I love soccer and soccer videogames. I don’t love most mobile games.
These facts should be stated up front so that there’s no doubt about my biases in this review of two soccer themed mobile games, BraziBall and UpperCup Football, both coming in iOS and Android flavors. I was not precisely skeptical when I fired each up for the first time, but neither was I expecting to be blown away. The pervasive monetization of most mobile games generally overrides any enjoyment I tend to derive from them.
I’m happy to report that my fears of mediocre execution and crass requests for cash were unfounded. In the case of both games, execution was competent (and, in UpperCup Football’s case, very good), while appeals for more money were, in the full versions, at least, quite muted.
BraziBall is the lesser of the two games. This isn’t really the fault of the game’s execution so much as its lack of ambition. You’ve almost certainly played a game very much like it before if you’ve picked up Candy Crush or Bejeweled: match rows of colored objects, make them explode, and get your points.
Where BraziBall innovates is in its trappings as a “soccer” game. You must match a given number of a specific color to move a soccer ball (represented up top, along with players from both your team and the opposition) toward the net. You only have four chances to get the requisite number; if you fail, you’re on defense, playing the game the same way, only suddenly at risk of being scored on.
It’s a nice added layer of lateral thinking because the colored balls don’t automatically regenerate in the colors you need. You have to plan ahead and if, for example, you need five green balls followed by another eight green balls to move downfield, you can’t only click green balls without running short.
BraziBall is decent fun, but it’s fundamentally too well-worn a concept for me to latch onto, even if the tweaks make it a bit less quotidian. If you’re not tired of this style of game, I’d recommend it. At the least, it’s free and up front about what it is, so you can see for yourself without much investment.
UpperCup Football, on the other hand, feels fresh, exciting and addictive. I’ve never played anything quite like it before, though I admit that this may be due to my not at all exhaustive knowledge of Android games.
In UpperCup Football you play a soccer game with bright, cartoony players who are each essentially immobile turrets. The art style immediately grabs you with its throwback style. I admit that’s pretty much de rigeur for an awful lot of small studio and indie games these days, but the combination of soccer and art style put me in mind of the sadly forgotten Mega Man Soccer.
A player with the ball has a rotating arrow surrounding him or her. The ball is passed to a teammate by clicking a box on your screen when the arrow is in the desired position. Holding your finger down gives the pass or shot more velocity and height, allowing you to chip over defenders or distribute with little tiki-taka passes.
Players will move to intercept or receive a pass, before pausing when the ball is at their feet. It gives the whole thing a turn-based strategy feel which is both pleasant and unexpected. And, as you progress, obstacles like landmines begin to crop up, adding an unpredictable element to the proceedings.
I found myself returning to the game in quiet moments. It’s really very fun and different. I didn’t run into any noticeable bugs, though I have seen a few people reporting issues with their players not meeting passes. I’ve also seen some folks complaining about the paywall, which I found mostly innocuous, albeit on a full review copy.
Soccer’s on everyone’s brains at the moment, so it’s a good time to both sell and check out soccer themed games. With BraziBall and UpperCup Soccer, we have two fun timewasters, one of them very good, that paint inside those lines.
UpperCup Football: 8/10
Ian Williams has written for Salon, Jacobin, The Guardian and more.