Lego Soccer Mania is a new game of the ol' footie for the PlayStation 2 that--you guessed it--makes use of the Lego license. The gameplay consists of a fairly amusing game of soccer, but one that's targeted squarely at the younger gamer. Soccer Mania is fun enough to sit down with for a couple of minutes, but more serious soccer fans won't find it the least bit satisfying if they're looking for a proper and involved video rendition of their sport.
We should get the Lego portion of the game out of the way right off the bat. In short, Lego Soccer Mania doesn't really make much use of the license at all beyond its visuals. All the characters in the game and much of the scenery are indeed fashioned after the famous toy blocks and accessories. In particular, the players and sideline characters have the squared bodies and weirdly rounded heads that are Lego's trademark, and you'll see some Lego vehicles or other recognizable objects from time to time. But if you're expecting to find Lego-themed minigames or some sort of Lego-oriented field construction interface, you'll be disappointed with Lego Soccer Mania.
What the game does have is a solid if somewhat simplistic soccer engine. Soccer Mania is playable with one to four players (using a multitap, of course), and it pits you in a basic soccer match against another team in a variety of different gameplay modes. The play and controls in Soccer Mania are fairly simple. You can pass high and low, slide-tackle, shoot, dash, and perform a little bit of fancy footwork to evade incoming opposition. There isn't a lot of complex technique or strategy involved in playing the game, really. Passing, shooting, and goaltending are handled more or less automatically.
Power-up items do make the gameplay slightly more interesting at times. These spawn randomly on the field and can be picked up by your active player and the enemy team. They include effects like confusing the other team's movement, turning the ball into a ticking bomb, creating a shield around the player with the ball, and granting superspeed to the active player. The power-ups are a nice enough touch, but the outcome of the game doesn't hinge on them by any means, making them seem like a bit of an afterthought at times.
Soccer Mania has a variety of game modes in which you can play the game of soccer itself. Quick start just throws you into a match without any preamble; exhibition lets you set up more game parameters before you play; story is a linear progression through several tournaments that are bound together by a storyline of sorts; and Lego cup is a lengthy elimination tournament mode that lets you vie for supremacy. In addition to the soccer modes, you can play six skill zones. These are training missions to familiarize you with the gameplay, but they also double as minigames. As you finish them, you unlock new players to use in the other modes, which gives you some incentive. They're not terribly amusing in their own right, though, and you won't be going back to replay the skill zones for entertainment value after you've unlocked everything with them.
Lego Soccer Mania is a decent enough soccer game, but it doesn't have the depth or overall seriousness of design to impress those looking for something substantial. Fortunately, it's easy enough to get into that kids can have some fun with it, and obviously a game need not appeal to all markets to be considered decent for what it is. Soccer fans looking for a new game might want to give Lego Soccer Mania a rental for a weekend or kick the game over to their kid brother for extended testing.