Let's get this out of the way first: FIFA Soccer 13 on the Wii U is not a straight port of the game found on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. There's no improved first-touch system, FIFA Street-inspired dribbling, or any of the tweaks made to the physics engine. And most disappointingly, there's no sign of the wonderfully addictive FIFA Ultimate Team.
What you're left with is essentially FIFA 12 with a roster update and some good, and not-so-good, Wii U GamePad additions. That's not entirely a bad thing--the core action is still as fun, tactile, good looking as it ever was--but if you're looking for the latest and greatest from EA Sports on the Wii U, FIFA Soccer 13 is a disappointment.
What is new are the enhancements made for the Wii U GamePad. At its simplest, you can use the GamePad to play the entirety of the game away from the TV, but things get far more interesting when you use it alongside your existing display. A set of tabs along the touch screen let you perform various managerial tasks while the action unfolds on the pitch. You can perform substitutions, change your formation, and dictate new strategies to your team, such as how aggressively they should be attacking and shooting, all with just a few taps. The big, bold buttons are easy to tap, and while you might not be tweaking things during a heated forward run, pauses for throw-ins or set pieces provide the perfect opportunity to make a few tweaks, and much more conveniently than trawling through the standard menu screens.
There's also a radar screen that gives you a simplified overhead view of the action. On the screen, you can tap on a player and drag him across the touch screen to send him on a run, or tap on the opposition to mark and defend against specific players. This is a neat use of the tech, but not something that's easy to do during a match--the point at which you want to send players on a run or mark someone is the moment you can't afford to take your eyes off the TV. What you can do, though, is enlist the help of a friend to play manager while you concentrate on the action with a Pro Controller. It works surprisingly well--so long as your friend doesn't mind being relegated to the touch screen--letting you set up specific and more-intricate plays than the AI. The system is open to some epic griefing too. As mean as it is, sending your mate's goalkeeper to the other end of the pitch during the opposition's attack is pretty amusing.
The other touch screen enhancements fare less well, namely those that let you touch to shoot and pass. Holding the GamePad up in front of you changes the touch screen into the face of the goal, letting you take shots by tapping where you want the ball to go. You can also tap on teammates to pass the ball to them, or tap on the opposition to go in for a tackle. While these features all work, taking your hands off the sticks and face buttons to press the touch screen is awkward and ultimately slower than just using the buttons. Penalties and set pieces work slightly differently. In those cases, you control a cursor by moving the GamePad around, using the cursor to aim your shot and pressing shoot to control the shot's power. Though purists may baulk at the idea, this system makes taking penalties much easier, and you still have the option of using the traditional controls, if you prefer.
If you do opt to play using the traditional control schemes or a Pro Controller, then you get the same FIFA experience launched last year with FIFA 12. That means defending with containment, jostles, and well-timed tackles rather than using the old two-button "pressing" technique, which sent players in to close down attackers and win the ball, requiring little in the way of skill. The physics-based player impact engine also makes a return, albeit in an older, less-refined form. That means you still get a fun, energetic, and wonderfully compelling game of football. There's little more satisfying than a well-timed cross followed by a thumping header, a heroic run up midfield for a one-on-one with the keeper, or a just-in-time clearance from the box. There are so many great moments to be had that the missing FIFA 13 tweaks aren't a deal breaker, even if it's disappointing to see the Nintendo version of the game still lagging behind other platforms.
What might be more of a deal breaker for some are the stripped-down online features. The most glaring omission is the compelling Ultimate Team--FIFA's mix of role-playing-game-like card trading, Top Trumps, and football management. The excellent EA Sports Football Club online mode, which keeps track of any experience points earned and ties them to a real-world team, is sorely missing too. What you're left with are the basics: Head to Head Seasons, an online league where you work your way through different divisions; Online Friendlies, where you compete against your friends for a trophy; and custom games. They're fun modes, particularly Online Friendlies, which makes playing regular matches against your friends much more exciting, but it's hard not to miss the more in-depth modes.
The single-player side suffers less, if only because it has seen little in the way of updates since FIFA 12. There's Virtual Pro, where you create a player, selecting his age, play style, and position; and Career, where you can take your virtual player or a real-life player through a 15-year career. There's also a range of basic tournaments to play through, from the FA Cup through to custom leagues and knockout tournaments, as well as quick exhibition matches. What's missing are the weekly statistics updates for teams, which affect stats for attack, midfield, and defence. Gone, too, are the skill games that appeared on other platforms, which replaced the old keeper-vs.-player loading screens of the past with addictive, bite-size challenges.
The exclusion of these features isn't the end of the world, but it's a loss for players nonetheless. Still, FIFA 13 is an enjoyable and thoroughly rewarding football simulation--and is good looking too. Everything from the menus, to the music, to the action on the pitch is slickly presented and smoothly animated. Some of the GamePad additions are welcome, and at least it's easy enough to ignore the ones that aren't. This is by far the most feature-packed and enjoyable game in the FIFA series to hit a Nintendo console. It's not the best version out there, but it's a good start to the series on the Wii U all the same.