When the 2010 World Cup kicks off in South Africa next month, soccer fans the world over will be glued to their televisions regardless of whether or not their country is still in the running. When there are no matches being played, they'll need some other way to satiate their soccer appetites, and that's where 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa comes in. The Wii version of EA Sports' latest offering doesn't play a realistic game of soccer, but it looks and sounds the part, and there's still plenty of fun to be had on the field, particularly if you're with friends.
Unlike FIFA games on other platforms, which seemingly strive for realism above all else, 2010 FIFA World Cup on the Wii makes some compromises in the interest of accessibility. Moving the ball around effectively requires some skill because you have to determine both the direction and the strength of every pass, but the controls for almost every other aspect of outfield play have been boiled down to the bare essentials. This includes corners, free kicks, penalties, shots at goal, defending, and even the act of two players competing to get on the end of a goal kick. The controls are uncomplicated, and if you've ever played a FIFA game before--on any platform--you should have no trouble picking them up. With that said, using a Classic Controller is definitely recommended because the remote and nunchuk setups afford you less control and require remote shaking to shoot at goal and perform sliding tackles.
Shots at goal are perhaps the least realistic aspect of 2010 FIFA World Cup, though it can still be very satisfying to score great goals. You can hit the shoot button--or shake your remote if you insist--from anywhere on the field, and if you're the right side of the halfway line, there's always a chance that you'll score. That's because every single shot gets launched toward the opposition's goal like a rocket--complete with visual and audio effects more befitting a bullet than a ball. You won't score every time, of course, but make no mistake, this is a game in which you score a lot of goals and net-busting bicycle kicks and the like are the norm.
How well you fare elsewhere on the field will depend on the speed of your reflexes because a number of different scenarios all get resolved the same way--with a quick, well-timed flick of the right analog stick. For example, if you're trying to get on the end of a goal kick or a corner, you simply wait for the incoming ball to glow for a moment and then flick the right analog stick as quickly as possible to ensure that you win the ball. If you win this minigame of sorts after a goal kick, then you perfectly control the ball as your opponent stumbles to the ground; if you win it after a corner, then you either shoot at goal or make a clearance, depending on whether you're attacking or defending. Direct free kicks work in a similar fashion: As the kick taker, you have to time your tap of the stick with your player striking the ball, and as the goalie, you watch for the glowing ball. It's an overly simplistic system, but it works, and it keeps the game moving at a good pace because you're not wasting time trying to line up every set piece perfectly.
If you're playing against the AI on the medium or hard difficulty setting, set pieces might provide some of your best chances at goal, but if you take the easy option, you can more or less score goals at will. It's unfortunate that there's such a significant difference between the easy and medium difficulty settings because the easy option is unlikely to challenge even the most inexperienced players, while medium might surprise you with some great goals of its own on occasion. Given this game's obvious emphasis on accessibility, an option between the two might have made sense. Regardless, you shouldn't be spending too much time playing with the AI anyway because, like most sports game, 2010 FIFA World Cup is best enjoyed with friends.
In fact, while the requisite exhibition match and World Cup competition options are available for solo players, the only mode in which you should be sharing the field with the AI for prolonged periods of time is Zakumi's Dream Team. This ingenious mode puts you in control of a randomly generated team that's composed entirely of players from countries that haven't qualified for this year's World Cup. Then, you get to play against the 32 teams that are making the trip to South Africa and, provided you beat those teams and complete other objectives along the way, you get to steal their players for your dream team. Objectives are surprisingly varied and include scoring or winning by a certain number of goals, winning without using slide tackles, scoring goals at certain times in the match, and so on. There are three challenges to complete in every match, and which ones you complete determines whether you get to choose bronze-, silver-, or gold-level players from your opponent. For example, if you beat Portugal, you can choose one of its bronze players, and if you prevent it from taking five shots at goal from within the 18-yard box, you have the option to take a silver player. If you want to get your hands on a world-class player like Cristiano Ronaldo, though, you need to prevent Portugal from taking five shots from anywhere on the field, which is no mean feat.
Assembling your dream team in this way is a lot of fun, not only because the challenges are well thought out and varied, but also because you can only include one player from each country in your squad. For this reason, even if you and your friends blast through the Zakumi's Dream Team mode on easy to get your teams assembled, it's unlikely that you'll end up with many of the same players. You can use your dream team in both offline and online matches, and if you export it to your Wii Remote, you can take it over to a friend's house to pit against his team. It takes several hours or more to play through all 32 matches (they're organized into groups so you can't skip smaller teams and only play against the big ones) and put your team together, but if you're planning to play online or have some like-minded friends, it's well worth the effort.
Online play in 2010 FIFA World Cup works well and rarely suffers from noticeable lag, but it's unfortunate that the options are so limited. There are no tournaments or leagues of any kind, so all you're left with are head-to-head matches that are either unranked or ranked. There's an option to play two-versus-two if you and a friend feel like going online from the same console, but while this is certainly a good addition, there are currently few players taking advantage of it. Your best bet, if you're looking for some multiplayer kicks, is to invite a few friends over and check out the Global Elimination mode. Here, two to four players get to choose (or are randomly assigned) two to four teams each from the 199 that are in the game and then take it in turns to challenge each other in matches that see the losing teams get knocked out of the competition. When it's your turn to issue a challenge, you get to choose which teams both you and your opponent use, which adds an interesting element of strategy to the proceedings. Do you want to risk your England team against your friend's Brazil? Or would you rather pit England against one of his weaker teams and hope that someone else knocks out his Brazilians? The winner is whoever ends up with the last team standing, and played with the right group of friends, this mode is about as good as 2010 FIFA World Cup gets. It's just a pity that no option to set up or at least fill Global Elimination contests with AI opponents is included.
2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa doesn't offer a great deal for solo players, but if you're in a position to take the game online or to play it with friends, there's more than enough content here to keep you entertained before, during, and long after this year's tournament in South Africa. If you come into this game hoping to score some realistic soccer action, then you're going to be disappointed, but if you approach it as an arcade-style game with plenty of spectacular scoring opportunities, you'll achieve your goal.