Traditional sports games never fared particularly well on the original Nintendo DS for two reasons: the poor controls and graphics. The Nintendo 3DS seems to amend both problems with a comfortable circle pad for movement and a considerable increase of graphical horsepower. These two things make FIFA 12 on the 3DS a delight to play as an on-the-go alternative to the console experience. The game certainly looks and plays similar to the console version, which is a good thing, but it also does a few things only possible on the 3DS.
The pitch looks the same as it does on the television screen. On the touch screen is a display of the field and other players moving in real time. Graphically the game looks clean but runs at a slower frame rate giving it a choppier appearance, and I prefer my FIFA as smooth possible. The animations do not seem as natural either but its wrong to expect the 3DS to replicate the ridiculous amount of animation possible on recent console iterations. The game does look good in its own right especially the 3D effect.
One unique feature is shooting a ball towards the net with the touch screen. Once you advance the ball far enough down field to reach scoring position the bottom screen replaces the pitch with a view of the net. Touching any spot on the net causes your player to shoot the ball in that direction. The power of your shot depends on how long you hold the touch screen, assumedly with your thumb or another finger although the stylus does help with precision. The trade off is that it is awkward the hold both the 3DS with the face buttons and the stylus at the same time. I preferred a quick thumb press personally.
This mechanic was the biggest surprise and works better than you would expect. I never thought about trying to score with the Y button though that is an option. The orientation of the net on the screen depends on the angle of your shot so obviously attacks from the wings will be considerably harder to sink. I scored several goals including a header from a corner kick and had even more shots on goal using this input method. Of course the goalie still blocks shots that are within his reach so choose your spot carefully.
The game looks better in the in-between moments of a match when the game closes in on certain players to show their reaction to the events of the match. The replays look stunning in 3D, especially a view from behind the net that has the ball soaring towards the screen only to be caught by the back of the net. You can celebrate after goals just as you do in other versions of FIFA by pressing one of the directional buttons with some taunts that seem new to this year’s edition.
Everything else about the gameplay felt authentic from the tight pass controls, to defending and making tackles. There does not seem to be a way to replicate the great dribbling controls without a second analog but what is there is serviceable. I played a game between Arsenal and my favorite club Chelsea. The AI was no pushover and managed to keep the match competitive. FIFA is set for a big debut on the 3DS with a 3D Street Soccer mode, Be A Pro, and robust online multiplayer capabilities. The game already plays miles better than FIFA ever did on the original DS and that is a great place to start.
FIFA 12 launches on the 3DS, and many other platforms, this fall.