When you think of portable gaming, the sporting genre is perhaps not the first to come to mind. Nonetheless, it's a genre that has popped up now again with certain exemplary titles that have captured their respective sports on a portable front, and now that we live in a wacky futuristic age where handhelds are capable of similar three-dimensional gameplay to their console counterparts, we start seeing games like Real Football 2009 which actually work pretty well. It may not be FIFA or Pro Evolution Soccer, but with the solid gameplay on offer this year the Real Football series may just become a contender after all.
Real Football 2009 comes replete with all the standard modes, including Exhibition to get straight into the action, several Cups (International, European Club, European National, Asian, American and African), six Leagues (English, Italian, French, Spanish, German and National), a fun Penalty Kick mini-game, and wireless Multiplayer for up to four players via multi-card. Of all of these, the Cups and Leagues provide the most content, although you can modify their difficulty and the length of matches from five minutes to twenty. Finally, the game is also home to 198 teams with real player names and twelve real stadiums.
The actual mechanics of playing soccer itself are fairly solid in Real Football 2009. The training mode within the game will soon have you up and running with the basics of gameplay, although strangely it seems to skip out on actually teaching you any defensive techniques, leaving you to sort those out for yourself. You can play the game traditionally using the face buttons of the DS, which actually works extremely well. The controls are tight and responsive and perfectly welcoming for both newcomers and veterans of the genre alike. On the other hand, there are some minor interface issues, as despite small helpful arrows it sometimes isn't clear exactly which player your control will jump to as you make your way down the pitch, which can result in some confusion.
The other way to control the action on-screen is with the game's unique touch control interface, which can be activated at any time during a match by tapping an icon on the lower screen. Using this interface, you control your player with the d-pad, while you draw specific icons on the touchscreen for all other actions, except sprinting which is controlled via the left bumper. This control scheme works reasonably well, although it is fairly difficult to remember all of the different icons for all of the actions, which makes it less intuitive than the standard controls, and ultimately just a novelty.
Real Football 2009 also offers some more meaty player management, as you are able to monitor the individual stats of your soccer players with meters for atributes such as speed, power and attack. This does turn out to be rather useful as you can swap players in and out, which is actually a necessity as the game gets harder with surprisingly tough AI that actually doesn't let you get away with just fooling around with the ball with rubbish players without a clear strategy in mind. There's also a tuning option for Player Formation, where you use the stylus to move your little pawns (we mean, players) around on the pitch that turns out to be another nice feature.
Unfortunately, Real Football 2009 isn't likely to wow anyone in the graphics department. While the framerate certainly holds up at a decent bop, the player models and textures are very bland, and it's unlikely that you'll be relating to any of the players on your team, let alone recognise them half the time. However, the stadiums are quite nicely rendered and are almost impressive during the opening cutscenes of each match, and the player animations are usually quite accurate if uninspired. Despite the aforementioned interface issues, as a whole the presentation does come together fairly nicely with a very clean and professional look. The game does lose points on the audio front, with not much music save for a catchy menu tune and a generic anthem which is played at the start of every match. There's no commentary either, but the sound effects are quite effective if a little low-quality.
Real Football 2009 offers surprisingly fun and challenging gameplay for any football fans who find themselves on the move. The game's mechanics work very well, even though the game's modes are fairly standard for the most part. The lack of an official licence like FIFA hurts the game slightly as well, as does the only semi-successful touch screen mode and the pedestrian audio work. But the gameplay still shines through and actually manages to establish Real Football as a real contender in the previously unchallenged match-up between EA and Konami. It mightn't have the flash or the spectacle of their games, but Real Football 2009 still offers up a robust and challenging match of soccer which can played for an enjoyable five-minute bout, or a twenty-minute sweat fest of grass, balls and feet. If you're into soccer and you've been waiting for a decent handheld game to get sunk into, you could do far worse than Real Football 2009.