It’s easy to boil down the yearly iterations of Football Manager into dry lists of statistics and upgrades. Here’s New Feature A that does this, there’s Incremental Improvement B which means that.
Yet its most significant triumph is its interface. It’s a slick, smooth, and classy-looking thing, with large buttons for the fat or clumsy of thumb, inventive shortcuts, slide controls, and a drag-and-drop setup for easy substitutions, tactical tweaks, and more.
It even looks - dare we say it - attractive. In a game that's essentially a series of spreadsheets, that’s no mean feat. It’s gone from having a face only a mother could love to the managerial equivalent of Ryan Gosling.
The beauty of Football Manager Handheld is that it allows you to dabble at the most basic of levels while offering depth for those who need it. Sure, it’s not as fully-featured as the PC game, but it’s perfectly tailored for mobile play.
Take, for example, the new Challenge Mode. Here, you’re given a choice of four different scenarios to tackle, with testing challenges like finishing the season unbeaten, or convincing disillusioned players of your ability as a boss, and avoiding the sack in the process.
With your squad already in place, there’s little of the slow, occasionally laborious setup of the standard Career mode, and with half the season down in most cases these relatively bite-sized morsels are ideally suited to the format.
Elsewhere, it trims the fat from its big brother while retaining the managerial meat. You choose four from a selection of 12 countries for accurate overseas info - enough to dabble in the international transfer market without slowing down the whole game.
Each club has a complete set of reserves, and as much detail as you could ever want about a bewildering array of real-world players.
If you’re lucky enough to own more than one iOS device, you’ll be able to move your game save between them, perhaps starting the day with a quick rundown of your next opponents with your iPad at the breakfast table before playing the match on your iPhone during the commute to work.
Why always tweet?
Or, if you’re so inclined, you can show off how well you’re doing by linking your game to Twitter and Facebook, with entirely optional messages relaying your most significant achievements to friends, family, and followers.
Like most other features, it’s never forced upon you, but merely there should you need it. The same goes for Retina display support (which did cause the game to slow down a tad on our fourth-gen iPod touch) and sound effects. Or you can pull tunes from your playlist to soundtrack your squad-tinkering.
One minor niggle comes during the matches themselves - the highlights it selects can seem a little random, whizzing you to the top-down view to witness a midfield tackle while ignoring set-pieces in dangerous positions. We witnessed a few minor incidents of repetition in the text commentary, too.
But these are minor scuff-marks on an otherwise supremely polished management sim. It’s possibly the deepest iOS game around, and if you have any interest whatsoever in the beautiful game, the astonishingly generous price tag makes it an absolute no-brainer of a purchase.