System launches are typically unkind to sports simulations, often as a result of developers being saddled with unfamiliar technology and immovable deadlines. FIFA 13 Wii U bucks that trend. EA’s flagship sports franchise makes a strong debut on Nintendo's new console, combining innovation with a proven engine that delivers in many ways.
FIFA’s use of the Wii U GamePad dominates the experience. At its best, it transforms a traditional sports sim into something fresh and original. As you’d expect with such a significant addition, though, it does take some getting used to--and not all of GamePad-specific mechanics feel completely comfortable.
Without a doubt, the coolest use of the GamePad is on the setpiece events. Aiming for a specific player during corner kicks has been a pain in the neck with traditional controllers forever, but the GamePad lets you simply tap the man you want to receive the ball. Free kicks take it up another notch by having you hold the GamePad up to the TV, aiming the cursor with the stick and using a button to nail the precision. Even cooler is your ability to look around the virtual stadium by aiming the GamePad in any direction (including up at the sky or directly behind you at the other end of the grounds) to check out the view. It’s innovative and immersive--two words you don’t often hear in sports sim game discussions.
FIFA 13 marks a strong debut for the franchise on the Wii U.
The GamePad can also be used to aim your shots on goal during regular play. However, its implementation isn't quite on target. To activate aiming, you need to either shake the GamePad or tap the right stick, then pick your spot. This two-step process is not easy to do while sprinting toward the goal and fighting off a defender, or even upon receiving the ball in an opportune area in the box.
The controller’s beautiful display screen shows the entire match being played just like on your TV, and can be used to make substitutions, adjust tactics, check fitness levels, or even send players on runs and make passes. Practical use of these real-time menus depends on if you’re playing the “traditional” or all-new Manager mode; when you’re controlling all the action on the pitch, it’s impossible to use the tactical screens unless there’s a stoppage in play. In Manager mode, however, you’re not explicitly controlling each player, and the features work brilliantly.
None of these game-changing features would be worth a dime if the on-field gameplay wasn’t good, but that’s not a concern. As described in GamesRadar's review of the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of FIFA 13, the game feels fine-tuned to the core, from the crisp animations to the solid controls and smooth-as-silk interaction of the players and the ball. This is to be expected, since the Wii U development team had plenty of time to hone the core mechanics by starting with an already-strong base of the FIFA 12 engine. Most of the key modes are present, too, including Be A Pro as player or manager, Tournaments, and online Seasons, as well as a bevy of licensed teams, leagues, and players.
While this translates to a sturdy experience, some of the key additions to the PS3/360 game (including the all-important First Touch) aren’t here. Most surprisingly--given the geysers of cash that the mode generates for EA--is the lack of Ultimate Team. Also absent is Skill Games, a mode that's not only fun but also incredibly valuable at teaching newcomers how to play the game. Ultimately, that may be the biggest hurdle facing early adopters of the Wii U who pick up FIFA 13; the game expects you to know a lot and will punish you on normal difficulty levels if you’re not well-versed in it.
Another issue is multiplayer, both local and online. While it’s not FIFA’s fault that only one GamePad works per console, it doesn’t change the fact that players using different types of controllers is awkward at best and a disadvantage at worst. The painfully small number of people playing online in the days after launch means that online quick match and Season options are currently sparse, too, although this should be less of a problem when the system launches in Europe at the end of November.
Even with those concerns, FIFA 13 on the Wii U is an exceptionally strong launch title for Nintendo’s new console. Its smart and innovative use of the controls, silky smooth gameplay, and exquisite array of real-world football make it a winner.