First released for the GameCube a few months ago, Sega Soccer Slam was a surprisingly great action-packed arcadelike sports game. The new Xbox version features a number of additions to its GameCube counterpart, including several new characters who add to an already creative lineup of professional wrestlers, surfers, and angry Scotsmen. Indeed, the characters in the game are a good indication of the nature of Sega Soccer Slam--it's a fast-paced game of three-on-three soccer with a variety of over-the-top moves and special abilities that make for an incredibly fun experience, especially when playing against human opponents.
Even if you're not a fan of soccer or you don't know the sport well enough to be familiar with some of the basics, Sega Soccer Slam should be plenty enjoyable for you. It has a practice mode that will give you a step-by-step rundown of the simple maneuvers such as passing, shooting, volleys, dekes, and steals, as well as some of the more complicated combinations of moves like the give-and-go and the quick shot. Soccer veterans would also do well to take a look at this mode to learn how to perform some of the more-unique maneuvers like the killer kick and the spotlight shot. But really, no matter what your level of soccer knowledge is, it's easy to jump right into one of the other gameplay modes in Sega Soccer Slam and start playing right away.
The Xbox version of Sega Soccer Slam includes an arcade mode, which consists of the exhibition and quick start options and two minigames. The exhibition option functions like any other sports game exhibition mode, allowing you to select a team, an opponent, and a stadium for a quick match. Quick start automatically selects two teams, so you can start a game even faster. The two minigames are hot potato and brawl, both of which place you in an arena against three opponents. The objective in hot potato is to get rid of the ball before it explodes by kicking it into an opponent and scoring points, whereas brawl is just a straight-up fight in which each player has a life meter that can be depleted by socking it to him. The challenge mode is also exclusive to the Xbox version of the game. In this mode, you can put together a team of any three players in the game. If you successfully win four games in a row, you'll unlock one of several hidden characters in the game, but you can only unlock two new characters using the same team members, so you'll have to change your lineup pretty often while playing through the challenge mode.
While these modes can be fun, the crux of the Sega Soccer Slam experience is the quest mode, in which you select from one of five teams and then compete in a series of 10 games. As you start to win games, you'll start to earn money that you can use to unlock character artwork or items that function as power-ups for your players. For example, you can buy a necklace that gives a specific player additional speed, or purchase a jetpack to enhance his speed even further. In a nice touch, the character art and items shown in the soccer store are specific to the team you've selected. In addition, if you successfully complete all 10 matches, as well as the playoff matches that follow, you'll unlock one of several new stadiums, depending on the team you're using. Needless to say, the quest mode adds a significant amount of replay value to the game, as you'll likely want to see all the items and extras that you can unlock.
In actuality, even if the excellent quest mode weren't in the game, Soccer Slam could have just as easily gotten away with only an exhibition mode and a basic tournament mode, simply because the gameplay is executed so well. Despite its over-the-top arcadelike appearance, Soccer Slam demands a surprising amount of strategy when competing against computer- or human-controlled opponents. As previously mentioned, the game features most of the maneuvers that you would normally find in a regular soccer simulation. The give-and-go, volleys, one-timer shots--you'll have to use all these techniques to succeed, particularly in the later stages of the quest mode, when opponents become much more difficult. When you execute these basic moves, you'll charge a meter located at the bottom of the screen, and the energy in this meter can be used to give individual players a brief boost in speed and shot power or to launch a kill shot--a move that causes the ball handler to launch into the air in slow motion and perform an incredibly powerful kick.
However, executing a killer kick or a spotlight kick--which is similar to the killer kick, except it's a little less powerful and it doesn't require energy from the meter--doesn't automatically mean you'll score a goal. In fact, the keeper will still block the majority of these shots, but you'll actually almost want the keeper to block the more powerful shots. Every time you take a shot on goal and the keeper manages to block it, you'll knock off a piece of his armor, which makes him tire. The more powerful the shot, the more armor it will knock off, so it's worthwhile to hold down the shot button to execute a stronger basic shot. Of course, there are times when you'll be able to completely dominate the opposing team, so it won't really matter, but in tough matches, it pays to take a few solid shots right at the keeper.
In keeping with its over-the-top theme, Sega Soccer Slam's graphics are highly stylized and almost comic-book-like in presentation. From the British rocker Half Pint to the luchador El Diablo, the character designs are incredibly well done, and they give each player in the game plenty of personality. The hidden characters (which include robots!) are equally appealing and also fit in quite well with the game. Likewise, the players' facial expressions and animations are a pleasure to see. There are also plenty of small details that add to the overall visual quality of the game. For example, the field becomes worn and will turn brown as players continually trample over particular sections. Also, when you execute the speed and shot boost, you'll notice that each team has a distinct effect to signify the boost. The members of team Tsunami will turn into water and small splashes will fly off the ball as you dribble down the field. Similarly, players on team Spirit will turn purple and cause small skulls made out of mist to appear while moving with the ball.
While the characters look great, the three default stadiums really aren't much to look at. While it's worth noting that portions of the stadiums have a polygonal crowd, the three default stadiums are still pretty bland. However, the unlockable stadiums look much better, and they generally fall more in line with the theme of the game. In any case, the Xbox version looks identical to its GameCube counterpart, so while you won't see a huge amount of polygons being pushed around on the screen, the artistic style more then makes up for that.
Soccer Slam's sound functions as effectively as the graphics do in providing the characters with lots of personality. Each character has a unique theme to accompany his individual goal celebration--Angus from team Volta has a unique bagpipe theme, while Dante from the same team has more of an Italian operatic theme. The trash talking between players is also done well, with plenty of different one-liners, and the commentary does an effective job of calling the basic onscreen action.
Sega Soccer Slam was a highly entertaining game when it first appeared on the GameCube, and the extras that Sega has added to the Xbox version make it even better. The expanded lineup of characters and the few additional modes of play unquestionably help prolong the life of the game. Xbox owners interested in a fast-paced, funny sports game with plenty of personality and deceptively deep gameplay shouldn't think twice about picking up Soccer Slam.