"We tried sticking the Wii Remote to the bottom of a sock. I used a needle and thread." This is how the producer of FIFA 08 chronicles the back-to-basics approach to football using Wii hardware. Brad Porteous is downbeat about the 'FIFA sock' - he thought it'd work. "It felt strange kicking air, if you didn't have contact with a ball. I still have it at home, though."
"Some of the stuff we're doing, which we can't talk about right now, I think it's quite revolutionary" says group producer Tim Tschirner. "My friends who don't play games; since the Wii came out, they play games and don't feel afraid of them anymore. That's the kind of philosophy we wanted to use in this game, so people aren't afraid that the control scheme is overwhelming."
It's true that FIFA 08 on Wii is, on paper, a simpler game than the one on PS2 and PS3 but, as ever, mastering the Wii remote for a game of football takes time. Eventually though it's very satisfying. Compared to the recent Mario Strikers: Charged Football - developed just a few miles away from the Vancouver-based sports HQ of Electronic Arts - FIFA 08 offers complexity beyond the realms of the Mushroom Kingdom. There's the traditional skill moves which require actual wrist movements (no sock required) and measured after-touch on a shot - flick the Wii Remote up and to the left after a shot and it's heading to the top corner of the goal. Most impressive is the throw-ins which ask you to put your hands up in the air and physically throw the ball towards a team member. It feels intuitive and works well. Your neighbour may look on and spend time debating whether you're violently practicing the dance moves to Steps' Tragedy video or doing karate gestures on an invisible man, but it's worth risking the white coats turning up with the straitjackets. Again, taking a shot requires a violent upwards (or downwards for a low shot) flick of the Wii Remote and it's hard to avoid looking like you're involved in a make-believe fencing game, shouting "come on you bastaaard, get in!" as you play. It's probably best to close the curtains, thinking about it.
The other key change to FIFA 08 on Wii is the camera, which will remind many of both Kick Off 2 and Sensible Soccer. "The old angle is still in there but we found, with the Wii controls, it works much better this way," says Tschirner. The new view offers a wider, top-down viewing angle and scrolls at a good pace, allowing accurate passes with a flick of the remote and a chance to prance across the pitch using the nunchuk for skill moves. Mastering the flick-flack (apparently that's what it's called) somehow feels more of an achievement compared to tapping shoulder buttons, and it's impossible not to sway, just a little bit, as you weave through the defence. Taking a shot can be tricky at first and it's hard to get into the box. Novices will take shots from a distance, learning how hard they need to flick the Wii Remote for a screamer and what is considered to be slightly limp wristed. The nunchuk is where all the player movement happens, with the Z button used to sprint. Effectively, the remote is used solely for "anything you do with your feet" including passing, shooting and tackling.
The twin controls have been neatly divided and while play initially feels like tapping your head while rubbing your stomach, things eventually fall into place and become intuitive. In a similar way to when Namco decided to assign each limb a specific button in the original Tekken, EA has decided to divide motion and action between the nunchuk and the Wii Remote. Like many Wii releases, it requires a complete rethink by traditional FIFA or PES players and initially feels completely alien. On the flipside, it removes all the stigma of learning tricks and tactics for new gamers. You can easily jump in and not be defeated just because you didn't know the weak spot of the CPU keeper or how to perform an elevated through-ball. There's depth to the play and with practice you'll become better, but anyone can pick up the controls and give you a run for your money. You can't rely on the defence to bail you out and there's a frantic rush to the ball at all times, giving FIFA 08 a more arcade bias especially when played against a human competitor. The online leaderboard will also support simple head-to-head games. If Mario Strikers: Charged Football is anything to go by, there's zero lag and the only time-consuming thing is the input of friend codes.
Overall, FIFA 08 on Wii looks very promising. The arcade feel is perfect for Wii and it's the control system that really stands out here. Without the presence of the nunchuk and Wii Remote, this game could've been made five years ago, but that's missing the point. The fresh control method and retro-tinged arcade pace of the game will appeal to gamers whose only previous game experience is SingStar and Buzz, but there's something here for the hardcore too. Did we mention Sensible Soccer? You know, the first one on the Amiga? Depending on what happens over the next few months before release, FIFA 08 on Wii could end up being more fun than the PlayStation 3 version. Wouldn't that be an unexpected result?