From Mario Strikers to the woefully underrated Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle Cars, there have been many attempts by developers to recreate the beautiful game of football. With FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer forever battling it out to be crowned best realistic sports title, other smaller studios have tried to be a more creative with the age-old formula.
Take developer Wizcorp for instance and is latest game, Striker Arena. Currently available exclusively on iOS devices, the project was greenlit last October after a successful crowdfunding campaign via Kickstarter. Powered by the Unity Engine, the game abides to a simple concept, mixing football with strategic elements in a fantasy setting brimming with cartoon violence.
In that respect, Striker Arena manages to succeed. Instead of trying to establish some semblance of backstory or lore the game immediately enrolls players in a tournament held once every ten years by the despotic emperor of a bizarre tiny planet. It’s your job to quickly learn the ropes in order to steel yourself against the cluster of rival clans waiting to tear you apart.
Visually, Striker Arena has plenty of character despite its blocky and basic designs. Each of the game’s clans has a distinct aesthetic influence, inspired by some of history’s most renowned warrior factions. Wizcorp has also taken a similar approach when crafting Striker’s diverse array of pitches – or arenas, if you will. Not only does each one look different, they also have a their own unique hazards and mechanics. One, for instance, plays host to yeti like creatures that will hound your team if disturbed whereas another arena will occasionally rotate, disorientating players.
Although clear in establishing a theme and setting, Striker Arena is quite vague when it comes to actual gameplay. Each match sees two teams of five clash as they both attempt to hoof the ball into their opponents goal and bag some points. It sounds simple yet players themselves have a very limited amount of control, using two button to issue commands while also being able to dribble or pass when they have possession.
Things are made even more confusing by Striker’s pacing which slots somewhere between real-time and turn-based. The defending team will only be able to react and reposition when their opponents move. Although you’ll eventually get used to this stop-and-start style of play, it lacks any real sort of finesse.
Also lacking are the touch screen controls. When playing Striker Arena there are only two main gestures to perform which include tapping to dribble and swiping to pass. It’s easy, however, for a tap to easily turn into a pass given even the slightest directional movement, often leading to the ball being accidentally misplaced.
It’s the same in both the single player campaign and local versus but much more frustrating in the former. Especially in later stages, even the smallest of errors can lead to your opponent sprinting up field and hammering goal after goal into your net. In Striker’s two player competitive mode, this is slightly easier to overlook given the frantic change in pace compared to when battling against the AI.
Although it has some promising ideas, unfortunately, the execution simply isn’t there. As much as enjoyed the historic settings and characters, the minute to minute gameplay wasn’t refined or enjoyable enough for me to keep coming back. In a mobile market teeming with games that have you saying to yourself “just one more go” creating a simple and addictive foundation is the key to success and one that Striker Arena has yet to find.