Pixel Cup Soccer: Ultimate Review (PC)

Pixel Cup Soccer: Ultimate Edition Review: Back Of The Net

 

Pixel Cup Soccer

I’m a huge soccer fan, so naturally, I’ve always enjoyed stepping onto a virtual pitch here and there as well.  The problem is, as gaming hardware has gotten more advanced, so too have the video game representations of my beloved sport. This isn’t a complaint against the quality of the output that, for example, EA has put out over the years with its FIFA series, it’s more just that the simplicity of soccer games that I once loved has gradually become lost, with modern sports games utilizing all sorts of button combos and inputs that fly right over my head as developers strive to make their on-pitch experience as realistic as possible.

It’s for that reason Pixel Cup Soccer: Ultimate Edition spoke to me instantly. As someone who revels in simplicity in my soccer games, this retro throwback massively appealed to the inner child in me that spent countless hours sitting in front of the TV playing classics such as Nintendo World Cup. Thankfully, rather than scoring an own goal, developer BATOVI Games has managed to send this one soaring straight into the back of the net.

 

Simplicity At Its Finest

 

Pixel Cup Soccer

I’m going to cut straight to it; the retro soccer action of Pixel Cup Soccer is pure bliss for anyone like me who has a hard time remembering even the most basic of button combos in sports or fighting games. Controls are pretty much limited to buttons for passing, shooting, through balls, lofted passes, and tackling. There are also contextual abilities mapped to the right bumper, which do add depth, and I’ll delve into that a little later on, but for the most part, this is as pure an arcade soccer experience as you can get and perfectly implements the end to end arcade action that, if, like me, you’ve sorely missed since the 8 and 16 bit takes on the sport.

Movement is responsive, passing and shooting feel snappy, and, most importantly, sliding in for a tackle feels weighty and crunchy. Games are played at an extremely fast pace, helped in part by the smaller nature of the soccer pitch the developers have opted to use, with scorelines frequently climbing into double digits. It’s fast and over the top, and admirably manages to play a great game of retro soccer while also feeling smooth and silky enough to feel at home on modern systems. It feels like a retro sports game without feeling archaic, which is often a difficult line to straddle when trying to emulate games from a bygone era.

 

Take Your Team To Glory

 

Pixel Cup Soccer

Being a retro sports game, the modes on offer are pretty standard, though that’s not to say there isn’t any depth. Friendly matches, custom tournaments, and a career mode all make an appearance. While fun can be had hopping into any of the available modes, the real hook here is the surprisingly deep career mode.

Starting with a team of absolute nobodies, players step into the role of a newly hired manager at a club on the brink of collapse. Starting in the lowest of four divisions, it’s on you to grow and develop the team, with the eventual goal being to gain promotion through the divisions and ultimately land a spot at the top of the table in the premier rankings. This would have been a fine mode in itself, but great lengths have been gone to in order to give the mode some depth.

See, starting out, your team is filled with players who can be considered nothing short of a liability. Play them in matches, though, and soon enough, they begin to level up and earn experience points, which can then be spent on a plethora of passive skills and active abilities which can be mapped to the right bumper. The options available are admirable, and there is genuine scope for tactical creativity. Realizing early on that my midfield was an absolute disaster with no pace or organization, I purchased a skill for my central midfielder that meant when he picked up the ball, the surrounding players would take up better positions in space around him, allowing for better passages of play through the middle of the pitch. I coupled this with giving my wingers a sprint ability, which meant they were automatically creating space on the wings and then possessed the speed to capitalize on that space.

The ability system is really a stroke of genius, as it brings in some techniques that ordinarily be reserved for complex button combos in AAA soccer games. Moving players into space, pulling off skillful sidesteps, unstoppable power shots – all these techniques I would struggle to memorize in the likes of FIFA, but Pixel Cup Soccer avoids this struggle by making each ability available via a press of the right bumper, with an onscreen prompt appearing as you enter a position where one of the unlocked abilities becomes usable. It adds depth while sacrificing zero accessibility, and allows the player to look cool, while still keeping the action focused on that retro simplicity that makes Pixel Cup Soccer such a joy to play.

 

Initial Difficulty Curve

 

Pixel Cup Soccer

The RPG-lite mechanics, while I love them, do also lead me to my biggest frustration with Pixel Cup Soccer, that being the difficulty.

Outside of the career mode isn’t an issue, as you pick a pre-made team and have at it with players who don’t possess two left feet. However, with the career mode being heavily based on player development and ability acquisition, the opening hours can be an absolute slog, and I fear may cause a lot of players to bounce off the game entirely. Even on the lowest difficulty, the game can feel punishingly difficult as you struggle to grow your team’s capabilities against AI, which seemingly cannot miss despite supposedly being teams of equal, or even lower quality. I did enjoy the challenge, and it made those hard-fought victories all the sweeter while also lending to a real sense of progression as my team improved, but I definitely think some tuning down of the difficulty wouldn’t go amiss in places.

 

Top Of The League

 

Despite my gripes with the difficulty in the early stages of the career mode, Pixel Cup Soccer: Ultimate Edition is an amazing attempt at capturing the simplistic and joyful appeal of retro soccer games. With its simple gameplay and deceptively deep career mode, it’s a title that is incredibly easy to pick up, all while being equally difficult to put down. If you feel overwhelmed by the complex beasts that modern-day sports games have become and long for a return to simpler times, Pixel Cup Soccer: Ultimate Edition is absolutely championship-winning material.


Final Verdict: 4/5

Available On: PC (reviewed), Switch; Publisher: BATOVI Games; Developer: BATOVI Games; Players: 1-2; Released: October 14, 2022; MSRP: $16.99

Shane Boyle
Shane's passion for gaming began many moons ago upon receiving his first console, Sega's Master System. These days, he games across a variety of systems, though he primarily sticks to his PlayStation 5 and Series X. Despite enjoying a wide variety of genres, he has a huge soft spot for RPGs, both Western and Japanese, whilst also being a self-professed Destiny 2 addict. Outside of gaming, Shane enjoys live music (as long as it's rock or metal!) and going to stand-up comedy shows, and is also Father to a little boy who he hopes will one day be raiding alongside him in Destiny!
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