Typically, upon hearing that a sports game is unlicensed, I expect completely generic teams populated by bland rosters. First Touch Soccer is hardly gimped in such a way. Yes, the team names themselves are altered. But draw up a match with "Manchester Red", and sure enough, there is "Rooney" at forward.
You can expect this across all the teams in the nine leagues offered by First Touch from two in the UK through the major European leagues, Japan and the US. I'm not sure how this works exactly, but suffice to say, the only thing First Touch lacks is the official branding. That becomes a trifling thing when the rest of the game serves accurate rosters, several modes of play, online multiplayer, even the means to upload highlights to YouTube.
First Touch Soccer follows X2 Football 2010, a well regarded competitor to licensed football sims, released around the time of the World Cup last year. Both were made by Exient, a studio composed of veterans of console sports simulations, FIFA included. It released a week ago, and still is offered at $1.19 on the iTunes App Store. When the special is over the game's full price will be $5.99.
Even to a world football greenhorn like me, the level of console sim polish on this game is apparent, from the menu soundtrack to the headlines being fed in from BBC Sport. All is not window dressing, of course. Modes of play include tournament, season (curiously listed under the "tournament" menu), a quick match and a shootout. In season mode, matches can be simulated if you want to skip to a key fixture, but player management is solely moving them in, out and around the starting lineup. You can run a multiplayer game over your internet connection, or with others nearby through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
There is also, in what seems like a first for a team sports game on the iPhone, a "star player" match in which you control a single player (calling for passes or instructing shots when you're off the ball on offence). It's not a pure career mode, but it is a noteworthy development.
For controls, you have a virtual analogue stick at left (it will move if you shift your thumb, too), and speed is governed by how hard you press in one direction. There's a set of three virtual buttons at right. The buttons, on offence, govern soft passes or shots, long passes or hard shots, and through passes. All of this has become the standard control set in iPhone football/soccer, so those familiar with it in other games will be at home here.
Passing with the first two buttons really should be touch-only; holding the button to power it up any converts it into a shot, not an extra long pass, so the through pass on the third button is going to see some consistent use. For special moves, you can double-tap the right side of the screen and your man will execute a contextual special move, whether that's a spin or a fake or something else.
The game's slower pacing (introduced in X2) and expansive camera angle reduces visual clutter and increases your decision-making time. This is a solid plus as so many team sports simulations, with a constantly contested ball, have you getting swarmed.
The flipside is defence is a little tough to play, especially for a beginner. I was throttled by some rather grotesque scores but much of that is attributable to my lack of technique. Still, pressuring the ball (the first button, when on defence) seemed to do little good, as did my attempts to play passing lanes. Slide tackling (third button) is nearly always good for a foul, disappointing given that it's really your most effective tool on defence. The goalie's behaviour is automatic.
What this translates to is that First Touch Soccer is a very strong sports sim with responsive gameplay, but it shouldn't be your introduction to The Beautiful Game on mobile. It's staggeringly deep, so while First Touch may only be $1.19 now, at full price it should be a game you intend to play primarily for a good while, rather than waste any of its rich content.
First Touch Soccer [iTunes]