Release Date: June 27, 2006
Soccer games are experiencing a bit of resurgence with the completion of the World Cup earlier this summer. Along with the glut of soccer-related titles trying to capitalize on the wave of the sport's popularity, comes World Tour Soccer '06 for the PSP. This handheld game has to compete with the likes of Electronic Arts' FIFA (EA owns the rights to every European league and the World Cup itself) and Konami's Winning Eleven franchise (which may not own the same licenses, but boasts one of the best control schemes and gameplay depth heretofore unmatched). So the little guy, WTS '06, has to do something that the others don't.
To set itself apart, WTS '06 has the World Tour Mode, which has you campaigning through four major continents: Africa, Americas, Europe and Asia. Each continent has specific matches against specific teams, and each has a series of challenges you must face. The first and most basic is the Classic Challenge, which scores you points for successful passing, tackling, skill moves (such as step-overs and spins), and, of course, scoring. Conversely, you lose points when the computer pulls the same maneuvers on you.
There is the All-Around Challenge, where if each of your players touches the ball before you score a goal, then you score major points. Shot Clock mode keeps a timer, and you have to score a goal before the time runs out for more points, and the faster you score, the more points you get. The Zone is an interesting mode where highlighted parts of the pitch multiply your earned points, but some highlighted parts will cause you to lose points, so you must pay attention to which parts are highlighted and how. Totally Outnumbered is obvious and very challenging; you begin the game down a couple of men, which makes playing good defense and smart offense crucial. In Time Attack, a timer counts down, and every goal you score (or points you earn) adds time back onto the clock.
Challenge Plus runs just like Classic Challenge, but each match of this type adds a new twist to the rules, and the rule changes each time you play, so being attentive to detail helps a lot here. Pass Clock keeps a timer going and you have to pass the ball before the timer reaches zero or else you give the other team a free kick. Checkpoint Challenge sets up a checkpoint somewhere on the pitch, and you have to get the ball through the point to create a multiplier for your points. The more checkpoints you touch, the more the points multiply; if you lose possession, the multiplier is lost, and you have to start all over again. Player Tag is like All-Around Challenge, in that you have to pass the ball to teammates before any goals count, but the players are marked and you have to pass the ball to each marked player before scoring. If you lose possession, the marked players change, and you have the start over.
Including Exhibition mode (which is a standard match), there are 11 total modes to battle through. You can set the game clock to a maximum of 10 minutes for each match, but some games have their own timers built in, according to the mode. This campaign of challenge modes reminded me of Virtua Tennis, which is not a bad thing at all.
The core of any game is its gameplay, and WTS '06 is no slouch when it comes to its mechanics. I especially like the way it sets up shooting to be simple, yet rather realistic. The goal is divided into three vertical segments, and aiming towards the segment while you hold down the shoot button is as easy as aiming the analog stick diagonally upwards right, right or diagonally downwards right (assuming you're moving left to right). The power meter affects how much height is on the shot. Hold the button too long, and you're shooting over the crossbar, but hold it just enough, and you're putting the ball in the corner, where the keeper can't reach. Skill moves, like step-overs and spins, work rather well, but they take time to pull off and can leave you open to having the ball taken away if you mistime the move, so using the skill moves doesn't necessarily make you über in all regards.
Graphically, WTS '06 is not the prettiest game. The character models are pretty bland, but the camera is pulled out far enough so that you don't really see them unless it's a replay. There aren't any replicated pitches or stadiums, and each continent has its generic stadium, which leaves only four stadiums total. Sixty-four teams are licensed with nearly 2,000 players, but rosters aren't accurate, and there is some misgivings concerning team ratings (Team USA is ranked 4.5 stars out of 5), but just about every national team you could want is there (most importantly, Trinidad and Tobago's Soca Warriors are represented).
While the game may not blow your mind visually, its collision detection is rather impressive. Even if you pull off a skill move, a tackler still has a shot at dispossessing you of the ball. If the model's foot touches the ball, it will react and play off into space, but if your foot touches the player, then he'll tumble and you'll get penalized. Speaking of penalties, WTS '06 also gives you the option of taking a dive to draw a foul, but if you dive when no one is near you or trying to challenge you, then you'll get a deserved yellow card for diving (you filthy scumbag).
WTS '06 doesn't have the licensing chops of FIFA or Winning Eleven's pedigree, but it is a charming title that makes an honest and sincere attempt at being different without being contrived. It makes for a good game to play while waiting for the bus or on the back porch while waiting for dinner. The challenges may seem a little silly, especially when the game performs rather realistically, but they add depth and nuance to the gameplay, which is already pretty refined. WTS '06 may not have all of the teams and rosters that a soccer freak would salivate over, but if you like soccer and don't mind those unlicensed teams or rosters, then WTS '06 is definitely worth looking up.