AG Interactive, the mobile services division of American Greetings, has been looking to break into the burgeoning Hispanic-geared content market for some time. Its first mobile gaming effort is Copa Univision, a soccer game based on the extraordinarily popular Spanish-language cable channel. Copa Univision was developed to order by Ment, a division of Backbone Entertainment, to appeal to soccer fans throughout the Spanish-speaking world. Although Copa Univision certainly gets most of the mechanical aspects of soccer down on the small screen, its turgid gameplay may not satisfy gamers looking for a white-knuckle soccer experience.
Copa Univision provides several play modes to slake your lust for non-American football. You can set up an exhibition match between two of the 12 provided teams, play for the coveted Copa Univision, or run a quick penalty shootout between luminary US striker Cobi Jones and Jorge Campos, the Mexican team's impregnable keeper. The two non-shootout modes offer you a choice of a number of national teams, which adhere very loosely to a Hispanic theme; quizzically, you can select the English and Italian squads, in addition to the Mexican, Argentine, Spanish, and US teams. Regardless of their geographic demarcation, none of the teams use real players but are instead collectively rated according to their speed, shot power, and stamina, among other attributes. The Argentine, Brazilian, and Spanish teams are by far the most powerful, with scores in the eights and nines, while the Salvadoran lineup is mired in the threes and fours across the board. This difference provides you with another way to modulate the game's challenge, if the three included difficulty levels aren't refined enough.
Copa Univision does an admirable job of stuffing the complete game of soccer into mobile format. A copy of the FIFA rulebook is included in the excellent documentation submenu, and the game adheres to many of the rules contained therein--down to such relatively esoteric regulations as offsides and penalty kicks, which are rarely encountered in mobile soccer games. The game's controls are fairly straightforward, too. On offense, your player runs in eight directions using the appropriate number keys, shoots using the 0 key, passes to the closest teammate with 5, and lobs the ball with the pound button. Defense is similar, except that 5 changes defenders, 0 slide-tackles, pound performs a standing tackle, and the star key calls for a double team. In either case, double-tapping a direction key will imbue your player with a brief burst of speed. Shot power is negotiated by a quick meter, which allows you to charge up a shot or lob as necessary by holding down the key.
Unfortunately, Copa Univision's one major sticking point--its poor run speed--interferes markedly with both gameplay and controls. The game crawls, even on a speedy next-generation Java handset like the Moto V600. This sluggishness doesn't make the game unplayable, but it complicates the action considerably. It often feels like you must plan your moves well in advance to get your players to respond in a timely fashion, and the meter-based shot system is almost nullified by the poor response time.
Shooting is also less fun than it might otherwise be due to the fact that your player can only shoot or lob straight ahead. Ment thoughtfully provided a "quick shot" option that automatically fires at the goal with the 5 key when at close range, but you have little control over the process; once you shoot, the ball's fate is mostly in the hands of the keeper, which is exclusively controlled by a buggy take on artificial intelligence. The majority of the time, keepers will respond adroitly and vacuum up every ball within a five-foot radius--but they will occasionally go completely haywire and vault into the back of the net during a crucial shot. Accordingly, scoring a goal in Copa Univision often feels more like a crapshoot than a skill-based enterprise: All you can do is turbo (slowly!) past the defenders, line up your striker, and hope for the best.
The gameplay mode that offers the most replay value by far is the Copa Univision mode itself, which lines your team up in a World Cup-style tournament to compete against your group members for advancement. The game keeps track of a wealth of statistics during your journey to the finals, such as your overall percentage of possession time and shots on goal. Unhappily, certain statistics don't seem to track correctly, especially those having to do with your shooting habits. The penalty shootout may add some interest for fans of the two particular players featured in the showdown, but it's pretty vestigial otherwise; Cobi's shots are controlled via two Jamdat Bowling-style meters, and all you can do to help Jorge is move him from left to right.
Still, Copa Univision's overhead-view graphics aren't bad, despite their poor frame rate. The players aren't detailed, but they are animated using a faux-3D modeling technique that shows off a fairly wide range of realistic motion. The ball spins toward the screen when lobbed and produces a shadow on the ground. The game's sound isn't quite as accomplished, but it's still quite serviceable. There is only a single sound effect for all soccer-ball-kicking activities, but you also get a piercing whistle on penalties and an obligatory, hearty "Goooooooooooal!" when a point is scored. A few more kick effects and maybe a fanfare or two would have added to the game's realistic atmosphere.
In total, Copa Univision is a serviceable mobile soccer game, if you can see past its lethargic pacing. There's enough game here to satisfy most of those who are interested in the genre, and Copa's mechanics are pretty similar to a vast range of soccer games for the console and PC, guaranteeing immediate familiarity. But the sluggish movement is pretty off-putting, so most players will probably want to look elsewhere for a smoother mobile sporting experience.