Not one to be deterred…
We have seen many football management simulators come and go during Football Managers reign as the supreme leader of the simulation world, from both LMA and Championship Manager to Kickoff Legends and Top Eleven. Even EA tried their hand with the largely unsuccessful Premier League Football Manager and the latter FIFA Manager.
With Sports Interactive’s grip on the title so firm in its grasp, developers have largely turned to mobile gaming as a way of reaching an audience for their gaming exploits. Football Manager just couldn’t have that, and we now have both FM Mobile and FM Touch to choose from each year, on top of its much more comprehensive offering on the PC, thus leaving many developers to fade into relative obscurity. Not Simon Read though, developer of New Star Manager. He has sought to take on Football Manager throughout his game development career and after stints on PC, iOS and Android, we now find the latest iteration on the Nintendo eShop. Not one to be deterred by FM’s domination, his dogged determination has been acknowledged with publishing by FiveAces.
The perfect fit
I want to cut straight to the chase with this one, as I want, no need, to get back to playing it: New Star Manager is superb. It is the perfect fit for the Nintendo Switch, feeling right at home with touch screen controls, vibrant menus and a pick-up-and-play mentality. It is that last point which I think is worth unpicking, as I feel that for any review to be successful, an understanding of the reviewer and their experiences is key.
I have followed football management sims since a young boy, and Championship Manager 04 and Football Manager 2007 have provided some of my favourite gaming memories. Recent years have seen me dodge the Football Manager series, primarily due to a lack of time. I know friends who will painstakingly review every minor detail of their tactics, then watch the gameplay out in real-time over 90 minutes. I neither can nor want to dedicate that time to it, and have sought comfort in the Career Mode on FIFA. Representing an excellent blend of team management and footballing action, I enjoy being able to enjoy both aspects of the game without losing my life to it. Therefore, on paper, New Star Manager sounds ideal for me:
Take control of New Star FC – a beleaguered soccer club which needs your management skills and instincts to unlock the team’s potential and make it to the top of the game. This is soccer management like you’ve never experienced it – Be more than just a player, be the head, the heart, and backbone of New Star FC. Be the Manager.
FULL SQUAD GAMEPLAY: Use every member of your team to set up and score pivotal goals with on-pitch gameplay using innovative controls. Change at any time between touch screen and Joy-Con controls in handheld mode, or use the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller!
Best of both worlds!
It is the ‘Full Squad Gameplay’ offering that I wish to discuss first, as it is this that sets it apart from Football Manager and the like. During important moments in the game, you are able to take control of the action and look to score that crucial goal. Reminiscent of the likes of Subbuteo and FIFA of old, you play out the scenario however you wish. You might exploit the gap on the right-wing that the text commentary mentioned earlier on or take advantage of the counter-attack, playing the ball around and looking for a scoring opportunity. This has been very smartly done, with the match only ever moving if you are. For example, if you wish to take stock of your surroundings and the options available to you, do not move your player. From here, you can choose to run with the ball, cross, pass or shoot. If anyone has ever played Score Hero on iOS, it is similar in design however you control the player with the ball.
It all sounds like a fairly standard affair so far, however the in-game options make for quite the tactical simulator. If you direct your pass towards a specific player using the left stick, you can then use the right to map out a run for the recipient. Once complete, you can then manually pass the ball into the path of the runner to gain an advantage and some momentum. As well as this, when you find yourself in a shooting position, you select Y to commit to a shot. A ball will then move across the screen and you need to decide on when and at what position you wish to strike the ball i.e. aim under the ball to hit it high or to the left to provide some curl. Both features are extremely well-executed and become second nature very quickly.
As expected, any game that tries to combine both management simulation and football proper is likely to have its faults. There are two which stand out from the crowd. Firstly, if you lose the ball during an attack, you have until the halfway line to retrieve the ball to continue that playthrough, which is fair enough.
The AI, however, having retrieved the ball, run in a direct, straight line to reach the halfway line, which spoils the level of immersion: a quick interception by predicting their running line will see you recover the ball. Second of all, if you fail to take advantage of the play, you get one opportunity per game to play that particular scenario again. Although not a dealbreaker, it feels too much like an arcade game at these moments than I would like.
Keeping everyone happy
Outside of the in-game action, all the usual football simulation options are present and correct. Develop a team of relegation battlers into league dominators whilst ensuring budgets are adhered to, and the board, fans and players remain happy. To support your quest for management stardom, you can upgrade training facilities, develop the youth of tomorrow, and purchase new players. All of these require funds that are obtained through playing well, meeting board objectives and selling players.
Alongside all the options you have at your disposal, you can also obtain cards – similarly to a card game of sorts. These can range from cards to improve strength, to offering new contracts or NRG (an energy drink to improve stamina for an upcoming match.) These are used well and are always in short enough supply for you to have to think carefully about how you will utilise them.
I enjoyed both elements in equal measure, and found the gameplay to be exhilarating and thought-provoking. Managing fitness levels of players, personality types and team dynamics has always been a challenge in football management sims, and it is no different here.
OFF-PITCH DRAMA: Handle volatile players and get their mind back in the game by monitoring their concerns, outbursts, and quirks. Keep the board off your back, navigate the hostile waters of the sporting press, and make sure the fans keep believing… while keeping a careful eye on the club’s finances!
For all New Star Manager gets right, there are a couple of design choices which I am not as keen on. Alluded to earlier in the review, there is a fine line between pure football management simulation and an arcade-inspired experience, and New Star Manager occasionally veers off course.
For example, when negotiating a contract for a new signing, you can sign the player for a cheaper price if you play a small mini-game. You are presented with a number between 1 and 11, and need to play a game of ‘lower or higher.’ Guessing correctly five times will bring the cost down considerably which is a positive, however I would much rather have negotiated in a more traditional manner. Another example of this is in the pre-match interviews, where you are asked ‘pressure questions’ such as: how many goalkeepers do you have available for the next game or have you purchased a fitness centre yet?
With no real-name player or club licensing, New Star Manager has managed to create an immersive and addictive football managing simulator, steeped in content and options. Aside from a few gimmicks, it has shown what can be achieved with simulation games without the need for the gamer to spend countless hours playing it. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with New Star Manager, and wish to applaud Simon Read for his efforts in bringing this game to the Nintendo Switch. Here’s to the start of many!
Review code provided
Release Date: 31/01/2019
No. of Players: 1
Category: Sports, RPG, Simulation, Strategy
Download link: eShop