FIFA 2007 DS
| FIFA 07

Every season, the Premiership welcomes three new clubs promoted from the Championship below. And virtually every year at least two of the newcomers end the season by going back down.

Usually it's not a case of the teams being terrible – they'd never have got there in the first place if they couldn't play. Indeed some do relatively well early on, claiming big scalps and stringing points together. Ultimately, however, they come up a little bit short and slip away. If they're lucky, they hang on by the skin of their teeth to start the process all over again.

On DS, FIFA is the equivalent of one of these promoted clubs. It has all the fundamentals required for a great game, a wide choice of fully statistically modelled teams, a hatful of modes, off-the-field options, and some nice homegrown DS-tailored features.

Also in the spirit of most of those promoted clubs, it doesn't play beautiful-looking football. In fact, the game is pug ugly. The player models appear to have been hit with the same ugly stick that bashed Iain Dowie, Peter Beardsley and broke on Wayne Rooney.

The game seems to favour a plain style of football action too, with kick-and-run tactics (or at least 'kick and tackle and force off the ball and run' tactics) being the order of the day.

But while cultured fans brought up on Champions League contenders will wince, the truth is FIFA 07 on DS is far from unplayable. In fact, in many ways it's actually quite effective.

Turn the view from the default action cam to the zoomed out 'tele' mode, and the Dowie syndrome subsides a little. You'll soon discover you're able to craft some incisive moves, too.

The basic ground passes, lobbed balls, through-balls, headers, volleys and tackles work pretty well, and the whole thing moves at a fair pace. The controls are also comfortable, with sprints, skill-moves and the ability to trigger defensive cover or make the keeper charge out all present and correct.

This action takes place on the top screen, leaving the touch screen reserved for tactical decisions. Glancing down at its radar screen is viable enough, and works well with set pieces (giving you three options of players to pass to), but triggering the more advanced features mid-game is problematic, as it requires you to look away from the action. With a little practise you should be able to start using the formation tactics buttons listed down the right-hand side, but the novel new trace-a-run feature (in which you drag a player's icon with your stylus to make him run into space) proves far too fiddly to bother with.

This isn't a terrible flaw, as it's not essential for the game: it's more the equivalent disappointment of an exciting foreign signing who doesn't gel when the season starts. (The over-repetitive commentary (Tyldesley, shut up!), excessively enthusiastic replays, and occasional over-powered punches and saves that send the ball flying to the corners induce similarly mildly dispiriting feelings.)

Still, the attacking flaws are countered by a solid defensive performance, with players that can close down the opposition and block passes, and a relatively sensible keeper.

What's more, there's strength in depth in terms of the options. You get a Career mode (five seasons to win as much as possible without too many management options), Challenges (gives you scenarios to complete), and a host of mini-games. There's also head-to-head multiplayer, and unlockable features to encourage single-player gamers, including the rather neat custom chant (shout your own chant into the microphone and you can trigger it in game).

It could all have been enough to see FIFA 07 securing a commendable upper-table berth. Sadly, what prevents that (and almost thrusts the game back into the relegation zone) is another common failing of recently promoted teams – it's just too easy to beat.

On the Amateur mode, we were regularly running up cricket scores (well, an England batting score anyway) against all-comers. It was only at World Class mode that we came up against any serious opponents. Admittedly this top setting does offer a decent challenge, but surely you shouldn't have to go to the very toughest level straight away?

Ultimately, FIFA 07 is a commendable step up from last year's performance. But its position at the top table of DS footie is as much down to a lack of any competition as its own limited ability. We'll be looking for a further improvement next year to keep it in contention.

FIFA 2007 DS

A marked improvement earns FIFA 07 a toehold in the DS Premiership, but it'll need to work harder next time to keep moving up