There's a widely-held theory that, every so often, it’s healthy for people to get out of their ‘comfort zones’. Challenge yourself. Do something different. Stretch your boundaries.
But here’s an alternative take: this idea is a right pile of honking dog eggs. Comfort zones are nice precisely *because* they’re comfortable, and being comfortable is ace. Would you attempt to sleep on a pile of bricks while a clown wearing nothing but a soiled pink leotard does squat thrusts over you and think “ooh, what a lovely change from my comfy bed! I’m really growing as a person!”?
Unless you’re a titanic pervert, clearly this: no.
Anyway, if there are 2 genres of game I really couldn’t care less about, it’s football sims and resource management/world building type sims: they are my own personal ‘squatty the clown’, getting his crotch all up in my comfort zone. I know some people lap them up, but to me the latter have all the appeal and excitement of filling in a tax return. And the former?
Well, as far as I’m concerned, the zenith of amusement you could eke from a footie sim was reached in about 2004 – this being the pre-licencing cheapskate days when players in some games came set with stupid fake names such as “Devid Bockham” and “Fronk Lumphard”, but if you wanted you could amend them to correct them all.
You know: if you were a colossal dullard.
My football-adoring flatmate around this time, who dutifully bought the new Pro Evo release every year on his PS2 even though it was indistinguishable from the previous one, meticulously undertook this tedious editing effort for every team in every league every time a new game came along. Worse still, he hogged the TV in the house for days to do it.
It eventually became too much to resist vandalising this absurd fanboyism in revenge for his monopolisation of the telly, so while he was out one time we randomly changed about 50 players back to things such as “Ron Pelmet”, “Magnum PI”, “Hitler Jr.”, and my personal favourite, “Fußballiö McExcéllenté”.
He was not pleased, even though (a) this didn’t affect the game in the slightest, and (b) it was obviously hilarious, made all the moreso by his annoyance. Oh, and he somehow never noticed we’d also changed the name of his local team to “Oxturd Untied”. Some fan he was.
Still, with all that in mind you can imagine my happiness when Mr Biffo asked me to review a hybrid football/resource management sim. I almost inverted my ribs in delight! Nevertheless, let’s pretend I’m an objective, professional reviewer and not just that other bloke who occasionally writes stuff, and see whether I can expand my horizons and eke some fun out of new and scary things. Or at least do that without having to resort to getting drunk first.
NSM starts with you choosing a country, and then trying to save a team in their lower league from relegation with a couple of intro games (I chose Iceland in the hope I could call my team ‘Athletico Bjork’, but sadly it seems to default to ‘New Star’ wherever you pick).
Theoretically it is possible to lose these training wheel efforts, but given I’ve never played a game like this in my life and won these matches comfortably, I suspect you’d have to be inebriated to the point of anaesthesia to really struggle.
Periodically, a waxy-faced corpse will pop up and blurt out some advice on what to do next. Further investigation reveals this cadaver is actually your assistant manager; why he appears to have been depicted in such a way to make it look like he has recently died is not made clear, but regardless I always followed his tips due to this: laziness. Later on, though, you’ll be expected to make all your own terrible decisions without his guiding yet clammy hand.
Slightly oddly, in matches themselves you only take control of the actual players when something exciting such as a goal opportunity or a tramp defecating on the pitch is about to happen (sadly, the second example is entirely a fabrication on my part). The rest of the time, games play out as a Final Score type teleprinter feed of key points such as corners, penalties, players imploding (again, regretfully fictional) and goals from your opponents.
When you do assume control, rather than constant live play releasing the buttons lets you cue up your next action – you can hoof the ball about in the hope one of your football men will catch up to it, pass directly, or stroll up the pitch yourself and have a shot.
Or you can do what I did and literally walk the ball into the goal, as in lower leagues at least the opposing teams barely seem to be aware of your presence. Then, when they do eventually notice you’re encroaching on their ‘special area’, they shamble towards you with all the urgency of someone discharged mistakenly early from hip surgery.
After a match, you can then do sim-like managery stuff, like improve player stats with booster cards you earn (more on these in a moment), build new things with ticket money like a training academy or health centre (and then later, upgrade them), hold press conferences where you’re asked trivia about your team, or most bizarrely, negotiate contracts with new staff via a player’s shirt number version of ‘Play your cards right’.
Sadly the late B. Forsyth doesn’t make an appearance, but know this: while I suspect shouting ‘higher!’ or ‘lower!’ isn’t how real staff negotiations take place, to shake up football’s stale, laddish image I think it should immediately be made law that it is from now on, and that these deals should be televised. That, and extra time obviously needs to be replaced with 5 mins of ‘multiball’.
Those cards I mentioned might seem an odd way to do things, much like the quiz show negotiations and stop/start play, but this is actually NSM giving away its roots – it was once a mobile game y’see, and one full to popping with wretched microtransactions and with a simplified interface meaning even the most sausage-fingered oaf could control a team.
In its original form, buying enough boost cards – should you have been mad enough to splurge potential gin money on them – would almost certainly give you a massive bump in player stats and allow you to steamroller your way to the top of the league.
You can’t do that in the Switch version though (or PS4/PC either), as the trade-off for the comparatively steeper asking price of £15 is the IAPs being pulled. So while fairer and less pay-to-win, it does mean there’s also no route to chivvy proceedings along either. Which is a tad awkward, as once you get promoted the AI does start to pick up and suddenly you can find yourself stuck mid-league in perpetuity.
And that’s really where the already limited appeal of NSM died on its arse for me – with no obvious way to progress other than randomly coming across good stat cards, winning a Brucie Bonus negotiation or just lucking out a chain of big wins, you more or less stay put.
This is, I suppose, a fairly accurate scenario for the vast bulk of real-world football teams at least, who are stuck grinding out results until they get lucky or are bought by a bored business mogul. But put it this way: if you’re not a diehard fan, would you really make the effort to go and watch mid-league two Buttocksville Utd. Vs Anustown FC in the cold and rain every week for years?
NSM can very easily become the gaming equivalent of that damp, mediocre match between 2 sides you don’t really care about, played out over and over again. And there’s not even a pie shop.
I’ll admit NSM isn’t as dreadful as I thought it would be, but it has far from convinced me I’m wrong either. It doesn’t pull you in by being great, or push you away by being unplayably terrible.
It’s just there, like a jellyfish at a dinner party. No one is admitting to bringing it, you can’t ask it to leave, and it’s not going anywhere under its own power because it’s probably dead. And once you’ve prodded it with a biro a few times, all the amusement goes too. Eventually, someone will put a placemat on top of it to try and hide it, and after a few weeks you’ll forget about the jellyfish entirely apart from the weird stain on the tablecloth.
NSM is that weird stain: briefly intriguing as to how it got where it did, but almost entirely forgettable. So forgettable, I forgot it was called New Star Manager and had to go back and change all the places I’d initially written ‘NFS’ for some reason (3 times. 3 times I did that).
If you think it might appeal to you, you can at least try the (free) mobile version first, but I think mobile is its natural home and – ironically – on consoles & PC it’s well outside its comfort zone.
As a full release it just feels a bit cheap and basic – and that’s no slur on the devs, because they’ve just ported over a game that’s been a decent success on mobile as is. It’s just far less obvious why you’d want it on other formats, as there’s no need for its mobile-oriented compromises. They make sense for a phone or tablet game, but they leave it wanting compared to other footie or management sims not hamstrung by their development roots.
Still, nice to see cadavers getting some work outside the medical research industry.
SCORE: Half a dog on the pitch out of a no score draw.