Inazuma Eleven is a riotous, creative take on the beautiful game. Exuberant, victorious and silly in equal measures, there has never quite been a football game like it.
The story focuses on talented young goalkeeper Mark Evans. He's a pupil at Raimon school and pretty much the only kid interested in keeping the school's weary football club going. When exceptionally skilled striker, Axel Blaze, transfers to the school, Evans takes it upon himself to convince the kid to join the club and sets off to try to gather a team in order to enter the inter-schools tournament.
A Game Of Two Halves
Much of the game plays out like a soccer-themed Pokémon, in which you roam the school premises, chatting to other pupils while trying to inspire them to support the team, and attempting to recruit the finest of the 1,000-odd players dotted around the city to join its ranks.
A cute, engaging story is delivered in the Japanese RPG style, with set-pieces, cut-scenes and simple side quest missions. There are scores of treasure chests filled with stamina replenishing drinks and bits of sportswear to improve the performance of your star players.
The other half of the game is a unique take on football. Using the stylus you draw lines on the pitch to direct your team, who follow the paths you make for them. Meanwhile, tapping on the screen will allow your player in possession to pass to a teammate. When you near the opposing team's goal you simply tap on the area of the net that you wish to target, and launch a strike towards it in a beautiful arc.
A Shameful Challenge
Inazuma Eleven's matches play out as a strange mix of real time tactics and RPG-style micro-battles. For example, while it's possible to intercept a pass between two opposing players, when tackling an opponent the game pauses entirely and presents you with two options for the challenge. You choose one of these (A safe tackle or a more risky sliding tackle, for example) and the game then calculates whether the tackle is to be effective or not based on your character's ability and current stamina level. Either way, a cut-scene shows the result of the skirmish, before play begins again.
Likewise, when you take a shot on goal, or when the opposing team takes a shot on your goal, the game pauses and you are presented with two basic options for a shot or save.
Certain characters also unlock special moves after time - God Hand, Fire Tornado and Fire Shot being prime examples of these. If your character has enough points during a match to pull off one of these moves (which work much like Pokémon's Technical Machines), then when lining up a shot, tackle or save, you'll be able to select their individual super technique.
It's nothing short of an ingenious set-up and, while there's the odd glitch, in general matches are fast-paced and exciting. There's exactly the right balance between thoughtful strategy and out-and-out action, and, thanks to the story that frames each and every key match, it always feels like there is everything to play for.
Can You Manage?
The team management side of Inazuma Eleven offers a dizzying amount of strategy to sink your teeth into. When talent scout Celia joins the club you can send her out to scout for players of a particular position, or club. After a while you can revisit her in the team's tiny wooden clubhouse where she will give you a list of potential transfers, and a clue as to where to find each.