With the Inazuma Eleven animated series currently doing the rounds on CITV, it's no real surprise to see Inazuma Eleven Strikers getting an English-language release courtesy of Nintendo and Level-5. Anyone expecting the sort of detail and depth they got from the two DS games released on these shores will be disappointed, however, as this is a very different kettle of fish.
Rather than the RPG-style story and the curious stylus-based football gameplay featured in the DS Inazuma Eleven games, Inazuma Eleven Strikers plays a far straighter game of footie. There's no real story to speak of, instead offering a series of cups in which you play other teams from the animated series in succession.
The whole strategy aspect of the DS games has also been scrapped for the most part, with the tactical stylus controls replaced with more fast-paced, 'normal' football gameplay. We say 'normal', because in reality it's anything but - we simply mean the way you control the players directly is more like it is in other football games. Think something like Mario Strikers Charged Football and you've got the right idea.
Players are armed with pass, shoot, sprint and evade moves, as well as a series of special moves that they can trigger once they've built up enough team points. The most important of these take the form of over-the-top shots performed by holding down the shoot button long enough. Fancy summoning a huge wind dragon to help you force the ball into the back of the net? Fair enough.
Alternatively, the special moves can take the form of defensive and evasive techniques on the pitch. These are performed by flicking the Remote, causing a large circle to appear at your player's feet. Run close to an opponent so they enter that circle and your special move triggers a cutscene - be it one where you steal the ball off them or one where you prevent them from taking it off you - after which you return to the standard flow of gameplay.
These are impressive for the first couple of matches. It's hard to argue with someone conjuring tornadoes out of their boots, and the fact that most players have unique moves staves off boredom for a while. That said, after a few hours, specials get repetitive and you find yourself bashing buttons in vain to try and skip them.
Special moves aside, the actual football side of things is decent enough. Passes and crosses are simple to pull off and the odd occasion where you get to play a through ball is satisfying. Normal techniques are a little too underpowered, mind: you can more or less forget scoring regularly with normal shots, no matter how much you charge the power up - which means that much of the game consists of continually hitting shots you know will be saved until you've built up enough team points to use a special shot.
The in-game dialogue is also annoyingly repetitive, with a commentator who only has a handful of phrases and players who shout, "Let's go!" every single time you switch between them in defence.
These fairly big niggles aside, Inazuma Eleven Strikers does still play a half-decent game of something, even if it's not quite proper football. It's also nice to see your players 'level up' after each match and develop teamwork bonds with their teammates. We also like the ability to 'scout' (i.e. buy) players from teams you've beaten. The lack of any sort of Story mode, however, does limit the action to a couple of tournaments and friendly matches. You'll likely tire of this in the time it takes to scratch the surface of the far more substantial DS games.
Fans of the Inazuma cartoon will get a kick out of Inazuma Eleven Strikers because the voices are accurate and the graphical style is more like the cartoon than in the DS games. Anyone without such an affinity for the series, however, would probably be wise to give it a miss and go for something like FIFA 12 or, if it's over-the-top silliness you want, Mario Strikers Charged Football.