In the week that Pro Evolution Soccer makes a welcome return to every soccer-loving gamer’s console, I review the latest offering from Lego. Let’s go have a kick about in Lego Land. The premise here is a soccer (oh, for goodness sake, I’m gonna call it "football", so just deal with it), a football game comprising Lego men. Well, I thought to myself, this could be quite cute and with Lego’s reputation for good quality games, my hopes were high.
Just for thoroughness I tested both the PC and the GBA versions. Both games run along the same lines, so if you can’t get enough of Lego Soccer it’s your lucky day. Like any football game, the player chooses a team and plays against another team. Of course the rules are simplified slightly because it’s kind of tricky to spot a dodgy tackle when you’re dealing with Lego.
The Lego theme means the teams consist of a choice from construction worker Lego men, cowboy & Indian Lego men and Medieval Lego men. Throw in a policeman and you’ve got "The Village People do Lego football." The choice of stadium has the same, endlessly amusing Lego references. Score a golden goal in the Wild West, or set the banners all a flutter in the Medieval arena and there’s even space station football events. It’s just Lego-tastic!
I started off with the PC version and I have to admit disappointment is a word that springs to mind. The graphics are less than spectacular and duller than dull game play doesn’t help. The AI was conspicuous in its absence. Even before I’d figured out the controls properly, I was still kicking Lego butt. Learning the controls didn’t result in any kind of epiphany, as responsive obviously wasn’t in the list of development objectives.
I persevered for a while longer and managed to win a string of matches. During matches, run through the power-up symbols on the pitch to give yourself the competitive edge – if you really think you’re going to need it. Run through the oil can and use it just as your opponent’s about to tackle to make them slip all over the pitch. Tee, hee"it’s a comedy classic.
The lightning power-up is handy for tearing up the field. Score a goal and your team embarks on various ridiculous celebratory dances. This is mildly amusing the first time, but soon grows tiresome and just extends the agony that is getting to the end of a match.
Next I headed to the Skill Zones to brush up on my ball handling. First was a test of my dribbling against the clock. Dribble through the gate indicated by a flashing light and then do it all over again, but with more gates added. And to make it all worth while you unlock a special skills player to add to your teams once you’ve completed every round. Practice your tackling skills against mummies and perfect your passing on Spin the Shields in the Jousting Field. Each training zone unlocks a special skills player when completed, but trust me you really won’t need them. This game’s so easy, even a special needs player wouldn’t hamper your progress.
Story Mode features on both versions of the game, but I saved it to play on GBA. This mode is based around a map, which has different areas you can go to, to play against different teams. Once you’ve beaten the Artic, City, Knights and all the other teams it’s time to collect the Qualifying Cup. But, that evil mastermind of Lego Land is lurking – Brickster! Fie that Brickster, he only goes and steals the Qualifying Cup"cuh! Thus you are taken on a rollercoaster ride through fantastical Lego Lands – just kidding. Story Mode is just a string of football matches with little bits of story in-between, which I guess makes it a little more interesting.
The game works a little better on GBA and proves far less frustrating, but then I’m not a great one for playing football games on my PC keyboard. I still sailed through a multitude of matches and only let two goals in. My average score was about 5 nil and I must admit sometimes there were poetic moments – well as poetic as Lego gets. Once again I found the graphics a little disappointing due to far many dark browns and greens, making the dark GBA screen almost impossible to see sometimes. The saving grace was the Arctic arena, which was an enlightening pale blue and featured igloo style goals, which can only be a good thing.
All in all Soccer Mania lets the good Lego name down. I appreciate that it’s aimed at children, but there’s no need to make it so boring. If I had to choose, I’d go for the GBA version purely because I didn’t reach for the off button straight away. Soccer Mania gets 1.5 GiN gems because there are so many better football games out there. Needless to say the PC version has been uninstalled.