Soccer Story lands on Xbox Game Pass and other consoles just ahead of the long-awaited Sports Story. Is there room for two silly sports RPGs this winter?
- Title: Soccer Story
- Release Date: November 29, 2022
- Price: $19.99
- Suggested Audience Age: Rated E for Everyone by the ESRB
- Availability: Switch, Steam, Xbox, PlayStation
- Recommended for fans of: Connect dots to some similar things, especially be sure to include links to other Geek to Geek Articles
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
Golf Story is one of my favorite and most recommendable Switch games. It’s a wonderfully silly role-playing story with goofy characters, absurd sidequests, and a boatload of competitions, and everything is filtered through the focusing lens of “Golf”. The progression is all about becoming a better golfer, the sidequests all use golf mechanics, and each area you visit is a different themed golfing resort. I’ve been waiting for ages for its oft-delayed sequel, Sports Story, which finally got a release date in the last Indie World.
With shining memories of Golf Story and a ton of anticipation for Sports Story, I picked up Soccer Story with more than a little bit of hesitancy. Without knowing the lineage, I would assume that this silly role-playing story with goofy characters, absurd sidequests, and a boatload of competitions all filtered through the focusing lens of “Soccer” was the follow-up to Golf Story. Instead, it’s a remarkably similar but wholly independent sports RPG, coming to Switch and other consoles (including Game Pass) just before Sports Story finally sees the light of day.
So, the question is— is there room for another one of these games? Does Soccer Story stand on its own, or is it just a pretender to the sports RPG throne? I’m about halfway through the game so far and… well, it’s complicated.
Soccer or Football
Soccer Story kicks off by asking the player two essential, vital questions. First, it asks you to choose your player from one of two twins, in the grand tradition of Mass Effect: Andromeda. As in that game, whether you choose the male or female doesn’t make a huge difference to the game, and the other sibling ends up being an NPC. Next, you’re asked to choose what language you want to play in, including two options for English so that the game can be all about Soccer or Football, depending on your preference.
For my game, I started up as the male twin in a world obsessed with soccer, except that the opening cut scene is about how the world is emphatically not obsessed with soccer. It was, up until a year ago when some calamity occurred during the famous Apple Cup, causing the shadowing Soccer Inc. to outlaw all non-Soccer Inc. sanctioned footie. With that, the gameplay starts when a magical soccer ball bursts through your character’s window. With the ability to call the ball to your side at the push of a button, your character sets off to bring soccer back to the world. First, you form a team, then you find another team willing to play you, then you start a championship, and then you do that all over a few more times until Soccer Inc. will have no choice but to let you play in the Apple Cup.
Sidequests and Silliness
The story in Soccer Story is pretty absurd. There is a surprising amount of dialog to try to explain exactly why one step will lead to the next, but the interactivity of the story is basically you running around a small open world completing fetch quests and silly activities until it’s time to play some soccer. The critical path has you completing objectives designed to motivate disbanded teams to step back on the pitch, but along the way, there are a lot of side activities to participate in, too.
Each region of the map has a few reliable activities to participate in. A Target Appreciation Society representative in each area will ask you to appreciate the local targets (by hitting them with a soccer ball), while goals throughout the world are just begging to have a ball kicked into them. There are footraces to engage in, hidden goals to score in, and McMuffins to fetch.
I have kicked rogue sparks into a furnace, caught crabs on a beach, knocked down acorns for a lazy squirrel, and lobbed soccer balls at kid-hungry sharks. Heck, there’s even a golfing mini-game in Soccer Story, although in this world golf clubs are just a fashion accessory because you play by kicking a soccer ball down the green.
All of these side activities help you earn upgrade tokens that you can spend to boost the stats of your teammates or your character. Upgrading these abilities lets you get around the world faster and interact with more activities, along with upgrading your on-field performance.
Let’s see, we’ve covered the silly story, the playable characters, and the magical ball. I’ve talked about how obsessed with soccer every sidequest in the game is, even though soccer is supposedly outlawed. And I covered how those silly activities grant you upgrades for playing soccer. So, I guess all that’s left is to talk about the actual act of playing soccer in Soccer Story.
I don’t like it.
Playing soccer in Soccer Story just doesn’t quite feel right. The controls are simple but straightforward. They aren’t broken, but this is broken down into an arcade-like experience. You can pass, shoot, and tackle and all those actions are bound to the inputs I expected them to be. But they are almost too basic. As an example, the AI in this game is aggressively simple. When you have the ball the defenders will run at you. The problem is that soccer here is that of the indoor variety, meaning there are walls instead of an out-of-bounds field, but there’s no way to try to pass the ball by banking it off the walls to another player. That input just doesn’t exist.
Even more frustrating is that sometimes input seems to just be taken away from you. More than once a shot on goal went wide and I tried to move into a defensive position instead of trying to rebound. My character, on the other hand, decided they really wanted the ball and ran straight toward it regardless of any input I gave to the contrary.
Finally, the most engrained issue I have with playing Soccer in Soccer Story is the upgrade system. I love the idea of taking on side quests in the exploration phase of the game in order to beef up my on-field stats, but there’s a massive flaw. Each upgrade point that you spend is an upgrade for one of the five total characters on your team. However, upgrades for your player character benefit them both on and off the field, so you are massively incentivized to spend your upgrades on just that character. At a pace of picking up side quests when you come across them without going out of your way to check off every task, you’ll probably have your main character fully upgraded at about halfway through the game. Sure, you could spread those points out to make the soccer matches feel more balanced, but that would mean slowing down your progression in exploring the world.
It just doesn’t feel balanced.
Phew. We made it, friends, we got through the big, nasty, negative part of this Soccer Story review. This isn’t my least favorite soccer game I have played, but compared to how much charm and delight there was in the rest of the game, the soccer just felt flat. It doesn’t help that during the soccer matches there’s not much in the way of crowd noise and no music, so it just feels weirdly stark and bland.
Still, I’m digging the experience of the game overall. It’s not massively fun on the gameplay side of things, but the silly charm and delightful writing are pulling me through. It also feels great to play on the Switch, even if it occasionally chugs even with the graphics set to performance mode.
If you’re itching for a silly sports RPG and can’t wait for Sports Story, then this is an easy pickup. However, even if it doesn’t sound like your particular cup of tea, there’s no reason not to give it a spin on GamePass and see if its charm can sweeten you up.