You have to sympathize with soccer game designers. With the exception of hockey, there probably isn't a tougher mainstream sport to turn into a fun, accessible game. Fortunately, Gameloft's Marcel Desailly Pro Soccer manages to keep the gameplay tight while providing a entertaining, arcadelike experience.
Pro Soccer has 32 international teams, all with individual player stats, including name, power, speed, and react(ion). Despite all the nerdy details, Pro Soccer, at heart, is an arcade game. The pace is fast, and the overhead view and colorful graphics make it easy to see what's happening at any time.
The biggest strength of Pro Soccer is the innovative control scheme. Soccer players, like crabs, tend to go sideways instead of straight ahead. So, in turn, you use 6 and 4 to turn your character clockwise and counterclockwise, and you use 1 to stop/start running. The 5 key passes or steals, 8 gives you a long manual pass, and 2 shoots the ball toward the goal. That's it. Even better, the game provides a nice tutorial--à la JAMDAT's Tony Hawk series--that will get you in shape. It takes about five minutes to feel comfortable with the controls.
However, tutorial mastery won't guarantee a winning record by any stretch. Marcel's artificial intelligence is smart, quick, and aggressive. It's not uncommon for a chased opponent to stop midrun to throw you off or to pass, lightning-fast, through his team to set up for a goal. Gameloft has kept the opponents ruthless but fair, and the difficulty level is adjustable (from one to five) and exhibits significant differences. On level one, I whipped the other teams, while at level two, I was able to win by sweating through a few matches. At press time, I had yet to score more than once on a level three opponent.
There are a ton of options in Pro Soccer, adding much to the already addictive gameplay. Games can be three-, five-, or 10-minutes long. Players can participate in an exhibition (a stand-alone match), a penalty kick practice (which provides a fun 3D perspective), or the Gameloft Cup championship series. Tips can also be turned on, which provides helpful tutorial hints during match breaks.
The Gameloft Cup adds weight to the title. You could easily make a day of playing through a title championship, with 32 teams to choose from and 10-minute games. MDPS is a title that will take a while to master, so, like all good sports games, even winning the championship won't end the replay value.
Gameloft has done a good job on the sound side of things as well. There isn't much music, but the sound effects, like the match-ending whistle, are realistic and well placed. Confirming sounds also make navigating the multilayered menus a breeze.
Marcel Desailly Pro Soccer is easily one of the best soccer games available on handheld. Sports aficionados would do well to add this one to their trophy cases.