Admit it. When you first heard about Go!Go! Beckham! Adventure On Soccer Island, you thought it was going to be awful. All the signs were there! Rage's less than stellar output of late, the other Beckham games, the... odd looking screenshots. Fortunately, this is a very different and much better game than any of the others, and it's all thanks to the genius of Scottish developer Denki.
Our nation's saviour!
Anybody who has spent some time with Denki's previous release, Denki Blocks, will be immediately familiar with the interface. A little fella with a dodgy moustache is coaching the young Beckham on his trip to Soccer Island, and instructs him by means of a speech bubble in the bottom right. From here, the moustachioed one teaches Beckham about dribbling, running, jumping and using the ball to collect coins and defeat enemies. When he has the ball, Beckham can kick it straight along the ground by holding down and hitting B, or he can angle it upwards by picking a some other direction first. Monsters require a couple of hits, once on a weak spot and once again to vanquish them, but Beckham has to be careful to keep control of his ball.
The more you run, jump and kick the better Beckham gets at these key abilities, and you can also pick up "spells", which translate to enhanced ball skills. In the third training level, for example, you pick up a star which enhances your heading control. As the ball comes down, instead of bouncing away the ball drops helpfully at your feet. Other special moves include enhanced dribbling, trapping and shooting skills, naturally, and it wouldn't be much of a Beckham game without a "bending" skill. Make of that what you will, eh?
As you would expect from a Denki title, the graphics are cute, cuddly and beautifully realised. The tones and thick outlines are very fitting and extremely agreeable to the eye. And the developer hasn't been afraid to play with finer detail either - this is the sort of graphical approach that all those rampant SNES porters could do with paying attention to.
The adventure itself is set across 40 or so levels in five zones, which effectively translates to various graphical changes and not much else, but the level design is consistently engaging and more than a little reminiscent of some excellent 16-bit platformers of old, like the James Pond series and Super Mario World. Beckham goes about booting enemies off the map and securing skills and coins, before activating a goal and then popping the ball in it to finish. Admittedly, the ball-kicking approach to defeating enemies and collecting items isn't altogether new - we've seen it in games across the ages from Plok to Rayman under various guises - but the implementation is excellent, and it would be harsh to criticise Denki for being unoriginal. They were, after all, charged with making a decent David Beckham game for the GameBoy Advance, and they most definitely have.
The only real criticism I can level at Beckham's adventure is that it's a mite too easy. Of course from the, cough, "plot", it's easy to work out that this is aimed at those south of my age group, but even so, I did find it a bit too easy to get past some of the bosses and when I did finish it, which took only a handful of hours, I did lust for a bit more.
Wake me up before you Go!Go!
It may have an annoying name, and it may star a cute version of one of the girliest sounding footballers in the country, but he keeps his mouth shut and what's in a name anyway? Go!Go! Beckham! Adventure On Soccer Island is probably the best original platformer released on the GBA this year, and even if you hate football and hate Beckham, it's definitely worth slipping into his boots.