially after having played in the traditional view for so long, but it doesn't take too long to recognize the logic behind the decision. Because the gestures for such things as passing and shooting are direction-based, it makes sense for players to be facing the same way as the athletes they are controlling.
Beyond the new controls, the Wii version of FIFA 08 will feature revisions and tweaks from the previous versions of the series. This includes an increased focus on defense, such as the ability to let you take manual control of your goalkeeper by pressing the minus button on the Wii Remote. Controlling your keeper is fun, even though we found that we weren't nearly as reliable as the computer when it came to keeping balls out of the net. Besides that, you can expect tougher defensive artificial intelligence throughout the game. In addition, producers said that virtual players in FIFA will include the same traits they exhibit in real life, so players who tend to take long shots frequently will also tend to do so in the game.
Much like Madden NFL 07's debut on the Nintendo console, FIFA 08 will include a number of minigames that--collectively known as Soccer Academy--will introduce you to the various mechanics in the game. These range from passing basics to corner kicks and more. They should also be a good option to play with friends.
Graphically, the game is looking closer to the PlayStation 2 or Xbox version of FIFA than the more visually impressive versions found on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. The player models animated well, though they weren't as detailed as we might like. That said, the game seemed to run at a solid frame rate, even though it was only about halfway complete at the time we played it. The best news of all is that the Wii version will include all the teams and players found in the other versions of FIFA 08. So, odds are, your favorite team and player will likely be represented in the game.
Translating a game played with the feet into one that's played primarily with the hands is a tall order. But if the developers behind FIFA Soccer 08 can capture the same lightning in a bottle that made Madden NFL 07 such a fun game on the Wii, we'll all have something special on our hands. We'll have more on FIFA 08 in the coming weeks, including more information on its minigames, in the near future. So stay tuned.