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FIFA Soccer 09 All-Play (Wii)

EA Sports' latest Wii release FIFA Soccer 09 All-Play, offers a surprisingly deep and enjoyable soccer experience. With multiple play control options, the game allows players of different abilities to play together and helps to level the playing field. The game offers a decent standard game of football, and a cool "Footii" arcade-style mode that's loads of fun to play. FIFA 09 All-Play also offers a deep selection of extra modes such as online play, manager mode and numerous mini-games that give FIFA Soccer 09 All Play plenty of longevity. It may not look as polished and sleek as its high-def rivals, but its unique play controls and wii-exclusive modes help to make this a compelling experience for soccer fans of all stripes.

Making an accessible sports title that also appeals to the hardcore contingent is probably a difficult task, especially considering the diffuse Wii audience. Going in one direction makes the game too easy and alienates those who want depth, while conversely over-complicated controls have the potential to turn off the casual audience. Striving for a happy medium is the apparent goal of EA's new "All-Play" line of sports titles, and judging by the example of FIFA Soccer 09 on the Wii, the developers have largely succeeded. As you probably might expect, the game's controls are a central feature this time around and FIFA offers several different styles of play. The easiest of these are called "All-Play" where the controls have been simplified dramatically, with many functions such as running automatically performed by the AI. This lets players concentrate on passing and shooting techniques, while the game handles the rest. This is the simplest and most accessible control option, but it allows novice players to jump right into the pitch, swinging and waving their way to success easily.

The beginners' all-play mode might be a little bit too simple for experienced players, but the game adds another layer of complexity with its advanced controls. These are probably the most balanced configuration, letting you have complete control over each player while also allowing you to use the wii-mote to shoot and pass easily. Using the onscreen cursor allows you to point the directions where passes go, and you can shoot the ball by waving the wiimote around as well. Tackling other players is done, naturally, by swinging the wiimote downward which makes for a relatively intuitive system. It's actually not as complicated as it sounds and it offers a great deal of control over each player, allowing you to concentrate on defending and attacking strategies without much effort. FIFA's controls in the 'advanced' mode are very smooth and easy to learn, though even experienced players will probably have some time adjusting. Fortunately, the game includes a "Soccer Academy" which offers you a relatively quick and easy tutorial that shows you the basics in a series of efficient mini-games. Once you get the basics of this system down, you'll find that FIFA All Play offers a fairly intuitive control and feel in this mode, allowing you to play and get into the flow of each match easily.

In addition to using these wii-specific control modes, you also have the option of using the Wii's classic controller or even an old GCN controller to play, if you still have one laying around. This gives you the option to play with a more traditional FIFA control experience, which offers a standard button layout and helps players who want less gimmicky gameplay. Once you get on the pitch itself, you'll find a fairly good soccer title overall, with plenty of action, deep layers of strategy that delivers a challenging game that brings the nuance and excitement of professional soccer to the Wii. In addition to the standard single player mode, players can compete online through a complete season with Interactive Leagues that include Barclay's Premier and Seire-A tournaments, which is a nice feature to have. It's fairly simple to sign in and get started and once online, the games themselves don't suffer much in the way of lag, though things froze up once or twice which was an annoying glitch but didn't really ruin the overall experience.

The traditional pro-soccer game is the main course, but EA has also included some interesting side dishes and desserts that add to the game's longevity. The deepest of these is the manager mode where you can run your team behind the scenes, schedule practices, trade players and managers and see how much money you can make on your way to the top. On the other end of the spectrum comes the 8 vs. 8 'Footii' arcade style soccer game, which is clearly aimed at casual soccer fans, and is surprisingly fun. Instead of using pre-rendered, realistic players, you instead use Mii-style characters who run up and down a humorously designed field and can perform wild tricks and stunts. Several international teams and their stars are represented in this mode as well, which makes things even more fun. It's not nearly as deep or challenging as the main game, but it offers a solid pick up and play version of the game that should appeal to the casual gamer. There are also several mini-games such as a juggling mode where you have to shake you wiimote around to keep the ball in the air and earn a high score. There's also a cool arcade mode called Boot it, where you can play as a big league star or your mii, and try and hit targets and other objects for a high score. It's modestly entertaining in solo mode, but is more accurately described as a party game. Finally, there's a fun table soccer mini-game where you can play a somewhat fun game of foosball against either a computer AI opponent of a friend for some fun, simple arcade style action. Additionally, playing through some of these modes can unlock additional content such as all-star teams, classic players and other items that can be used in other modes, making them worth playing from that standpoint as well. Taken together, FIFA 09's new Wii-specific game modes offer a diverse range of play styles and mechanics not found in other versions which makes for a unique experience on the Wii that's both fun and satisfying.

From a visual standpoint, it's not as smooth or polished as the PS3 or Xbox 360 versions, but FIFA 09 All-Play looks good by Wii standards with a consistent frame rate, multiple player-adjustable camera angles and a nice cinematic flair in its replay system. The sound effects of the roaring crowd chants and extensive commentary add to the game's audio feel and there are numerous cool music tracks to listen to as well. The production values are up to EA's usual standards, with excellent menu design, intuitive interfaces and a smooth presentation overall. Adding to the game's depth is an impressive roster of more than 500 licensed teams and leagues that gives the game plenty of authenticity. You'll also find a number of super-stars and well-known players in FIFA 09 as well, as you might expect from EA. Overall, this is a surprisingly deep and well-rounded title that offers novice and casual players a good jumping in point, while also offering plenty of realism and depth in gameplay. The Wii-specific modes and mini-games are well-produced and help to offer something different that's tuned into and uses the console's unique capabilities effectively. Numerous control options allow players of all abilities to play the game, while not compromising the depth that EA Sports titles have come to expect. FIFA Soccer 09 All-Play tries to please players of many types and what's most surprising is that it succeeds in its objectives more often than not.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B-

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