Madden 13 isn’t the only EA sports title launching alongside Nintendo’s incoming Wii U, as FIFA 13 will be too. Much like how the Vita’s FIFA Soccer was built on the framework of FIFA 11, FIFA 13 on the Wii U is something like a FIFA 12.5. This might not be too bad of a deal, given that the PS3 and 360 versions are seeing more subtle iterative changes, compared to 12’s more dramatic upgrade from 11.
It will be without some of the core gameplay changes that are coming to FIFA 13 on PS3 and 360 though, like AI that take curved runs or the new first touch system meant to properly simulate reception (and avoid unrealistic perfect trapping on long passes by less skilled players), but there are a lot of Wii U specific additions that are rather cool.
FIFA 13 (Wii U)
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: Electronic Arts
The team at EA Canada emphasized a focus on making the game more accessible, largely for the expected Wii U audience, which might very well consist of more “casual” players. This consideration has led the team to realize that the series features some staggering complexity and seemingly labyrinthine menus, and some streamlining was in order. For whatever reason, people seem to recoil at the mention of the word streamlining, but everything I was shown was a more sensible way of accessing the game’s hidden depth. It keeps the action flowing, and you might never have to go into the pause menu and fish through menus again.
The Wii U controller’s touch screen has several different tabs while you play FIFA 13, the basic of which is the gameplay tab. What you see on your TV screen is displayed in the Gameplay tab when it’s selected (theoretically, you could cede the TV and play a match all on this screen without too much of a hitch).
The touch screen can be used both for passing and sending players on runs. The tap to pass mechanic worked incredibly well in the Vita version of FIFA, so I’m glad to see it back. While you can tap a teammate to pass to them specifically, you can also tap an area on the field to pass the ball too. Combined with the ability to touch a teammate and send them on a run in any given direction, no longer is your passing game shackled by the AI not sending players where you want them to be or reacting too slowly for whatever attacking strategy you’re trying to employ.
The gameplay tab also features the new shake and shoot mechanic. When you feel you’re ready to take a shot on the goal, a gentle shake of the controller turns the touch screen into a one to one representation of the goal, allowing you to place shots with pinpoint accuracy and power dependent on how long you hold your finger down. I loved this feature in FIFA Soccer Vita, though it was relegated to the back touch, allowing you to always keep your thumbs on the sticks. Despite the initial trepidation of taking my thumb off the left stick (the one you move with) to shoot with the Wii U’s touch mechanic, I quickly found myself placing balls on the left side of the net as easily as the right side.
There were a few other new footballing features on display. Before matches, you can use the Wii U gyroscope to look around stadiums through the controller in a first-person view, which is sort of neat, given how painstakingly recreated these venues are. The gyroscope also allows for a new penalty kick option, in which you aim your shot with a similar first-person reticle by moving the controller. Then, you can apply curve with the left stick in the desired direction and shoot per usual with the face buttons, holding for power.
As much as I love the control afforded by the tap to shoot mechanic, I was equally impressed by the streamlining done by the other available tabs. The Manager Central tab, for example, gives you a full view of the pitch and little representative player icons, which you can tap for a player’s general stats, as well as their current game performance. This of course makes the manager mode much easier to navigate, but also lets less nimble fingered folks take part in the action, controlling the more strategic side while up to four other players do the actual footballing (you can have the full five players in direct control, too).
Still, these nifty tabs aren’t merely a way to allow dad or a little brother to get in on the action as unobtrusively as possible. Being able to handle your substitutions without pausing the game, for example, is a great way to keep things flowing smoothly, particularly when you’re playing online and your opponent pauses the game, leading to that moment when you don’t know if they’re about to quit on you, going to disappear for a while, or just handle some strategy. Similarly, you can change your formations with simple taps, allowing you to easily adapt your style of play relative to what’s going on. There’s also a marked man option that tells your AI to paint themselves over a particular opposing player who’s giving you trouble, as opposed to playing the default shifting zone.
For those who are playing in manager mode, there is a full tactics tab that handles some of the most minute details. You can change mentality and use standard tactics, but you can also be specific, like setting your team not only to counterattack, but to specifically set themselves up for long, medium, or short passes.
You can have a bit more direct control over your AI subordinates in this mode too. For example, you can strongly suggest a player pass in any given instant, which they will do if it’s viable, just like you’re a manager screaming on the sidelines. You can even sit a player if they don’t do what you say (though they generally will). There’s a morale system for under performing and unhappy players at half and you can choose to motivate, criticize, or praise them. If they react well to your pep talk, they get a small boost in the second half. If they don’t take to it, they may do worse yet.
It may be missing out on some of the subtle additions that the PS3 and 360 editions of FIFA 13 are receiving, but FIFA 13 on the Wii U has its own little bag of tricks to draw from. Good tricks, no less; not gimmicks as all of the touch mechanics are great. The tap to shoot ability gives you rewarding control over where you’re trying to put your shots, while being able to handle some of the tactical minutia without stopping play keeps things moving at a steady clip. There’s even a friends tab that allows you to see your Wii U friends and send them messages or game invites with ease right from the FIFA 13 interface, with a full onscreen keyboard. That’s pretty big on a Nintendo console.