With the start of the new football season here in England, I caught the football game bug and started craving a decent football game experience – so I started with last year’s Pro Evolution game. That kept me going for a few games, but there was something that was missing. I still felt a little unfulfilled. I took to Steam, knowing I had a small amount of money in my account and looked into my wishlist to see if there was anything intriguing and I stumbled across Kopanito All Star Soccer – at 70% off! At that price I couldn’t really say no – even though the early access warnings did worry me slightly.
Going into it with low expectations was probably what made me so surprised at how polished it already seems. Generally with early access games, I’d expect a bare-bones application, with little explanation as to what to do and only a few different sections to the game. Kopanito actually looks and feels like a fully fledged game for the most part. There’s a decent tutorial section, practice mode, online and offline modes and it is all presented in a colourful, clean and clear interface that makes it very easy to see where you need to get to.
The polished design gave me hope that the game itself would play well, and it definitely did. The controls were similar to that of FIFA 98, which I played on the PC many, many years ago, and my muscle memory hadn’t atrophied at all, meaning I could pick up and play the game with great ease. Even without that though, I doubt many players will struggle to get to grips with the game, as it is exceptionally well designed so that it never overloads you with too many key combinations, nor does it make it too difficult to learn anything. The only potentially tricky thing to get used to is shooting, as bending the ball and making sure it’ll all go on target before you unleash an effort can take a bit of getting used to.
Kopanito kind of reminds me of blernsball, the fictional sport from Futurama, which is basically a jazzed up version of baseball. In fact, the first thing I thought after my first tournament win with the mighty Cook Islands, was that this felt like a jazzed up version of football, because it introduces some features that, while they aren’t groundbreaking, they are very fun to use and executed perfectly. First up is every bad tacklers’ dream – no referee. Hacking away at your opponents isn’t just fun to do, it’s necessary to win games, and taking out two or three of the opposing team with one slide tackle is brilliant fun. There are two more features that have been thrown in too – the first being special abilities that your players can use. These range from the relatively normal – a super shot or warping ahead of your opponents – to the absolutely bizarre, such as having a huge fan deployed behind your goal so that any shots that go near it are blown away. I find football fun to play and watch as it is, but throwing these into the mix really adds an extra dimension to it as you can win and lose matches with one well timed special ability. The second feature won’t directly effect the outcome of the game, but it can change how you approach each match, as you are given a single objective which will boost your “fame” rating. These can be as easy as intercepting five passes, or as challenging as winning a game without using a precision shot. It doesn’t make you win or lose if you manage to complete the challenge, but it certainly makes each match different.
Most of the time, football games don’t have a whole lot of replay value once you’ve mastered the gameplay techniques, but Kopanito has a tonne of unlockables to try and obtain. There are hundreds of countries to unlock, and around a dozen different competitions to unlock and play through too, so you’ll always have something to do.
I’ve yet to mention the best feature of this game, and something that I’d love to be implemented in other games – the fact that you can make gifs out of every goal you score. I’ve not ever been a good gif maker – so having a game that would pop one out for every terrific (or terrible) goal I scored is a feature I never knew I wanted, but was delighted to have. It may take a minute or two to generate, but it’s definitely worth it. I have around thirty different replays saved up of some fantastic strikes or some hilarious errors from the opposition.
As I played more and more of the game, I did start to notice certain bits of it were definitely areas which could do with some improvement though. Firstly, and most noticeably, the atmosphere in matches. There basically isn’t any. Occasionally the crowd will pipe up and make some noise, but it definitely isn’t frequent, so often you’re kicking a ball around in complete silence. For a game that actually has pretty good music for the menus, having a dead silent match mode is very odd. I don’t expect them to put any commentary in the game, in fact, that would probably ruin it a little if they did, but maybe a bit of music while you play wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.
On the whole, the game plays quite nicely, with mechanics that are generally more consistent and easy to use than most football games out there, but there is one thing that drives me crazy. Throw ins and corners are horrific. Not once have I actually thrown it or crossed it in and had it go to my own player. It hangs in the air for an eternity, then just as I think I’m underneath it, the ball bounces past because I wasn’t in the exact pixel that it required. Yes, this probably is partly me being bad at the game, but considering everything else in the game is so expertly polished and easy for everyone to pick up, you’d expect the developer to show a little consistency here.
The last issue with the game is something that is a bit more troublesome – frame rate drops. I’ve got a fairly beefy computer, but occasionally when I was trying to break on a counter attack, the game would slow down for half a second, causing me to run beyond the ball, or run the ball out of play. It doesn’t happen too frequently, but the times it does happen is infuriating. Having a counter fizzle out because I buggered something up due to an issue with the game left me tearing my hair out.
Would I recommend this game? Let me put it like this. The football season has just started, there’s a good few weeks before Konami and EA make their moves in the market, so what have you got to lose by trying Kopanito out? It’s a terrific little game that’ll really suck you in and make you want to play it. Winning the World Cup with the Cook Islands is great fun, and although it’s slightly unrealistic, I wouldn’t say this game ever tries to stick too closely to reality. It’s quirky, looks fantastic and would grace any football fan’s Steam library.