First impressions count at the World Cup finals. With just three matches to guarantee progression to the next round, no team can afford a bad start. It's why the opening games tend to be dull – whilst all managers would naturally rather win and claim all three points, the most important thing is not to lose, and so they adopt a decidedly cagey and cautious approach.
For its first mobile World Cup simulation, 2006 FIFA World Cup, EA has taken a markedly similar approach, delivering an immediately accessible but general unremarkable performance.
The opening screens are surprisingly minimalist for an EA Sports title, with a sole glimpse of the World Cup all that's offered to set the scene. All the teams are present and correct, though. Players feature a range of statistics to help you select your ideal squad, and there's a good choice of formations and strategies – but the lack of any other options beyond Friendly, World Cup and a rather poor Penalty Shoot-out Challenge feels adequate rather than inspiring.
Dive into a match and your impressions are similarly muted, the impact of smooth 3D stadia and players being cancelled out by the rough textures that most phones will afford, and the occasional habit of players to all but disappear when viewed side on.
The control system did raise our expectations, promising a range of passing (to-feet, through-balls and crosses) as well as dribbling (this is one of the first mobile titles to enable you to seamlessly direct players in eight directions via the joypad alone) using just one thumb.
In practice, however, the passing system is overly fussy and limited in what it can produce, and any opportunities that are created tend to be lost by what seem like lacklustre shooting controls.
2006 FIFA World Cup isn't terrible, mind, and though first impressions end in a scoreless stalemate (chances are your match will too), we had high hopes that a little more time to gel with the controls would yield a more satisfying attacking match.
Sadly, whilst teams in the World Cup proper might begin to ease through the gears after their opening encounters, EA's mobile game never really develops.
You do become more familiar with the passing system after five matches or so. Recognising the different coloured cursors that show your passing options, you'll start to string passes together, cross balls in and actually score goals (rewarded by a neat little replay). You might also begin to fool around with formation and strategy options to affect your style of play. But even then the game remains a fairly flat experience.
A combination of uninspiring ball-physics (passes and shots are either ground huggers or hoofs), limited player animation (especially with the keepers, who tend to collapse rather than diving) and underwhelming shooting options (no headers or volleys, and you seldom feel in charge) conspire to ensure the game never really convinces.
Ultimately, while 2006 FIFA World Cup doesn't disgrace itself, it doesn't raise its game in order to squeeze past the group stages – never mind hold aloft the trophy.