Get Your Kicks
One billion people can't be wrong. Misguided, maybe, but when it comes to the FIFA World Cup finals, football is football and not soccer. And that's that. The NFL's bowl might be super, but with only 135 million viewers, Americans might consider calling their favorite fall sport "passball" when they consider how many pairs of eyeballs will focus on the football World Cup finals in June.
Ringing up those kinds of numbers puts FIFA at the top of the televised sports stacks. And it will make EA Sports' "2006 FIFA World Cup" game a huge seller in those parts of the world where they can't figure out why Americans love burly men in tight uniforms pounding each other more than fleet, athletic men racing across green fields like antelope on the veldt.
Playing the FIFA video games, you do wonder why the U.S. just doesn't get soccer, that is, football. The style of play blends the fast playmaking of basketball and hockey with the pageantry of baseball and the dramatic color of the kind of football played with a lopsided pigskin ball. Transformed into a video game, the sport excels at the sort of pacing that makes it easy to enjoy on the television screen.
Constant motion keeps you interested, while complex patterns of possibility unfold like storm clouds blowing across the sky. Even better, you don't have to have a dictionary of rules in your head to follow along and enjoy the action. Your team kicks the ball around and tries to get it in the other guy's goal. You can't knock someone down from behind, and you can't use your hands. Easy.
Compare this to the EA sports juggernaut "Madden Football." No matter how much you love the NFL, it takes a lot of practice to figure out how to control the on-screen action and what it takes to dominate the game. That is to say, "Madden" may be the best-selling videogame sports franchise of all time, but most of us just desperately press buttons on the joystick and hope for the best.
Soccer, excuse me, football, has an elegant simplicity in the real world that translates well to the videogame realm. I'm sure that those FIFA fans who actually go through the motions of recruiting players, building teams, determining on-field match-ups and calling plays on the fly would disagree. But for the rest of us, smacking that little black-and-white ball around on a bright green field feels more like a classic arcade game than a sport.
And maybe that's why Americans still don't get soccer the way the rest of the world does. Name another team sport that requires so little equipment -- just a ball -- and relies so much on the physical skill of the individual players. Perhaps it will take video games to share the joy of the most democratic and the most elite sport in the world.
Who's It For: With enough depth for the stats-drenched sports nerd, and as easy to pick up and play as almost any game, "2006 FIFA World Cup" shoots and scores a gooooooooooal!
If You Like This, Try That: "Super Mario Strikers" takes the simple joys of soccer and makes them weird by importing them into the candy-coated mushroom land of Mario.
Best Part: You might not hear much about the football finesse of teams from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. But with 125 teams represented in the game, you can show the world a thing or two by managing Fiji through to the final round.
Other New Game Titles
"Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis," X360, Rockstar Games.
"Heroes of Might and Magic V," PC, Ubisoft.
"Tomb Raider: Legend," PSP, Eidos Interactive.
"2006 FIFA World Cup," PSP, Electronic Arts.
"Monster Hunter Freedom," PSP, Capcom.
"Rogue Trooper," Xbox, PC, PS2, Eidos Interactive.
"MotoGP4," PS2, Namco.
"Field Commander," PSP, Sony, Online Entertainment.
"Lemmings," PSP, Sony Computer Entertainment.
"Jaws Unleashed," PS2, Xbox, PC, Majesco.
"City Life," PC, CDV (May 29).
-- Source: Gamermetrics.com
1. Seattle, Wash.
2. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.
3. Atlanta, Ga.
4. Detroit, Mich.
5. Phoenix-Mesa, Ariz.
6. Washington, D.C.
7. St. Louis, Mo.
8. Boston, Mass.
9. San Diego, Cal.
10. Philadelphia, Penn.
-- Source: Sperling, Sperling's Best Places
(Rank based on number of gaming systems owned, number of games owned, number of games rented, frequency of online game play and other factors.)