With the rise of indie gaming on Xbox One, big-screen ports of mobile games have started to appear on Microsoft's latest console. German developer Handy Games recently broke onto the Xbox One scene with a port of its popular Windows Phone and tablet title Super Party Sports: Football.
Although American readers might get a different idea because this game has Football in the name, SPS is actually a soccer-themed physics puzzle game. Players will take on 100 stages as they attempt to literally destroy opposing teams and score goals. SPS Football looks great for a mobile port, but does it play well on console? Read our detailed review to find out!
Disclosure: This review was conducted on Xbox One using a code provided by Handy Games.
Beginning your soccer career
Unlike the similar and recently released Baseball Riot, Super Party Sports: Football doesn't bother with any kind of story. To begin, players will simply select a team from a pool of 32 nations, pick a uniform if any have been unlocked, and then head straight into the puzzle-based levels.
Each level's goal is simple: defeat all members of the rival team and then score a goal to complete the level. All of this must be done within a time limit, with the time remaining determining whether the player earns anywhere from 0-3 trophies (stars) for that level. It's refreshing to have completion time be the only metric for 3-starring levels here, rather than having to collect all of the coins like many puzzles games would ask.
Unlike most other catapult-style physics puzzlers like Angry Birds, you don't play as just one guy here. Each level provides a varying number of teammates that you'll have to use in order to dominate the field. To pass the ball, simply aim and kick it at one of your players (or bounce it off of something). You'll usually need to use most or all of the players in a level to beat the other team. And the passing mechanic is a clever way to incorporate soccer into the puzzles.
Before your team can score a goal and win the level, you'll need to take out everyone on the opposing team; a counter at the top-right corner displays the remaining number of enemies. One of SPS Football's most fun elements is that enemy players don't just get knocked out when hit by the ball. They actually explode into pieces, their heads and limbs flying apart. The comical (and bloodless) player destruction adds humor and style to what could've been a boring game to watch.
Having knocked out all standard enemy players, the ball will catch on fire. Only then can you take out the goalie and score a point. Once you do, the level ends and you can choose to replay it, continue to the next level, or return to the level select.
SPS Football started its life as a free-to-play mobile game, so of course it had currency for players to earn or buy with money. The Xbox One version ditches the in-app purchases but retains the coins for players to collect. Just kick the ball through some coins and you'll collect them. Restart or fail a level and you still keep any money you picked up, which is a plus.
The primary use for coins is purchasing new uniforms. SPS Football offers eight unlockable uniforms. Some look pretty silly, like the Halloween-themed duds. Buying a uniform once unlocks it for all teams, thankfully.
Gamers can also spend coins on special power-up balls at the start of the level. One ball protects your players from harm; the other increases the amount of time earned for knocking out enemies.
Buying powerups is cool in concept, but not in execution. After spending 50 coins (probably a few levels' worth of pickups), you only get the powerup ball for the next single attempt. If you restart or fail the level (both possible and even likely outcomes), you don't get the item back. It often ends up a big waste of coins. We should really get to use powerups until we actually exit the level, or simply permanently unlock them for that level.
The challenge steps up
As you progress through the game, it introduces new enemies like bullies and referees. Bullies are large enemies who will run up and kill a player if they detect that he has the ball. Nearly all of your players are essential, so you basically have to restart when this happens. You need to hit a bully from afar (or quickly) in order to stun him. They go down after a few hits.
Refs don't need to be beaten in order to win a level, but they still make things tougher. Each referee has a field of vision cone in front of him. If he sees you hit an opponent, he'll card your player and take him out of the game. This usually necessitates a restart. Refs can be defeated with spiked power-up balls found within some levels (these don't cost coins), but you often just have to avoid them.
Armored enemies, spikes, breakable platforms, and moving platforms will keep players on their toes as well. Eventually the levels start to get really vast, too. I found the fifth set of levels just too big for their own good. They require so much trial and error, I shudder to think of how much tougher future levels must be. Physics puzzle designers can seldom resist amping the challenge up to annoying levels, and that certainly applies here.
SPS Football offers ten sets of ten levels on Xbox One, making for 100 levels of soccer smashing puzzles. Each set of levels must be unlocked by reaching cumulative trophy milestones from the previous levels. Those milestones are so high, you almost have to perfect all the levels in order to unlock next set. Considering the potential for getting completely stuck on a level, it'd be nice if players could jump around more freely between unplayed levels.
Challenging level design aside, SPS Football's greatest source of difficulty (and frustration) is its controls. The only button on the controller you need to use is A, which kicks the ball and calls missed balls back (a cool mechanic). Both the left analog stick and D-Pad aim kicks, with the D-Pad allowing for smaller movements.
The problem is you also control shot strength with the same stick needed for aiming. That won't cause a problem in levels that only need full shot strength, but it makes more finesse-oriented levels way tougher than they're supposed to be. I can't count how many times I've tried to adjust shot strength only to move the aiming arrow and vice versa. Given SPS Football's time-based levels, these slip-ups often lead to failure.
Aiming will never be as naturalistic on a physical controller as a touch screen, but that doesn't mean Handy Games can't solve the shot strength issue. A possible solution would be to to map strength down and strength up to the bumper buttons (and give players the option to take strength management off of the stick and D-Pad entirely). Then we could quickly aim and set strength without being too disadvantaged compared to touch screen players.
The game also needs a dedicated Retry button. Games like this require a lot of retries, especially when going after 3-star level ratings. Right now we have to pause and then select retry, which is just a wasted step. It would be great if we could completely bypass the level fly-bys when retrying levels as well. Skipping through them manually wastes a fair bit of time.
The good news is Handy Games seems open to adjusting the controls based on player feedback, so these issues might be fixed in the future. Be sure to pester them for better controls on Twitter!
SPS Football has 28 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. 20 of these are dedicated to beating every level and getting all three trophies in those levels.
The hardest Achievements will undoubtedly be 3-starring all those levels. Most levels won't be too tough to finish, but every now and then you'll hit a real tough one.
As of this writing, video walkthroughs are not easy to find on YouTube. Part of the problem is the game's title just brings up too many irrelevant search results. Handy Games does at least have a video walkthrough of the first ten levels, but hopefully Achievement hunters will create more walkthroughs soon.
Physics puzzle games hardly ever hold my interest; I suffered through too many of them during the heyday of Xbox Windows Phone games. But SPS Football manages to be enjoyable and interesting anyway thanks to its unique sports theme and mechanics, great visual design, and better than expected audio (other than the annoying endless crying sound on the Game Over screen).
I love that we can simply buy and own this version of SPS Football without the distraction of ads or in-app purchases. It's just a shame that the controls so often interfere with the fun. Hopefully they get fixed before long. Still, at the low price of five dollars, most puzzle fans will probably get enough enjoyment out of SPS before frustration sets in.
One last tangent tangent: Super Party Sports: Football should really have had soccer in its title. Football brings to mind American Football to many Americans, whereas the word soccer is known to represent football worldwide. A more descriptive title like "Soccer Smash" would better communicate just what kind of game this is, at least for American gamers.
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