EA Sports may release FIFA on pretty much every console going, but the diversity of hardware on the market means that each version is actually very different from the other. Take the DS, Xbox 360, and Wii versions of the game, for example--they each offer wildly different control systems, with each development team designing unique gameplay modes as well. The first version for the Wii offers a brand-new motion-sensitive control system, with shots and tackles now performed by physically swiping the remote control in different directions. EA Sports has also focussed on the Wii's family users, with the option of a two-button control system for football-game virgins. The result is that while the game can't compete with the Xbox 360 and PS3 games on features or playability, it still succeeds in appealing to its intended audience.
Utilising the Wii Remote and Nunchuk controllers, FIFA 08's default control system means that it plays very differently than any football game you'll have played before. You move players using the control stick, with run mapped to the Z button, pass on A, and through passes on B. The more physical aspects of the game, such as shooting, crossing, and slide tackling, are performed by swiping the Wii Remote itself. A normal shot can be taken with a quick upward motion, while a more controlled finesse shot is performed by moving it downward. The velocity of this movement dictates the power of the shot, while you can also change the direction of a cross or a free kick by tilting the Wii Remote as it's in the air. In a nice touch, you can also do a throw-in by putting both controllers behind your head and mimicking the move yourself. The downside is that the cable can get caught on your chin and make you feel like you're only a small step away from a nasty accident.
Thanks to this control system, performing simple moves is easy. However, if you want to do more advanced moves the combination of button presses and movements starts to feel confusing. If you want to do a long pass or a cross, you have to hold A and B together, and if you want to direct the pass to another player you have to press A while swiping the remote in that direction. And with chipped shots requiring a press of the C button while you flick the remote up in the air, you sometimes feel like you're performing a strange juggling act while your face contorts at having to remember all the button combinations. Given that these moves are effectively very commonplace in a football game, the button combinations certainly detract from the fluidity of the game.
Thankfully, things don't have to be so complicated. The new family play option means you can introduce people to the game who've never even tried a football title before. Ditching the Nunchuk controller completely and handing over player movement to the artificial intelligence, the family play control system only asks that players take care of passing and shooting. This means that you only have to worry about using two buttons, plus the relevant swipes on the remote to shoot and tackle. People with video game experience will probably become aggravated by the lack of control, but it succeeds in giving novices an accessible introduction to the game.
While a lot has been done to adapt the game to the Wii control system, it doesn't stop FIFA 08 from feeling like it's forcing itself to work with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. Moving the ball between 11 players often feels awkward, especially if you're not using the D pad to make directed passes. Also, using the Wii Remote motion sensor to determine the power of crosses never feels precise enough, which is especially problematic if you're trying to aim pinpoint crosses. Shooting's not too much of an issue as the goalkeeper difficulty has been toned down to compensate, but you certainly never feel like you can make accurate enough shots to feel truly satisfied.
Not only is the Wii version different to others in terms of control, it also has a new set of features. Whereas the big additions for the Xbox 360 and PS3 are the new trick system and the be a pro mode, neither of these are present on the Wii. Instead, they're replaced with a challenge mode and the Ronaldinho-endorsed footii party mode. The challenge mode will be familiar to FIFA veterans from previous console versions, as it replicates a number of real-life scenarios in video game form. This basically means that you'll need to meet certain match criteria from historic games, such as "win by two goals as Chelsea against Blackburn." Instead of playing a game from the start with a 0-0 scoreline, you might find yourself in the second half with both teams having scored two goals. There are a decent number of games to play through, with 61 different individual challenges which gradually increase in difficulty. Winning also gives you points that can be spent in the FIFA 08 store on alternative kits, game balls, stadiums, and classic teams.
The footii party mode really is a brand-new feature for the series, though, offering three football-related minigames. The first game is called Table Football, and it replicates the famous bar game using the Wii Remote as the handles. The sensitivity of the remote means that control can actually be a bit tricky, especially as you juggle all the handles simultaneously, but it's fun nonetheless. The juggling game is basically the kick-up game that real footballers use to practice, but it's played using a combination of button presses and movements using the remote. The final game, Boot It, is the weakest of the three minigames; it's simply a penalty shootout in which you wave the remote in the direction you want to shoot. All of these games can be played by up to four players simultaneously, and you're even shown how many calories you burnt after each session. Playing through these modes unlocks four Ronaldinho Mii characters, each with a different kit.
Thanks to its official licence, the game has a great selection of tournaments and interactive leagues to play through. The 50 tournaments from around the globe cover most of the major leagues and cups, from the English Premier League to the US Major League. You can also create your own custom tournaments, which will be useful if you want to set up a World Cup scenario.
EA Sports' online effort also represents the most complete multiplayer Wii experience to date. You need to register your details with EA to play, but once registered you can head online and find a random game with relative ease. The game isn't massively populated--the number of people in the lobbies was always in the single figures, while the total number of people playing games was usually around the 200 mark. Despite this, you can add people you meet to a friends list and see when they're online once they've accepted, while you can send quick messages like "Do you want to play a game?" or type them out using the onscreen keyboard. The downside is that, unlike the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of FIFA 08, the Wii online service suffers from noticeable lag and too many dropped connections.
The online service also offers interactive leagues, a mode which lets you choose a team and play real-life fixtures as they happen through the season. For example, if your favourite team is Arsenal and they're playing Blackburn on the weekend, you can head online and play Blackburn fans in the run-up to the actual match. The results across all platforms feed into a central database of scores, and the results are decided based on points from all games. It's a neat mode, and although there'll always be a lot more supporters of the bigger clubs, it's a good chance to make you feel like you're making a difference to your club's league standing. EA Nation is nowhere near as complete as FIFA 08's Xbox Live experience, but it's much better than anything else on the Wii and a fairly good attempt at providing decent online integration. We also like the ESPN soccernet news ticker that runs along the bottom of the screen while you're navigating the menus.
Graphically, FIFA 08 isn't immediately impressive, although there are some nice touches. There's little detail to be seen from the default camera angles, but closer up the player likenesses and animation effects are actually quite impressive. Goalkeepers who wear protective helmets, such as Chelsea's Peter Cech, also feature them in-game, while the game runs at a very solid frame rate with no slowdown in offline mode. On the audio side, FIFA 08 on the Wii shares most of its music tracks with the other console versions, which means it has a high-quality soundtrack recorded by professional artists. That said, the commentary sounds like it's been recorded in relatively low quality, and while it's slickly produced, you're likely to tire from hearing the same quotes every match.
The first FIFA game on the Wii is a decent stab at adapting the famous football series for Nintendo's console. If you're a fan of the series and the Wii is the only console you own, you should definitely check it out--but bear in mind that it's not as playable or fully featured as the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions. Judged against other Wii titles it's still an addictive and well-rounded package, though, particularly thanks to the standard-setting online mode. As it stands, FIFA 08 on the Wii is an interesting new direction for the series, and one that will hopefully become deeper and more refined with the inevitable sequels and spin-offs.