If you're in the market for a PSP soccer game this season you basically have only one decision to make: SCEE's World Tour Soccer or EA Canada's FIFA Soccer. If we were talking about those games' PlayStation 2 counterparts, the choice would seem an obvious one, but the PSP is an entirely different playing field. We're pleased to report that World Tour Soccer has adapted to the PSP extremely well. The game has a few flaws that you'll recognize if you've played last year's World Tour Soccer 2005 on the PS2 (soft goals and overly effective trick moves mostly), but most of that game's problems have been addressed. The result is a soccer game that, while not always realistic, is a lot of fun.
World Tour Soccer doesn't include a career mode of any kind, but the nicely presented main menu screen includes options for quick games (with randomly selected teams), exhibition matches, cup competitions, multiplayer matchups, and an excellent (although all too brief) challenge mode. Other options available to you before starting a game include: turning on and off TV-style score indicators, player names, replays, and the pitch radar; extra time and penalty settings; match lengths of up to 10 minutes; and, if you're playing against the CPU, four difficulty settings.
Although they're prone to making silly mistakes at times, the CPU players play a reasonably convincing game of soccer for the most part. We say for the most part not because we're looking to sit on the fence here, but because CPU players on both teams occasionally do things that are just downright wrong. A player leaving the pitch, standing on the wrong side of the touchline, and then staring blankly at the crowd when waiting for an incoming corner kick, for example. Or a whole group of players standing around a static ball and doing nothing after the player who had possession of it was knocked to the ground in the other team's area, and there was no whistle from the referee. Thankfully, incidents such as these are the exception rather than the rule, but you can't help but feel a little disappointed when you notice them.
Controlling your own player in World Tour Soccer is every bit as intuitive as it is in the series' console games. You can use either the analog stick or the directional buttons to move, the left and right shoulder buttons are used for tricks and sprinting, respectively, and the four face buttons perform the same defensive and attacking actions that you'd expect from any soccer game. The series' infamous deliberate dive action is available for you to use and abuse as you see fit, but you'll be pleased to hear that the CPU players don't make a habit of doing it. You can even use the PSP's "select" button to pick one of six different playing styles for your team on the fly--a feature of the PS2 games that we honestly weren't expecting to see on a handheld.
Many of World Tour Soccer's 245 real soccer teams--which include international, club, classic, and special squads--need to be unlocked before you can play with them. Winning any of the game's seven cup tournaments will unlock a "superteam," which comprises players from teams eligible for the competition, and you'll also earn tokens that can be spent on unlocking regular sides. Classic teams such as '66 England, '50s Real Madrid, '60s Celtic, and '70s New York (as well as an old leather brown ball for them to play with) will become available when you meet less-obvious criteria, such as scoring your first hat trick, managing three consecutive clean sheets, or having one of your players named the most valuable player in a cup competition. All of soccer's most popular current teams are available for use from the outset, but adding additional sides to the roster is still a great feeling.
Additional stadiums are also up for grabs when you're playing World Tour Soccer on your own, and they're invariably earned by playing good soccer against top international teams in the innovative challenge mode. Scoring more goals than your opponents in challenge mode games is important, of course, but the only points that really matter when it comes to earning your bronze, silver, or gold medals are those that you accrue for playing good soccer. Basically, you're awarded points every time you complete a pass, cleanly tackle an opponent, beat an opponent with a trick, or take a shot at the goal. The points appear above your players' heads as you earn them, and your current total appears in the top-right corner of the screen. The challenge mode does a good job of encouraging you to play something resembling attractive soccer, especially since you lose points whenever you mistime a tackle, have a pass intercepted, or concede a goal. We'd actually go as far as to say that World Tour Soccer's challenge mode is its best feature, since the only thing disappointing about it is that there are only seven challenge matches available. A multiplayer version of the challenge mode would've been a great addition, but regular exhibition matches are the only thing that you'll be playing against Wi-Fi friends, unfortunately.
It was when playing a multiplayer match, incidentally, that we noticed the only significant drop in World Tour Soccer's frame rate. The multiplayer game was smooth for the most part, but on occasions when just about every player on the pitch moved into the same area for a corner kick, the game definitely struggled. World Tour Soccer's visuals are clearly derived from those on the PS2, but the player animations have been improved and the action looks a lot better on the PSP's small screen. World Tour Soccer's audio also doesn't disappoint; the commentary is limited to player names a lot of the time, but it's accurate and well delivered. The crowd makes its presence known when appropriate, and the soundtrack includes a couple of decent tracks from The Stone Roses and Eagles of Death Metal.
World Tour Soccer, then, isn't a game that's likely to disappoint. The game isn't without its problems, and we'd really, really have liked to have seen a multiplayer option for the challenge mode gameplay, but World Tour Soccer boasts more than enough fast-paced gameplay and depth to justify its asking price.