It’s been almost ten years since I last put a significant amount of time into a FIFA game (FIFA 08), and even longer since I purchased one (that distinction goes to FIFA 2002 for the GameCube). Despite having participated in random pickup games over at the house of a Swedish PS4 owner who always insisted on playing as his country’s version of the New York Yankees, the series had basically lost my interest. Some of that, of course, has to do with me being primarily a Nintendo console kind of guy, as EA has for the last decade or so either decided to skip the annual releases altogether on those systems, or shoveled out a largely scaled-back dumb version. FIFA 18 for the Nintendo Switch doesn’t look like it will completely buck that trend, but it definitely makes good strides, straddling a decent middle ground with enough depth and features, even if it lacks the prettiness of seeing Ronaldo in next gen. Combine that with the portability, and suddenly I’m considering stepping back onto the pitch again – and I’d bet many others will too.
I don’t know why a portable FIFA game appeals to me, but it does. I’ve never been a huge soccer fan (and yes, as an American, I will always refer to it as soccer), but the gameplay is rock-solid, offering enough depth for all the hooligans out there, but also just the right amount of approachability to someone like me who knows the basics but doesn’t really follow the sport or obsess over analytics and tactics. I kick the ball into the net – that’s my strategy, and it’s fun. It’s nothing I’d play for hours on end though, preferring to do a quick match or two here and there while working my way slowly through a season, and that sort of experience works perfectly on the Switch, either while lying in bed on a lazy Sunday morning or hanging out at the flat of a friend. No, I don’t see myself playing in tabletop mode very often, mostly because the Joy-Cons are a bit uncomfortable in my hands when they require the use of the shoulder buttons, but it definitely could happen, and I like having the option. In fact, that I could travel to Stockholm and celebrate beating AIK with Hammarby to win the Allsvenskan right in front of my friend’s face is in itself almost a selling point (that probably won’t happen though – he would destroy me).
I doubt I’m alone in this. Even though Nintendo keeps positioning their hybrid as primarily a home console that can also be taken on the road, the mobile versatility of the Switch is really what people are really digging about it; gaming away from the television is the real draw, and that concept might overcome the lack of a story mode or beads of sweat dripping down the players’ faces. Obviously, The Journey is a big draw, but I just can’t see a story mode in a FIFA game being make or break. And no, FIFA 18 for the Switch won’t use Frostbite, but do state-of-the-art visuals really matter all that much in sports games? I’ve played the NHL series for years with my brother, and I can’t honestly say that the better textures on XBox One made any difference as to my enjoyment of rushing the net in a two-on-one. What matters is how it plays, and whether there is enough to do. In this respect, things look pretty good.
FIFA 18 for the Switch will run at 60fps, have much of the improved gameplay that its more powerful brethren will sport, including the overhaul of the crossing mechanic and the new hard tackles, and will contain the FIFA Ultimate Team, Career Mode, and Local Seasons, as well as the rest of the basics. You’ll be able to manage your club anywhere that has wi-fi and bask in the fun of opening yet another disappointing pack. For someone who doesn’t care about Alex Hunter (and never even knew who he was until the second part of his story was announced) and doesn’t pay much attention to the raucous atmosphere of digital fans cheering in a fake stadium, these features are all I need. I know purists will decry this version as essentially last-gen, but really this is the best portable version of FIFA ever and offers a great alternative to the richer home experience.
That it seems like a full game and not some caricature of the franchise has already got this Switch owner interested, and if EA has delivered on what looks like solid gameplay, I think we’ll have every reason to believe that a sports game can once again do well on a Nintendo system. The console needs a variety of titles, and both the timing (it releases September 29) and the temptation of a portable FIFA 18 is perfect to reel in both curious casuals and die-hard fans alike. After years of ignoring the franchise, it looks like I might be one of them.