Sega's arcade soccer game, Virtua Striker 3, is coming to the GameCube in updated form, and we had a chance to try out a 30-percent complete version at Nintendo's Space World show. When compared to a deeper simulation of the sport like EA Sports' FIFA 2002, Virtua Striker 3 is simplified in almost every respect--but it should appeal to more casual sports game fans who prefer the intensified action of arcade sports games over the depth and slower pacing of pure simulations.
The version of Virtua Striker 3 ver. 2002 shown at Space World includes just four teams, and the GameCube units running the game each have two controllers for head-to-head play. The game itself is fairly simple to play. The A button performs lob passes, and the B button lets you pass the ball to teammates along the ground. One-touch passes are accomplished by pressing the B button before the ball reaches the intended player. The X button is used for shooting the ball, and the longer you hold it, the harder the shot. The Y button lets you slide tackle and attempt to steal the ball, but the referees are more than willing to hand out red or yellow cards to those who are overzealous. Most special dribble moves are performed automatically, depending on your approach using the analog stick.
While Virtua Striker 3 is an arcade game at heart, there's also a limited amount of team management to be found. Tapping the Z button on the GameCube controller's right shoulder lets you cycle through the available formations on the fly. This comes in handy when you're down late in the game and need some quick goals, or when you're trying to nurse a one-goal lead with the clock slowly dwindling away. The R button lets you adjust tactics to increase your team's aggression level when needed. While Virtua Striker 3 doesn't allow for the extensive amount of control or team management available in EA Sports' FIFA 2002, it's simplified enough to allow the most casual player to pick it up and enjoy it.
Virtua Striker 3's graphics are fairly impressive, but they haven't been improved much when compared with the arcade version. The player models are fairly detailed but lack the refinement and facial animation of those found in FIFA 2002. Also, there currently seems to be just a few different player models included in the game. However, Virtua Striker 3 isn't plagued by the erratic frame rates found in the version of EA's soccer game for the GameCube on display at the show. Screenshots of the arcade version of Virtua Striker 3 have revealed that Sonic and his friends are hidden in the game, but we were given no indication as to whether Sega's mascot will make an appearance in the GameCube version. The player animation is fairly good--players will automatically adjust to the ball and trap it with their knees or chest. However, the running animation looks to have a slight hitch that keeps it from appearing natural, though this will hopefully be addressed. Also, Virtua Striker 3's stadium crowd is pixilated and composed of low-resolution sprites, unlike the highly detailed crowd found in FIFA 2002.
Though it's not incredibly deep or overwhelmingly pretty, Virtua Striker 3 is still shaping up to be a good-playing game of soccer that's accessible to almost anyone. Those who find EA's soccer games to be too detail-oriented will likely enjoy Virtua Striker 3's elegant simplicity and would do well to keep an eye on its progress. Virtua Striker 3 ver. 2002 for the GameCube is tentatively scheduled for release at the end of the year.