Reviewed: May 15, 2003
Released: April 10, 2003
When I signed on as sports writer for GCM I anticipated reviewing all the latest and greatest sports titles, but never in my wildest dreams could I possibly imagine reviewing a soccer game where the teams are made up of frogs, turtles, panthers, polar bears, giraffes, sharks, and more than a half-dozen other creatures. Pet Soccer is the name of the game despite the fact that only about two of the creatures featured in the title could ever be legally kept as “pets”.
Pet Soccer is the first game in the “Pet Series” (inferring that more titles are on the way) and the launch title for Big City Games; a new division of Strategy First that will specialize in budget games aimed at kids. If this title is indicative of what lies ahead then this will be one publisher to watch.
Pet Soccer takes the sport of soccer and simplifies it so that anyone from the age of 6-106 can dive right in and start moving that black and white ball up and down one of 18 fantasy fields like a pro. Human players have been replaced by a large assortment of charming creatures that will delight kids and parents alike.
Pet Soccer features:
I have to admit I was pretty skeptical when I sat down to review this game. Now that I have played about 5 championship tournaments I am hopelessly addicted to the simple gameplay that does a surprising job of recreating the sport of soccer. The sport has been simplified by removing penalties and free kicks and adding optional Super abilities.
Pet Soccer can be played with the keyboard, joystick or gamepad. My first few games had me using the keyboard but I quickly dug out my gamepad and the game took on a much more console-like sports feel. There are only a handful of commands. Aside from the movement, you can shoot, pass, feint, and activate a super move. This means you only have to remember four keys or have a gamepad with at least four buttons.
The first thing to do after loading Pet Soccer is to create a profile. This lets you customize the controls, sound, and video options and maintain a list of unique high scores and unlocked bonuses. Once you are in the game you can play a single match or pick a team and take them through a championship tourney. There is also a multiplayer option that lets you setup a tournament for up to six players on a single computer.
The final option is the Extras mode. When you successfully complete the championship with each of the primary six pets you will unlock an additional pet and a new game mode in the Extras menu. These “extra” modes take place on custom fields with “unusual” settings and rules. I won’t give away any of the secrets, but suffice to say these are very cool.
Once you pick the game mode you need to pick the team. There are 12 teams (after you unlock the other six) and each offer their own stats and abilities that make them excel in some areas and fumble around in others. Turtles are slow but insanely accurate, while polar bears are equally average across the board. After you pick your team (and shirt color) you then pick the opposing team unless you are playing a tournament in which case this is all calculated by a simulated season to determine your opponents.
There are cute little animations of the teams moving onto the field. A random “pet” is selected to officiate the game so you might have a bull or gorilla acting as a ref for the panther vs. shark game. By default, a game consists of two halves of 4-minutes each. This can be lowered to 2 or increased to 10 depending on how long a game you want.
Controlling your players is quite easy. A targeting circle appears around the active player and you move that creature with the directional controls. Push the pass button to pass the ball in the direction the arrow is pointing away from your circle. It will always head toward a teammate but can be intercepted if an opposing team player is in the path. Giraffes are notorious for snatching high lob passes right out of the air.
While on offense you move the ball downfield and try to line-up a shot with the net then hit the shoot button. Defensive players can steal the ball simply by moving in close to the creature with the ball. It’s all very intuitive and easy to master in just one or two games.
Considering the target age for Pet Soccer I found the gameplay to be rather challenging on the medium (default) difficulty setting. There is a good balance between all of the teams so no one group of pets has an unfair advantage. I found myself using many of the same tactics I use in RedCard, Winning Eleven 6, and FIFA. In fact, by the time you reach the quarterfinals you will need to be using your entire team to work the ball toward the net and make authentic crossover plays to catch the keeper off guard.
By default, “Supers” are turned on. These are special power-ups that you can earn by stealing the ball away from the other team. Each time you do this the word SUPER starts filling up and when it is full you can activate whichever power-up is indicated by the icon. You might get a super-shot that will flame into the net taking out the keeper or you may get super-speed or super-evasiveness for dribbling past the other team. These are really fun, but I found myself forgetting to use them.
There were only a few issues I had with the gameplay and these were all related to control. Pressing the pass button while on defense is supposed to switch to the player closest to the ball, but this didn’t always work as well as it should. My main complaint with this is when you are trying to chase down the animal with the ball. Unless there is a huge speed difference between the creatures you won’t likely overtake them, so you need to pick a player further downfield to head them off. The only problem is that you cannot select such a player until they become the closest one to the player with the ball. Again, this is only a small glitch and it’s coming from somebody who plays hardcore sports games. Chances are the kids that will likely be playing this game will never even notice.
Pet Soccer looks great considering the fantasy nature of the game. The fields are all outdoors with no bleachers although you can toggle on some spectators that will stand around the field. You play in a chalked-off field in one of 18 gorgeous settings that are tied into the various creatures for each team.
The creatures are awesome, both in their modeling and their texture and artistic design. The panther looks just like the Cheetah on the package of Cheetohs and the frogs, turtles, bulls, sharks, and all the other creatures have exaggerated proportions, large heads, etc. They all have excellent movement that is quite realistic and there is plenty of idle animation, celebrations after the goal, diving grabs by the keeper, and you can even watch the ref flip the coin at the start of the game.
You can play Pet Soccer from one of four camera views selectable with the F1-F4 keys. These include a top-down view, side view, and long view. You can also rotate the camera freely at anytime with the mouse and zoom in and out with the mouse wheel. The camera angle will always switch back to focus on the gameplay but the zoom remains where you leave it. If you zoom in close you can get a great view of the detailed characters but the game becomes unplayable. You can also zoom out to where the entire field is in view but then your players are mere specs on the screen. It’s easy to find the perfect blend of detail and playability.
There is also an exciting replay system that captures and replays the last few seconds of every play whether it be a goal or just the ball getting kicked out of bounds. As much as I loved the slow motion replays of my favorite goals they do get a bit drawn out, especially when the non-scoring replays kick in. You can simply bypass these with the spacebar or toggle them off entirely in the options.
The menus are simple and easy to navigate. I loved the design that has a giant soccer ball looking like a planet with all of the menu icons orbiting it like satellites. The in-game HUD is perfect. The bottom section that contains team and score information fades away after a few moments and you can move the 2D map between the top and side of the screen or turn it off entirely in the options.
The character select screens are excellent featuring segmented bar graphs for team skills and an animated pet and a brief description and team philosophy. The tournament standing screens are all easy to read and there are even traditional tournament tree structures that are filled in as you work your way from the quarterfinals.
The music in Pet Soccer is minimal but effective. It reminded me of that repetitive looping music that appears in traditional cartoons during stressful situations. It may inspire you to play better but most likely you will turn it down or off after a few hours.
Sound effects are basically the hollow sound of a soccer ball getting kicked around and a few assorted effects for the super moves. There is commentary and other occasional outbursts from a noisy parrot that will pop onto the screen from the bottom corners. This feathered nuisance was fun for about one championship series but then his voice started getting on my nerves. I never did turn him off but I suggest turning him down. His default sound level is a bit too loud considering the grating nature of his voice.
Depending on how long you have your halves set to Pet Soccer can vary greatly in overall length. Playing a default 8-minute game, you can take a team through the series in about an hour. If you lose any game during a tournament you can simply restart that game rather than dropping out of the championship or even placing less than first. This takes a bit of the “edge” off the game but again, keep in mind our target audience.
So, doing some simple math we can conclude there is about 12-15 hours of gameplay in just the Championships, which in turn opens up six additional teams for single match play and six new Extra levels to explore. Added all together and you will spend 20-25 hours completing this game and I wouldn’t begin to put a time limit on how long you will “enjoy” the game after that.
Pet Soccer is value priced at $19.99 and I can’t think of a better way to spend $20. If you can’t milk this title for at least twice that amount in gameplay then you might want to consider other forms of entertainment.
If you have kids who enjoy sports, small furry creatures, or just simple yet challenging gameplay then Pet Soccer is a must-own game. Chances are, parents and older siblings will be fighting to play this title long after the little ones have gone to bed.
And therein lies this game’s main attraction. The charming gameplay spans generations of young and old alike, and the addictive gameplay will keep you playing Pet Soccer longer than most of the other more serious sports sims. Big City Games has a huge hit here and I can’t wait to see what’s next for the “Pet Series”.