If you think the main FIFA team is tired of being asked about PES, spare a thought for the Wii guys. With Konami edging perilously close to the piss-take with its lethargy in giving fans a genuine from-the-ground-up kickabout on 360 and PS3, EA must have felt quietly confident that it would have a clear sight of goal with proper motion-controlled gameplay for this year's update.
That was until, in March, its bitter rival sneakily went and released Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 for Wii. Which was fantastically innovative and anything but, as Kristan put it, "the tired port many feared it would end up being." Including EA.
"It came out here in February, so we were already well into development. It's interesting to see; I thought we were going to be the first ones to it, but these things are going to happen," sighs producer Kevin Chorney.
His team, you see, is currently implementing a similar style of off-the-ball controls to those Konami delivered so impressively at the very first time of asking. (Given the daft monikers adopted by the respective team leaders at the Japanese publisher, we're beginning to think Aesop missed a trick by skipping the fable of the Greyhound and the Seabass. 360 and PS3 owners could probably have a decent stab.)
EA's first take on Wii footy wasn't quite as successful, although its priorities were markedly different. Where Konami adopted the polar opposite tactic to most Wii translations in daring players to step up to the plate with an unapologetically complex game, EA kept its eye firmly on the casual ball.
Fronted by a charming Mii incarnation of Ronaldinho - infinitely more appealing than the grasping has-been of the real world - it mixed a primary-coloured kickabout with simple, accessible controls and a party-game mentality. Never quite raising itself above middle-of-the-table anonymity, it nevertheless had a reasonable crack at appealing to Generation Wii with its remote-only Family Play controls. Despite the portentous promise of "revolutionary FreeMotion controls", this was largely restricted to flicking the wrist to shoot, throw-ins and mini-games.
FIFA 09 will release on EA Sports big cheese Peter Moore's new All Play Wii label, formalising the title's casual aspirations. The basic structure of last year remains intact: top-drawer authenticity, full league mode, online play, mini-games and so on. But the feature EA is screaming loudest about from the terraces before kick-off is Footii Match.
"Footii Match is something we're really proud of," says Chorney. The team believes this is as big a deal to Wii as the brilliant Be A Pro feature (which sadly isn't transferring to the Nintendo version) was on 360 and PS3 last year. "It's a new way of playing the game, never experienced before, taking it to the next level. We wanted to create something unique, something very different."
Rather than the standard 11 vs. 11 of regular FIFA (and, well, actual football), Footii Match throws together a motley crew of Miis for an 8 vs. 8 free-for-all with emphasis on the kind of outrageous hit-and-hope playmaking that would have Brian Clough spinning in his grave.
There are seven international sides, each captained by a caricatured star. Beat one, and the captain will transfer to an All-Star line-up, which will become playable once you've done over the lot. As you'd expect, your own Mii creations can be used here, too.
It's very clearly not meant to recreate to tactical ebb-and-flow of real football: this is playground one-upmanship for selfish show-offs. Getting the ball to your star as quickly as possible seems to be the wisest tactic, as they're much more likely to belt one in from miles out. Shot accuracy is further affected by a momentum meter: the better you're doing, the more it fills and the greater the accuracy of the subsequent attempt.
Using 'All Play' controls, sans nunchuk, A is pass, B is tackle and runs to the ball, and shaking produces a shot, its velocity determined by your arm's. Trick moves, meanwhile, are context-sensitive and require a double-press of B. So if you happen to be David Hasselhof and drunk, AI will take care of the actual movement of players; adding the nunchuk, meanwhile, gives you standard analogue control.
Footii Match is a lot more fun than we expected, even though it's more of the five-minute distraction variety than something we'd want to spend hours with. Likewise, mini-games like table football (tweaked since last year), are engaging quick-fix additions to the package.
But nothing here so far to distract the seasoned Wii footy fan from their copy of PES, which is where the 'Advanced' controls come in. And, yep, that means a similar point-and-click-where-you-want-him-to-go system to PES, except with a Peter Moore-approved concession to casual gamers in that it can still be played without the nunchuk.
"We listened to our consumers last year," insists Chorney. Family Play was good, but as a hardcore game I felt the experience was reduced. This time it's a level playing field, it's just that the controls are slightly different."