At this point in time, there aren't many traditional sports titles available for Nokia's N-Gage, and the few titles that are available have been disappointing at best. The latest addition to the N-Gage's sports lineup is EA Sports' FIFA Soccer 2004. Though the game is far from perfect in most every regard, FIFA is easily the most accomplished traditional sports title for the system up to now, featuring a fairly simple but balanced gameplay system and a deep roster of playable teams. If you can get past some rather glaring graphical and audio irritations, you'll likely find FIFA to be an enjoyable game overall.
FIFA 2004's controls are pretty easy to pick up from the first play. You can pass the ball using the 7 key, and you can shoot and tackle by pressing 5. The 8 key lets you hard tackle and perform a lob pass, and the 4 key gives you a quick burst of speed. Ultimately, much of the strategy element of soccer has been sacrificed for this version of the game, but you can still alter your team's tactics at the beginning of a game. For the most part, though, the game primarily consists of passing and shooting--without much flash or strategizing. However, for what it is, the game still plays pretty well. The shooting mechanics feel tight and accurate, and though passing is a little tricky in some spots, once you get the hang of it, it's pretty easy to knock the ball from player to player essentially at will.
FIFA 2004 features a surprisingly wealthy list of teams from all corners of the globe. Aside from just about any major international team you can think of, the game includes nearly every club--from the English Premiership, to the American MLS, and right down to the ever-popular Austrian T-Mobile Bundesliga. Each team has all the identifiable real-life players, though their listed stats aren't particularly meaningful within the scope of gameplay. FIFA's available play modes aren't quite as numerous as its team lists, but there's still plenty to keep you busy here. Aside from the essential quick play mode, you can also take any of the game's teams through the championship mode by playing for any number of cups or titles, including the International Cup, the Americas Club Championship, any of the club-specific cups, or even just a basic ladder tournament. The game also features Bluetooth support for two players, who can play competitively or cooperatively. Competitive play works just about as well as it should, but there is a bit of an odd quirk with the cooperative play. Essentially, whenever you pass the ball to a player, the game automatically switches the other human player to that player. This isn't so bad once you're accustomed to it, but initially it can be extremely confusing.
Graphically, FIFA looks a bit better than most sports titles on the N-Gage, but there are still some problems. First and foremost, when playing the game, there just isn't much to look at--save for the field and players. Most of the time, you're just running back and forth on a fairly flat, green plane without much of anything else in the background. Although you get a bit more of the background environment when you get close to the net, there still isn't much to look at. All the player models look roughly the same, but they do move and animate pretty well, despite the occasionally choppy frame rate. The game's menu presentation shows off a lot more polish than the in-game graphics and also features a few different licensed songs. However, while playing, all you hear are the occasional kicks of the ball, whistles being blown here and there, and tinny crowd sounds. Unfortunately, none of it sounds particularly good.
There's nothing particularly special about FIFA Soccer 2004, but as it stands, it's still one of the more playable sports games currently available for the N-Gage. Obviously, if you're looking for the same level of gameplay and team management depth featured in the console versions of FIFA, you're definitely not going to find it here. But if you're searching for a fairly rudimentary game of soccer that's pretty fun to play, then FIFA 2004 is worth a look.