Shortly after the PSP launched, EA released several solid, yet flawed sports titles, one of them being FIFA Soccer. Less than a year later, the PSP has received another soccer game – FIFA 06. EA fixed many of the issues found in the first FIFA game and FIFA 06 has an overall more polished feel to it. If you don't own a soccer game for the PSP, this is the one to get. If you picked up the first FIFA, you might want to hold of on this one, unless you're a huge soccer fan; it's good, but it's not that much better.
FIFA 06 has a healthy number of play modes including: Play Now, Juggling, Season, Challenges, Tournament, as well as Ad-Hoc and Internet play. There's no career mode, which is slightly disappointing, but really, on a handheld not having a career mode isn't the end of the world. Most of the modes are self-explanatory, but "challenges" places you in varying scenarios, each with their own goal; you might have to hold a lead, come from behind, or score a certain amount of goals. Juggling is actually one of the coolest mini-games I've ever seen in a sports game. You turn the PSP vertically, choose a player, and then you juggle the ball for as long as you can. Keeping the ball aloft is done by pressing the direction on the d-pad that corresponds with what is on screen. The closer the ball is to the on-screen arrow when you tap the button, the better your score will be. Unfortunately there's not much to the game, so while it's incredibly enjoyable for a short time, it's not one of those games that you can play forever. I suppose that's why they call them mini-games.
Once on the pitch the game doesn't actually play a whole lot different from the first FIFA Soccer on the PSP. Most of the changes, while minor, are ones that were needed. Key amongst these are the controls, which have been simplified, but can still be a little too complex. You can now send your teammates on runs by double tapping the right shoulder button. This allows you to work the ball up the field and get your teammates in position to receive a pass while letting you remain mindful of the defenders in front of you. Rather than being awkwardly mapped to the d-pad (like they were earlier) first-touch moves are performed with the left shoulder button, which is much easier. In addition to being simplified, the controls feel more responsive this time around, and there's no lag between pressing a button and seeing the action performed on screen.
One of the games few negative points is that it's very tough to score; this was an issue on the console versions this year as well. I'm not trying to contend that a soccer match should end up 8-5, but I'm a seasoned FIFA player and I was struggling to put up more than one goal a game, and when I mean struggling I mean "I had a stretch where I scored four goals in five games."
Ad-Hoc play supports up to four players, and it's an enjoyable, if not basic experience. Online play is rather impressive as it's quite smooth, unlike many other online PSP games. It can be difficult to find a match at times, but when you do, you'll likely have a good experience – at least from a technical standpoint.
The first FIFA Soccer game was a decent looking effort, so it's not surprising to find that FIFA 06 looks like a slightly more polished FIFA Soccer. The framerate is noticeably improved – it not longer chugs during cut-scenes. The camera is still pretty far out there, so you're not likely to notice much detail in the players outside of the cut-scenes, but when you do get a look at them they look good. There are a large number of stadiums to choose from, and they're not only more detailed this time around, but they feel livelier as well.
FIFA rarely disappoints in the sound department and FIFA 06 is no exception. The play by play is impressive and rarely does it lag behind what's occuring on the field. Sure, you're not going to get a ton of insight into why something is happening, but this is one of the better commentaries in any sports game on the system. Pocket Trax are generally pretty bad, but as usual FIFA gets it right with a wide variety of artists and genres. In fact, the tunes are so good you can just chill out and listen to them in the EA Trax Pocket Player; complete with visualizations.
FIFA 06 is a very good game, but since it follows its predecessor by a little over six months it's not a huge leap forward. You get the feeling that EA should have held off on releasing the first game, instead focusing their energy on FIFA 06. If you're reasonably satisfied with FIFA Soccer you can probably hold off on this one, but if you don't own already one it or you want a more polished experience, FIFA 06 is worth a look.