With the English Premier League a few weeks deep, football loving gamers are ready to empty their wallets for the latest release of Pro Evolution Soccer or FIFA. The former was released this week, so far to huge acclaim and FIFA has been steadily improving year on year and will likely continue to have huge success in the charts.
The landscape is a little different on mobile however, with dozens or more games flooding the App Store, vying for you to drop some pennies on pocket footy. However, many of these games (such as the excellent New Star Soccer) don't actually let you play a full game of football, instead giving you control only over set piece situations, or as only one player on the pitch.
Of the games that do let you take control of an 11 vs 11 match, most of what is on offer is frankly as dodgy as a Marriott lasagne. Some either try too hard to match a console-like experience, with fancy 3D graphics but no soul. Others are frankly quick cash-ins with a licensed player or manager lending their name, in an effort to reel you in. Also, does anyone actually like games that give you a virtual thumb-stick and buttons on screen?
I spent a good deal of time finding the perfect touch-screen version of The Beautiful Game. Eventually, I found the free-to-play game Tiki Taka Soccer. It's tempting to overlook the game amongst the more glamorous offerings on the store. Simple, pixel-art graphics and a cheesy name could scare off some, but Panic Barn have channeled the fast paced action of games such as Sensible Soccer and Dino Dini's Kick Off in a way that works perfectly on touch screen devices.
Rather than simulate the sport, Tiki Taka tickles our imagination with an engrossing career mode that takes you through all the highs and lows of multiple, full football seasons - with a space for the Premier League trophy in the cabinet for those that wish to persist. The game is addictive enough and playable in delicious bite-sized chunks, so the goal may not be as unrealistic as it sounds.
Starting in the Conference League, with a ragtag bunch of players, the game actually reminded me of playing of the classic Master League mode from PES in terms of the satisfaction that can be gained by gradually improving your squad and clawing through the ranks. Performance in matches gains you a little currency which can be spent on new players, coaches to improve your existing players' stats, or energy to keep up the stamina of your players. You can earn a little extra if you watch an optional video advert for a few seconds.
So now it's time for the elephant in the room. Is the game really free to play? Well, yes it is, if you are willing to really scrape through from match to match. The one area where I did feel the need to drop in some small change, was buying a Fitness Coach for €1.99. Unfit players, unsurprisingly, perform very badly and it only takes a couple of games for your boys to lose gas. Now, I should make clear that you can buy a slightly inferior Fitness Coach with in-game currency, but such a small financial investment meant I didn't have to worry so much about getting dead legs, which meant I was able to enjoy the game a lot more and keep the in-game cash for investing in my squad.
Having an engrossing career mode means nothing if the game doesn't play well on the pitch and thankfully the game really delivers here. Tiki Taka isn't scared of being compared to Sensible Soccer. The game looks similar to the Amiga classic, albeit being played on a horizontal plane and drawing a line on the screen results in a fierce shot being unleashed, with 45 yard screamers being completely possible. The "Sensi banana shot" lives on in Tiki Taka. Check out the video below for a demonstration of the control scheme.
As you progress, you level up as a manager, unlocking new formations and boosting your earnings for much needed spending money as you move up the leagues. Tiki Taka Soccer is a spectacular offering for a mobile title and your mum won't tell you off for spending too much money on her iTunes account unless you really want to. In fact, to get the most out of the game, I suggest that those who have no issue spending real cash on mobile titles restrain themselves slightly to keep the challenge balanced. It's no fun fielding a Real Madrid-esque team in the lower leagues and blitzing the game. Games should be won on the pitch and not in the boardroom, after all!