Nintendo Pocket Football Club Review
Leave it to Nintendo and the stellar 3DS to strip back the normally complicated, statistic heavy football management sim and make it child friendly, cute, basic and for the most part fun. Known the world over as the pinnacle of football management games, the Football Manager series utilises all its resources to crunch the numbers, removing a lot of random chance factors from the equation and constantly striving to make tactical management decisions which will ultimately determine the outcome of every match, training session or indeed an entire season.
Nintendo Pocket Football Club takes a completely different tact, removing the stat heavy, number crunching seen in Football Manager, moving towards a more accessible, colourful and generally playful approach to football management. Peeling away all of the aforementioned complexity in favour of three tactical options, alongside defensive and offensive alignment and an extremely simplified player stat setup, Nintendo Pocket Football Club positions itself in a nice yet slightly awkward position, mainly due to its price tag. More on that later.
The look and feel of the minute to minute gameplay makes you think Game Dev Story in many ways, perhaps with a tad less depth - at least this is the first impression which the title gives you. As with any non-licenced football management title you start with nothing, taking over your custom named football team in the lowest division in the land. You are kitted out with a team of extremely poor footballers, given three (literally three) tactical options and thrust into the glamour free world of friendlies against teams as bad as yours. First pre-season is a tricky one, as you master the mechanics and get to grips with what actually improves the players, a lot of bad decision making is possible. The game does try to assist you where it can and all of that help is most welcome, there are however some tips which would have been great to have known early on rather than figuring them out a season or two in to your career. Admittedly knowing the training card combos upfront may remove some of the fun and mystery from finding them but a little help in hand earlier in the game would go a long way.
Playing friendlies and practice matches, along with full matches like league and cup games, you training cards - this is where things become interesting. These training cards can be applied between matches and up to three can be applied to any member of your team. Combos can also be discovered when combining certain items, creating much larger stat boosts than applying cards individually. As this is the only way to actually improve your existing squad, aside from removing them, diving into the tiny transfer market and getting someone new in, the majority of your “managerial time” will be made up of trying to find the best combos, for the best players, in the best positions. Tactically there is pretty much nothing to do other than choose where your defensive and attacking lines sit, plus the style of play, so all of the strategy is in the training. The training cards not only allow you to boost the raft of skills per player but when combined correctly they provide huge boosts. You also in time will receive the ability to have players specialise, becoming for example, a target man upfront. The more you play, the more you will customise your squad, improving all the time and getting in to the new way in which your team lines up.
Gameplay itself is cute, fun and presented as an isometric 3D game. The graphics are intentionally funny/silly and the sound effects serviceable. What is disappointing however is the lack of the speed function, along with being forced to watch the entirety of every single solitary match, even if it’s a friendly which you are only playing to get some new training cards for that striker who cannot hit a barn door. This can make Nintendo Pocket Football Club a grind for the more experienced player, but ultimately that’s not really the target audience.
The social aspects of the title are great, allowing you to swap players with friends and challenge random people on the street to a game using the nifty streetpass feature. The core experience is the single player though and for a time this should grab you. Improve your squad, work your way up the leagues, maybe challenge for a cup here and there, all of the standard footie management stuff is there for you and for a time is light hearted fun. The longevity of it though is questionable; add to this the level of grinding required and the inability to speed up play, it isn’t likely something which you will return to for “just one more season”, like people often do in the bigger, more adult footie sims.
Some may come away enjoying their time with Nintendo Pocket Football Club as it is for the most part an enjoyable bit of fun, the target audience (under tens) particularly will embrace the light tactical approach and the thrill of collecting the ultimate training card (like stickers really) combos - sadly though due to the lack of any real tactic nuance the older, more game savvy generations may simply be encouraged to fork out the eight pounds for the latest Football Manager on iOS or Android. Either way, Nintendo Pocket Football Club is a solid, charming, cute little football management game just don’t expect a deep strategic simulator.