It's been a long, long time since I've been properly addicted to a game. In fact, Grand Prix Story, funnily enough also on iOS, was probably the last game that gripped me firmly by the balls. I spent the best part of a week in Egypt dilligently glued to my phone playing Kairosoft's brilliantly charming 2D strategy sim - although it should be noted that that was mainly down to the piss-poor quality of said holiday. And while I've played countless hours of Call of Duty, again that's not necessarily down to sheer addiction, more just hanging with the guys and exchanging verbal blows over Xbox Live.
Last week, however, thanks to a recommendation from Eurogamer I picked up the admittedly-at-first-glance-rubbish-looking New Star Soccer. And since then I've had very little sleep, have had to charge my phone twice daily and even offered to go shopping with my girlfriend yesterday just so I could sit in the car trying to get the minnows of Halifax Town (or Halifx, I assume for licensing reasons) into the European Cup. Describing games as being like 'digital crack' is quite the tired cliche these days but I've woken up every day for the past week desperate for my fix of this compulsive, enslaving time-waster.
New Star Soccer is a cross between Flick Kick Soccer and the Championship Manager games of old. The former because it features a well-realised touch-based football mini-game where it's your task to score goals past an increasing-in-difficulty array of obstacles. And the latter because it also heavily features a very barebones, text and icon-heavy management simulation. And much like Sports Interactive's marriage-killer, it's remarkable quite how engaging and alluring a textual representation of the beautiful game can be compared to a 3D realistic offering ala FIFA.
You'll often hear gamers of a certain age lament with rose-tinted spectacles how games in the 80s were far more involving and captivating. For the record, they're wrong. Gaming right now is incredible, featuring rich immersive worlds we couldn't ever dream up back then. But the point they're failing to articulate properly is that gaming in the 80s was so enjoyable because, like a good book, your imagination filled in for the inadequacies of the technology of the time. The graphics were terrible and the sound effects - if you could even call them that - were little more than beeps and buzzes. But you filled in the gaps, and using your imagination visualised a richer more vibrant world. And best of all, it was your world, conjured up by your own creativity and all the more enriching as a result. And this, believe it or not, is New Star Soccer's greatest facet. Because the presentation is so barebones, because there are so few effects, bells and whistles and because it's all presented in such a sterile 2D manner, it's up to you to develop the text prompts into something so much more. But then to describe its graphics and presentation as merely functional is not a criticism or sideways swipe. It's so good because it's so sparse and almost lo-fi. It's surely a conscious design decision engineered specifically to let your imagination run riot.
The playing side of things almost takes an Angry Birds approach. You receive the ball and can either shoot or pass to an adjacent team-mate. You do this by dragging your finger behind the player, thus manipulating an arrow that indicates distance and power. A front-on, context-sensitive view of the football then appears and you choose where to strike it. Towards the top for top-spin and therefore a low trajectory, towards the bottom for back-spin and a higher trajectory and to either side to add spin or swerve.
As for the management side of the game, well you begin things as a 16 year old youth player plying his trade in the lower reaches of non-league football and it's your job to carefully plot and navigate your way to the top, or mid table mediocrity, to use another tired football pun. You earn a basic wage which can be topped up by scoring goals, accepting bribes or by negotiating sponsorship deals. And this money must then in-turn be invested into: energy drinks to increase your stamina; decent football boots to boost your skills and accuracy; presents for your girlfriend to maintain a happy lifestyle; or luxury lifestyle items such as phones, consoles or jewellery, vehicles and property to increase your superficial value as a hero to millions.
Sure you can buy 'space bucks' to speed things up a little using real-life money but New Star Soccer isn't a cynical micro-transaction driven cash-cow. In fact its retail model is one that I can see being adopted by many future games as it demonstrates an admirable confidence in its own quality and longevity, rather than making you blindly pay-up up-front. New Star Soccer gives you the basic Arcade game entirely for free and lets you play the first 10 games in the regular season for no extra cost. If, after that you decide you still want to continue then you can do so, for the bargain price of £0.69. You can barely buy a chocolate bar for that price these days.
New Star Soccer is available for Android and iOS devices and there's an even more comprehensive PC version available at this website. And if you're still not convinced, then why not give it a go for free here?
The fact I've spent an entire week playing New Star Soccer when I've also had Max Payne 3 and Ghost Recon: Future Soldier sat unopened on my desk should tell you all you need to know about this game. Just buy it will you?!