While I was at the Pocket Gamer Connects conference, I made sure I found my way into the booth for the developers behind Soccer Manager. I’ve detailed my love of football games in many previous posts, and since that was released I’d discovered and become slightly addicted to the Soccer Manager series. So I was more than a little excited to meet the guys behind a game I’m particularly fond of and to see what they were up to – enter Soccer Manager Arena.
Clash of Clans meets Football
That is how the developers introduced me to Soccer Manager Arena – the addictive gameplay of Clash of Clans with the well known, well loved rules of football. I’ve tried my hardest to not download games like Clash of Clans, because I know they’re a time – and money – sink. I know that when I start playing a game, I can get hooked and spend hours on end playing it, and I’m not sure I have that much time to spare. Despite knowing that, I still had to give Soccer Manager Arena a try.
I’m pretty sure every football fan has, at one point or another, constructed a fantasy five-a-side team using all the best players from around the world. Up until now, that remained a fantasy, but the Soccer Manager team have made it a reality. Using over a hundred real players and a card-based system, you can unlock some of the top players from the the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and more. Not only that, but if you happen to pick up a double of a card you already have, then you can use that to upgrade your card to improve his stats! All the standard football attributes are there – pace, passing, tackling, shooting and strength, as well as goalkeeping for goalkeepers. You may be surprised to find that a level six Ramsay may well be better than a level one Modric, and, like me, you might start building a team around players that you hate!
In terms of gameplay, I went into the game thinking there wouldn’t be a whole lot for me to do. I always got the impression from Clash of Clans that it’s very shallow and repetitive, but Soccer Manager Arena is anything but. There’s full three minute matches against other players, and with no throw ins or goal kicks, it is frantic. Performing a last ditch slide tackle before the opposition can score and then running up the field and smashing one in is a great feeling. I did get a few odd looks on the bus though, when I punched the air in celebration after a last second winner…
Following on from that, there is a real depth to the game. It is essentially five-a-side soccer manager meets FIFA. You’re able to form your team as you want, with various different tactics to suit your squad. Choosing 2-0-2, 2-1-1 or even going barmy and having a 1-0-3 formation is all possible – but possibly not advised. Then, on top of that, is the matchday experience. I wouldn’t expect much from a phone football game. There is too much to consider, that it would be far too challenging to fit it all in on a small screen. Or so I thought. Soccer Manager Arena actually offers a pretty spectacular football experience. It’s easily one of the best football games I’ve played on a mobile device – sticking to the simple but effective plan. A bit like route one really, only a hell of a lot prettier.
I do have a couple of issues that can’t really be ignored though. The first, and most important thing I found was the connectivity. Even when connected to WiFi, I found the game laggy, which can cause some major issues. If you’ve got the connecting icon appearing, then you cannot control your team, so they run around not doing much, but the other team is still playing. When I tried to play this without WiFi, I was on the connecting screen for a short while, then the game started functioning and I was 3-0 down. There isn’t a massive penalty for losing, but no-one likes to start games with such a massive handicap.
The game does feel a little pay-to-win, or if you’re lucky you can get your players upgraded by joining a team. You’ll often find players that have very few trophies with some incredible squads. This can only really be achieved by spunking lots of money on the game, or by actually playing it. You can improve your players with a social team, but navigating the search menu is nightmarish at best. It’s definitely something that could be improved by re-balancing certain bits, but if people are paying for it, there’s no real need to do so for the developer.
The Final Word
Despite the connectivity issues, the game is still pretty solid and pretty fun. My main hope is that the issues I had with the game will get ironed out once the game transitions from beta to live. If they do, then the developers are on to a winner, as Soccer Manager Arena is a really fun experience, especially for a football fan.