Football games on handhelds can usually be divided into two camps: those that offer a cut-down version of a PC or home console game, and those that fixate on a single element, like shooting, and try to make a high-score game out of it. There are some fine examples of both on iOS and Android already, but New Star Soccer is something else: it's a football career built from the ground up for mobiles and tablets, a mixture of Flick Kicks and Football Managers that may even represent a greater threat to your free time than its inspirations.
There's a free Arcade mode where you just flick the ball into the goal in increasingly difficult scenarios - you pull back from the ball with your finger to measure power, then another screen pops up with the ball bouncing or rolling across it and you have to tap to indicate where you want to strike it. But the Career mode - free for your first 10 matches on iOS - is where you'll spend the bulk of your time, gradually levelling up your skills, dividing your focus between training, gadgets, girls and gambling, and making a name for yourself.
Initially you're signed up for a non-league team in a country of your choosing and paid very little for your services. Using canny judgement and a bit of experimentation, you quickly learn how to make more money out of football: investing your earnings in energy drinks that allow you to take part in more mini-games to upgrade your skills between matches, and then taking advantage of your increasing proficiency to make your mark on the pitch and earn performance bonuses and catch the eye of sponsors and bigger teams.
Matches play out a bit like older Football Manager games, presenting you with a stream of text highlights as the action unfolds. At various intervals - depending on your energy levels and the work rate you set for yourself - you get to influence the game with a pass, interception, shot or dead ball, each of which thrusts you into a mini-game based on flicking the ball or dragging your player around. With the pressure on, the angle on the ball and your accuracy when choosing where to strike it is vital to success, and as you get better at each game you can sometimes turn a passing opportunity into a long-range shot. Just beware of ignoring your team-mates or missing the target, unless you want to be subbed.
As your skills improve and the money starts rolling in, you can take up sponsorship deals, buy new boots to temporarily boost your stats, invest your earnings in property, lifestyle items and even gambling (a risky but tempting way to quickly boost your earnings and spend them on levelling up further), and even negotiate transfers. In the long-term, maybe you'll attract the attention of a national coach and get to represent your country.
The presentation is bright and friendly, the whole game is supremely polished and every activity is entertaining. Even when you've maxed out your stats you will likely keep playing out of your love of football - of scoring amazing goals from long-range, and of wanting to find a place in the teams that matter to you and make your mark there.
New Star Soccer is one of those games that makes you wonder how no one thought of it before now, because it's such a strong idea and so brilliantly executed. It's better on the iPad, where you can be more precise with your actions, but it's hugely entertaining on iPhone or Android too. If you like football at all, New Star Soccer is a must-buy.
App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.