Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Pocket League Story Mini-Review

In the last year, I've played several of the Kairosoft games, and enjoyed all of them. Game Dev Story was one of my favorite games of 2010, and Grand Prix Story will occupy a similar spot in my favorite games of 2011.

Recently, Kairosoft released Pocket League Story, a team-building soccer game. Clearly, this was going to take up all of my free time. And it did, but not for as long as I expected.

The game mechanics in PLS will be familiar to anyone who's played a Kairosoft game. Basically, all these games boil down to very simple elements: make a product, make money, train up, make a better product, make more money, etc.

That makes KS games sound bland, but they're not. All of these games have tons of little individual touches that are incredibly endearing. PLS has a bus that your players board to go to away matches, and literally, you see every single player on your team boarding the bus. In games, it's easy to recognize your players, because each one is visually distinct in terms of hair color, hair length, glasses, etc. It's all very personal, and I guarantee you will feel pangs of regret when you bench a long-time player on your team for the newest superstar you've acquired. In compensation, though, you do call a press conference every time you sign a new player.

Like I said, the striking touches are everywhere.

Basically, this is how the game works: you play matches (in single matches, tournaments, and leagues) to make money and to accrue training points in multiple categories. With the money, you can negotiate with better players and build facilities at your team complex to increase the flow of training points. With the training points, you train up your players, and can also conduct fan activity events as well as acquiring new sponsors.

Matches themselves are quite entertaining. They don't feel canned, the play feels quite dynamic, and like I said previously, it's easy to pick out individual players and see where your team needs improvement. Tactical options include formation and aggression level, with the ability to sub players in/out at halftime. It's not FM, obviously, but it's entertaining and visually very charming.

During my first playthrough, I strongly felt that PLS was going to be my favorite Kairosoft game, which is saying something. When I started the second play through, though, it quickly became apparent that I was wrong.

Every Kairosoft game rewards you for multiple playthroughs, and in PLS, players you've trained retain their new, higher skill levels for the next game. That's a very nice reward, but unfortunately, it unbalances the game. I had a very difficult time in my first game, but in the second, I lost less than 5% of my matches and finished everything in the game (except for one match which I didn't know even existed, although KS expert John Harwood told me about it recently). So the inherent tension in sport (or anything else) was unfortunately deflated significantly my second time through.

Eli 10.2 decided he wanted a go, and he's playing through it now as well. His players are even better than mine were, and I think he's only lost two matches the entire time.

What's quite frustrating is that Grand Prix Story has the perfect mechanic to reward multiple playthroughs without unbalancing the game. In GPS, you get to retain one part/car body/etc. at the ending level of the previous game. So, for instance, you might keep some super-advanced car body type. You only get to choose one, though, and at the beginning of the next game, your mechanics won't even have the skill to build a car with that body, so you won't get full benefit right away.

That would work perfectly with PLS--choose one player to keep his end-game skill levels, while everyone else goes back to the default rate. You could even make it additive, so that on your fifth playthrough, you'd have four players with insanely high skill ratings, because you'd retained one on each of your previous playthroughs. Why Kairosoft didn't do it this way is a mystery.

This is still a wonderfully entertaining game for the first 10 hours or so, and it costs under $5. But I played through Grand Prix Story at least four times and always felt challenged. PLS is still great fun, but all too quickly, the challenge collapses.

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