New Star Soccer - An addictive amalgamation of everything that makes Football, Football
It can sometimes be difficult to enjoy the majority of flash-based sporting titles available on the internet. In my experience, many of them simply aren’t good enough to justify the kilobytes that they selfishly occupy on a daily basis. I find it an even harder task to happen upon a decent football title, which I refuse to believe is solely down to the fact that I also refuse to refer to the sport as ‘soccer’. I’ll go ahead and save you some search time by cutting out the middle man (Senor. Google) and directing your attention firmly toward ‘New Star Soccer’, a football simulation title which shifts the focus from the usual monotonous, uninvolving and extremely broad match-after-match gameplay to a riveting combination of career simulation and on-field antics, swiftly alternating between the two like it’s no one’s business and not apologising for doing so. We don’t want an apology, ‘New Star Soccer’, we just want more of the same, and we want it whenever it’s convenient for you, because that’s how good of a game you are.
It begins with a signing
The main thrust of the gameplay is based upon its career mode in which you assume the role of a recently-signed 16-year-old rising football star whom you must ensure becomes the hot-shot that he is tipped to be through a beautifully crafted mixture of on-field action and behind-the-scenes training and personal development. As with any football game, the main aim is to move up in the league, become a better/more notorious player and to get signed by a team of more impressive reputation; to do the latter, you must build up somewhat of a reputation yourself as a formidable player by increasing your rating, which is in turn achieved by putting in a good performance during the matches. Your progression in career mode is threefold, requiring your statistical development (in terms of skills and attributes), professional success (determined by your post-match ratings and general reputation) and even the maintenance of your personal lifestyle. You even get to frequent a casino to gamble your wages into winnings, or for you to lose the money which you spent countless minutes on the pitch earning. When it comes down to it, you’re playing a multi-dimensional RPG but with a deliciously football-flavoured twist that almost leaves the taste of sporting success right in the back of your mouth.
The game’s main selling point is its dual-function gameplay that merges a football-manager style interface during football matches with intermittent lashings of physics-based action which is best described as being football-based mini-game interstitial segments of kicking action. The action unfolds in the matches with commentator-like remarks about the match that is currently being played out; when an opportunity for passing, shooting or free-kicking comes about, you are suddenly immersed into the action and put in control of the ball where you must use the physics-based gameplay interface which makes this game so unique (and addictive on a Crunchy-Nut-Corn-Flakes kind of level) in order to direct the ball to wherever it needs to be to give your team the best chance of scoring. Passing to a scoring player will earn you an assist whereas a more selfish approach could result in a satisfying goal or a disappointing omni-fail. The beauty is that the approach you take during the in-game mini-games is entirely up to you and your confidence in your ability to perform.
A majority of the in-game action unfolds in commentary form
Who Knew Physics could be fun?
The format of the intermittent mini-games which spice this game up from being a bland football-management soup to a zingy, full-bodied broth of well-seasoned, multi-faceted footballing entertainment is something of a talking point within itself. The concept is about as simple as the unassuming graphical engine on which the game is based, but do not for one second confuse this simplicity of for primitiveness, since taking control of the ball at crucial moments in a match which you can watch unfold in front of your eyes is perhaps one of the most addictive characteristics of the whole experience. Using the mouse to determine the power and direction of the shot, you must then determine the position of your strike on the ball, which directly affects the power, height, curve and effectively the ultimate trajectory of the ball. Clicking and dragging the mouse causes an arrow to materialise which indicates the relative might of your shot; after having chosen the heft of your strike, a second screen appears where you must click at your desired position on the ball which (depending on the difficulty of the shot) is usually moving to make things just a little bit harder.
It isn’t just all about aimless shooting for the sake of shooting for the game to show off and shout “look how original and innovative I am!”, however; your shots must be performed in a variety of different situations as each match progresses. Sure, there’s some straight-up scoring of goals required of you, but don’t forget the tricky free-kicks, interception of the ball between opposing players, curving the ball around various members of the opposition, out-kicking the goalie, and general manipulation of the ball in various contexts of footballing marvelousness which test your clicking and mouse-swiping (or finger-swiping if you’re playing on iOS or Android) skills to the absolute limit. Striking the centre of the ball conveys the most power to it, hitting it low will cause it to take a high trajectory, and hitting on the extreme left or right will allow you to curve the ball; get it right and you will feel like the best damned flash-football player to have ever graced an operating system, but hit the ball incorrectly and you’ll spoon it embarrassingly wide or high. In this respect, the game is as punishing as it is rewarding.
The other side of match play puts you in control of the ball
Embarking upon your career in the game requires you to focus on more aspects of the game than simply the power and accuracy of your shooting: to become the ultimate footballer you must be able to manage your affairs (cue the jokes about various footballers’ adulterous indiscretions) off the pitch as well as on it. Your relationships with your boss, team, fans, sponsors and even your girlfriend are tracked in the ‘Life’ section, the various successes in which are indicated by a progress-bar system which fills up and empties according to your match performance.
All of these aspects of your life are directly dependant on how well you play, relying on factors like the number of goals you score, the number of assists you make, your passing skills and your general conduct on the field. The ‘lifestyle’ section gives you the opportunity to purchase some very specific things such as property, vehicles and fashion accessories, costing increasing amounts of money and boosting your off-field reputation. It takes quite a bit of in-game success in order to be able to afford the high-end vehicles like the much-coveted sports car or the excessively –flashy sailing boat; these aspects of your career serve as indicators of your relative success, since being able to afford a sports car and unnecessary ski chalet means that you must be doing something right.
One of the aspects of the game which is easily my personal favourite is the system by which you add to your various skill attributes. In contrast to the often-used system of having to purchase your attribute points or earning them by simply playing the main game, you must earn your skill points by performing some attribute-specific skills and manoeuvres in the style of the mini-games which you play during the actual matches. By performing these increasingly-difficult skill tasks correctly, you are able to earn your skills by actually performing the moves on which each attribute is based, as opposed to simply receiving points for generic performance in the main game. Your ability to perform these tasks is also restricted by your energy level, which must be replenished when it gets too low, since you cannot play matches or enter into the skills tasks without having sufficient energy. Skill points are also awarded as part of the extra benefits of the energy drinks that can be purchased; these points can be distributed freely among the different attributes as you please.
It’s all about the skill: earning and learning has a new definition
In addition to the wonderfully involving Career Mode, the game also sports an ‘Arcade Mode’ for the player that is less interested in the off-field antics of your average footballer and couldn’t give two yellow cards about the time-consuming task of beginning and furthering the career of a fictional sixteen-year-old potential football prodigy. Arcade mode provides you with all the skilful shooting, passing and general physics-based mini-game action that you could possibly need, but without all the hassle of entering into football matches, keeping an eye on your energy levels, worrying about your personal development and the generally time-consuming task of caring about anything that happens when your player isn’t on the field.
Arcade mode lets you enjoy some concentrated, on-field action by presenting you with the same on-field scenarios that intersect the action in career mode; the difficulty of the challenge increases as you progress, with more obstacles to getting the ball in the net added every time. You don’t have to worry about intercepting the ball or making the perfect pass to the player on your team who is most opportunely placed to score a goal; all you need to worry about is getting the ball into the net. The obstacles I refer to are mainly stationary players and of course the pesky goalkeeper (football would be much easier without these fellows, right?), but arcade mode factors in another variable to make your sporting life a little bit more challenging: weather conditions. Recruiting an aspect of game mechanics that made games like ‘Paper Toss’ so fiendishly addictive, New Star Soccer goes meteorological (to some extent) and throws in a directional breeze which causes the ball to deviate in the direction of the indicator arrow. The extent to which the ball deviates is dependent on the severity of the wind, which is also indicated with a numerical value; compensating for direction and severity of the wind is one of the features that makes arcade mode virtually impossible to put down.
Though the entire premise of the game rests upon an incredibly simple concept, and one which isn’t exactly groundbreaking in its format, New Star Soccer’s gameplay is something of diamond in the rough. I see the game as a double-edged sword that poses no harm to the person holding it, since it is a dichotomy of two aspects of the game that fans most want to see joined in matrimony (holy or unholy; it makes no difference since it’s a flash game, after all); on-field action and off-field management, and the player-led progression of both. It doesn’t take much more than a spot of casual Googling to come up with a multiplicity of flash-based football games, but it can take up more than a few casual minutes to find one that even borders on the interesting; it sometimes seems that finding a truly great football game is out of the question. New Star Soccer is a game-changer that gives both sceptics and fans of the game something to sink their studs into.
Ok, so New Star's soccer title is not going to win any awards for its humble, throwback graphics, and although the concept of the game is just as simple in nature, the results are kind of hard to ignore. Though addiction to a flash game isn’t a recognised medical condition, it is games of this calibre that make gaming addiction a contender for consideration as a serious affliction.