Available on iOS
Striker Arena has to have the longest tutorial of any game I've ever played. Indeed, for long periods while engaged in said 'onboarding', I did start to fear that what I'd initially presumed was an elaborate run of training stages was, in fact, the main game.
It's almost as if the developer behind it, Wizcorp, is so concerned that players may not get to grips with its transformed and frankly frantic take on football that it's possible they may give up entirely and walk away if every single element isn't laid out in detail. And, believe me, Striker Arena takes time to lay out every single detail.
To be fair, there is quite a bit to explain. Striker Arena wraps itself in some typically bizarre packaging – play takes place in a world where “ancient tribes” settle their wars through a game called “Soccer of the Gods” rather than on the battlefield – but, plot aside, what the game sets out to do is both spice up the game of football and condense it down into bite sized chunks. In terms of the world these football matches take place in – the interactive pitches, the power ups, the sheer slaughter – Striker Arena is superficially successful in its endeavours, but sadly there's also an awful lot it gets wrong.
The main problem centres around your role in said matches. Controlling a team of five players (characters for reasons unknown resembling a failed experience to combine cattle, tribesman and robots), you take charge of one player at a time, with your options intentionally limited. When in possession, you can either pass the ball by swiping in the direction you'd like it to head or shift your position by tapping the part of the screen you'd like to head towards. Your moves are limited to a set distance, however, and when that's exhausted, your only option is to pass or shoot. There's no net to aim at – a weird portal at either end of the pitch instead acting as your 'goal' – and the game handily traces out the projected path of the ball should you make each prospective move.
When out of possession, Striker Arena leaves you feeling strangely redudant. Unless you have a power up equip, you only options are to shuffle your players around or, when in range, attempt to win the ball back. It's a bizarre lottery that quite often lets your rival walk straight through to your goal almost unopposed. Indeed, it quickly becomes a valid tactic to hold onto the ball for as long as you can before attempting to score a goal at the very end of each half.
Even when in possession of the ball, the movement of your own players and the game's AI remains somewhat curious. While you can instruct your teammates to shift position to (hopefully) open up a pass or two, your rival often remains stagnant, waiting for you to make your move before randomly flying in for a tackle and taking you out – sometimes quite literally. It's like a half hearted attempt at a turn based system that the developer has pulled out of half way, scared it'll nullify the action on offer.
And, to be fair to Striker Arena, there is plenty of action to contend with here. Early levels present a fairly plain playing field in order to help you get to grips with the game itself (I mentioned that neverending run of tutorial stages, right?) but, later on, you'll take to an increasing number of shape shifting pitches that can be as much of a hazard as your opponent. Throw into that a series of power ups that enable you to charge up your own attacks and, quite literally, smack down those of your rivals and you should have all the ingredients you need for an arcade take on the beautiful game.
In reality, however, your role in Striker Arena's contests feels so stunted, so awkwardly constrained, that any sense of fun is diluted by having to contend with what never feels like a natural approach to a game of football. It's in this way that the leagues of tutorial levels start to make sense: Despite pitching itself as a no-holes-barred take on football, Striker Arena actually plays out like a series of prescribed moves – a decision that sits especially oddly within the game's setting.
Whatever led Striker Arena to this point, it's certain that a wrong pass or two has been made along the way, leading to a game that doesn't quite no what it is or why it exists. An attractive art style and a creative plot line doesn't excuse what is a fundamentally disjointed gameolay experience that, despite much potential, needs to be pulled back into the changing rooms and reformed around some revised tactics.
Though billed as an all action, arcade-like take on the beautiful game complete with an otherworldly setting, Striker Arena is intended a half hearted attempt at a turn-based football game that constantly feels like a series of contradictions.