When FIFA first appeared on the Wii last year, its simple control system and assortment of minigames offered an accessible but ultimately unrewarding football game. This year's update carries the All-Play subtitle to emphasise its accessibility, but with new control system, better online play, and a new eight-player mode, it ends up being a more robust package.
The most substantial change to this year's game is the control system, which has been overhauled and expanded to the extent that it completely changes the game. The advanced control option uses an onscreen cursor to direct the action. If you point somewhere and press the A button, the player in possession will pass the ball, or if you hold B, he'll dribble there. It's a tricky system to get a handle on, but once you play through the tutorials, you'll find it's elegant, as well as particularly suited to free kicks, corners, and crosses. The only real weakness is that when you swipe the remote to shoot or perform a sliding tackle, it can take a split second to realign the cursor onscreen. In truth, this is a very similar system to the one Pro Evolution Soccer introduced earlier in the year--the main difference in FIFA is that you don't have to plug in the Nunchuk as well. This option is available, though, meaning you can use the analog stick, as well as the cursor, to move players around.
Despite the new controls, purists may still yearn for a standard setup. Thankfully, FIFA 09 also supports GameCube and Classic Controllers, giving you a much more traditional control system that's ultimately even better than the Wii Remote. The All-Play system replaces last year's family option, handing player control over to the AI while you tell it when to pass and shoot. This is great for football game virgins but won't appeal to most, so it's probably best to have a Classic Controller around for friends who just fancy a quick multiplayer match.
FIFA 09 features most of the game modes you'd expect in a football game, as well as a collection of Wii-exclusive minigames. Traditional football gamers will be satisfied with how well FIFA 09 plays. While it's somewhere between arcade and simulation, the player animation plus opponent AI make for an engaging game of football. There are three main options. There are quick matches for simple one-off games, as well as tournaments, such as cups and leagues. Then there's a Manager mode where you take on the transfer and training of your favourite team. The only notable absence is the Be a Pro mode from the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions. But this is compensated for somewhat by the Footii Party mode and its selection of minigames. Table Football, Juggling, and Boot It return from last year. They're still just simple diversions, but the new eight-versus-eight Footii match is more substantial. It's a cartoony, Mii-focused take on the game for up to eight human players, with stylised graphics and faster gameplay. There are only 12 teams to play as in this mode, but it's a fun and substantially different variation of the standard game. It's worth a go if you happen to have four Wii Remotes and four Classic Controllers or GameCube controllers on hand.
Last year's FIFA offered online play that lagged, but it's been much improved in FIFA 09. You can now avoid EA's sign-up process by logging in as a guest, but you can also carry over an existing EA Sports account or create a new one to keep track of stats. You can play ranked or unranked matches with friends or strangers, and the online system automatically finds people for you to play against. There are also interactive leagues, allowing you to represent your favourite team and take on fans of other teams across the world. These modes were both present last year, but what has changed is that the game is now almost completely free of lag and dropped connections. It's also feature-packed, with leaderboards, player profiles, and even an ESPN news ticker at the bottom of the screen.
There's not much in the way of extras in FIFA 09, but playing through the main game modes wins you credits to spend on new kits, balls, and stadiums. You can also customise and save tactics for each individual team, while the custom formations feature lets you tweak player positions for offensive or defensive play. Finally, the football academy teaches you both the advanced and All-Play control systems, with individual challenges for most situations in the game. FIFA 09 features particularly good player animation. While the facial likenesses may not be as impressive, the Mii incarnations of Wayne Rooney and Ronaldinho are well produced. The sound is similarly impressive, with accurate commentary from Clive Tyldesley and Andy Gray. There's also a well-chosen music selection from the likes of Duffy and MGMT. Presentation is immaculate, with all of the official players and teams from the major footballing nations, as well as a menu system that presents information in a concise, easy-to-understand manner.
By adding greater player support, new game modes, and better online play, FIFA 09 improves considerably on last year's game. The traditional game plays well and offers a deep, rewarding experience. While the minigames are still too lightweight, the new eight-player Footii mode is a fun and novel take on the game. But it's the new advanced control system and the standard controller support that really result in a better game, allowing you to play the game in radically new but also very traditional ways. It's certainly not the definitive version of FIFA 09, but for the Wii, at least, this is the best player on the pitch.