Sega Soccer Slam

First impressions and exclusive movies of Sega's upcoming GameCube soccer game.

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Not quite a friendly game of soccer.
Not quite a friendly game of soccer.

We got a look at Sega's upcoming GameCube soccer game, Sega Soccer Slam. Soccer Slam makes a colorful and cartoony departure from the NFL and NBA games and offers accessible gameplay and over-the-top action. We spent some time with an early build of the game and came away impressed and amused.

The game concept for Soccer Slam has been cooking for the past year and a half. Essentially a soccer game in the vein of the NFL Blitz arcade series, Soccer Slam is a fast-paced arcade-style three-on-three soccer game. Once it was determined that the game would be set for the GameCube, the team of roughly 40 staffers devoted the past five months to focusing on getting the game up and running on the system. The results so far are impressive. The game already runs at a smooth 60 frames per second and features incredibly detailed graphics, and its fluid motion is helped by the use of more than 1000 motion-captured moves in the character animation.

There's probably going to be some pain involved when that ball hits.
There's probably going to be some pain involved when that ball hits.

You'll have a choice of six teams to choose from, each featuring its own individual and cartoony personalities. The El Fuego team is made up of El Diablo, Rico, and Madeira. The Spirit team's members are Zari, Kaimani, and Djimon. Team Tsunami will feature Kahuna, Rumiko, and Boomer. The Toxic team is made up of Rain, Duke, and Nova. The Sub Zeros are Half Pint, Lola, and Kiril. Lastly, Volta is made up of Angus, Dante, and Arsenault. Each team will have its own ratings for speed, hitting, passing, shooting, and stealing effectiveness. A unique gameplay twist is that each team will have its own elemental attribute that will come into play during a game. You'll be able to energize your players with their particular elemental energy, which will greatly enhance their abilities for a brief time.

Soccer Slam will offer four modes for you to explore: exhibition, quest, tourney, and practice. Exhibition is a quick game you can hop right into after a few button presses. Quest is a longer career-type mode in which you roam the globe with a team, entering competitions and earning money, much like in the Virtua Tennis series. You'll compete in 10 qualifying games, semifinals, and playoffs. Along the way you'll be able to visit a soccer shop in the game where you can spend your hard-earned cash to purchase items your team can wear, which will alter their appearance and enhance their abilities. In addition you'll also be able to buy concept art, which you can view in the game as well. Quest mode will also let you open new stadiums in the game--you'll begin with only three open, but you can eventually unlock another six for a total of nine stadiums to play in. Tourney is a multiplayer round robin tournament in the game for up to six or more players. Finally, practice mode will coach you on the moves in the game and help you become a pro. In addition to gameplay modes, you'll also have access to a collection of team bios and an options menu.

A member of the Spirit team powers up.
A member of the Spirit team powers up.

A strong factor in Soccer Slam's appeal is its simple control scheme, which should be accessible to most gamers. Although you'll be able to map the controls to any configuration you like, we found the default layout worked pretty well. Y lets you protect the ball. The L trigger will power up your character if you have enough energy stored, while the R trigger will serve as your turbo. The other button functions will change according to whether you're on offense or defense. X will serve as your deke and steal. A will pass or switch. And B will shoot the ball or hit your opponent.

Gameplay is fast and loose, both on the field and in the rules, and offers plenty of incentive to smack your opponents around. Goalies in the game will be recipients of much abuse thanks to the wide range of shots available in the game. Depending on the type and power of your shot, you'll be able to knock armor off them, reducing them from armored hulks that stop all incoming shots to long-johns-wearing pushovers who couldn't stop a fly. Basic shots can be enhanced by holding down the shoot button, which calls up a power meter that increases the longer you hold the button down before taking the shot.

While basic shots are nice, Soccer Slam offers some nastier ways to make a goal. As you play a game, an onscreen meter slowly fills if you pull moves successfully, such as stealing a ball or passing effectively. Once the meter starts to fill, you can use the L trigger to energize your character with an elemental power for a stronger kick with a greater chance of making a goal. If you wait until the meter is full, it will flash to let you know it's possible to perform a "killer kick." Simply turbo-pass to another team member, which will call up a target that looks like a spotlight on the field. You'll have a few moments to get another player in the target and press "shoot" when the target turns green. If you manage to get the timing right, you'll be rewarded by a slow-motion kick whose chances of making it in the goal are much higher than most shots. Another type of kick, the spotlight kick, is possible if you've held control of the ball for roughly five or more seconds. A spotlight will begin moving across the field, slowly alerting you that it's possible to perform the kick. If you get your player in the spotlight and go for a shot, you'll be treated to some Matrix-style slow motion and camera panning. As that happens, a target will come up to help you aim the ball before you take the shot.

Sunset Arena showcases some nice lighting effects.
Sunset Arena showcases some nice lighting effects.

In terms of graphics, Soccer Slam is looking very good even now. The stadiums are compact but crowded with detail, from the crowd to the teams on the field. Crowds will react when the home team scores by cheering and waving flags, and they'll boo when the visiting team is doing well. We got a taste of some of the default stadiums: Colosso Dome, Sunset Arena, and the Glitter Bowl. The game offers a great deal of eye candy, including a variety of environmental details, such as the dirt kicked up when you're playing, the Las Vegas theme of the Glitter Bowl, and the lighting effects in the aptly named Sunset Arena. Before matches, you'll also be able to select the type of weather you want to play in. You'll be able to choose from sun, fog, rain, and snow weather types that will affect how you move on the field. For example, playing in rain will obviously keep things slippery and muddy.

So far Soccer Slam is shaping up to offer a welcome change of pace from traditional sports games. Its mix of arcade-style gameplay and eye candy makes for a fun and accessible experience. Sega Soccer Slam is due around March or April of this year. Look for more on the game in the coming months.

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