Football on the iPhone? Surely the results can only be disappointing. Of all the game genres least suited to adaptation for touch and tilt controls, football is the least suitable. Mazy dribbling, snap-shots, last-ditch tackles... Surely all these things require physical buttons?
Real Football 2009 on the iPhone - known as Real Soccer 2009 in the US -proves that they don't. Give or take the odd control niggle, it's resounding proof that iPhone CAN cater for mobile football fans.
But we'll get to that. The game itself is a conversion of Gameloft's successful mobile franchise, whose 2009 edition has just gone on sale for regular handsets.
It might not have the console-derived fame of a FIFA or Pro Evolution Soccer, but Real Football has justifiably built a strong reputation for quality football thrills. What's more, its previous excursion to DS was an effective dress rehearsal for this inaugural iPhone outing.
The iPhone version certainly looks good, with impressive 3D visuals and sparkling TV-style presentation. Proper team names may be lacking, but a FIFPRO licence ensures that real player names are present and correct.
There's a decent choice of leagues and cups to play in, from the Premier League to the World Cup (albeit under entirely unofficial names). What's more, there's an effective tutorial mode teaching you the controls. Or at least the attacking ones. Plus you can tweak formations and starting line-ups before playing matches.
As we explained in our preview of Real Football 2009, the bulk of game actions are handled using a virtual D-pad at the bottom left of the screen, and 'A' and 'B' buttons at the bottom right. You move using the D-pad, while using the other buttons to pass, shoot and tackle.
There are variations: tapping A and swiping upwards hits a lob shot, while doing the same for B hits a long pass. Holding B hits a through-ball on the ground, while tapping B then swiping left hits one in the air. Double-tapping B plays a one-two, and so on.
Tricks are handled by tapping and dragging on empty areas of the screen, including a stepover, a 'flip flap', and a 'Marseille Roulette' (that one where you spin in a circle while dragging the ball under your foot, in true Zidane style). Oh, and you tilt the iPhone to take throw-ins - a neat touch.
In defence, A slide-tackles, B presses, and tapping on an empty area of the screen changes player. The controls are quickly learned, although you'll need a bit of practice to really make the most of them.
We'll be honest: touchscreen buttons are never going to provide a response as good as physical buttons. But the implementation in Real Football 2009 is nevertheless excellent, including the way the D-pad doesn't restrict you to four-way movement.
We had the odd niggle trying to double-tap to sprint, but otherwise, we never felt like we were fighting the controls - within a couple of matches, it felt truly intuitive.
And that's where Real Football 2009 for iPhone is a resounding success: the gameplay itself. It's just... fun. Really fun.
There's a real sense of reward as you play, stringing passing moves together and smacking shots at the goal whenever you get in range. Like existing mobile versions of the game, there are loads of little presentational touches to enhance the feeling of quality.
There's stuff that Gameloft can work on. Players head the ball when it's punted into midfield, but
seem strangely reluctant to do so in the opposition penalty area - which in turn, makes wingplay and crossing less useful. EDIT - double-tapping A in the penalty area heads at goal - something that isn't explained in the instructions or training.
We'd love to see something more akin to Pro Evolution Soccer's Master League in there too -the chance to play through a few seasons while building a team, for example. That might be wishful thinking on our part, but it would add even more long-term value.
But overall, Real Football 2009 is one of the most entertaining and rewarding football games on any mobile platform. It's certainly dispelled our fears that the genre wouldn't work with pure touchscreen controls.
We're not sure if EA and Konami are planning on bringing FIFA and Pro Evo to iPhone, but if they are, Gameloft just set the bar impressively high. And that's without mentioning the wi-fi multiplayer option that's promised for a future update of the game.
You might think iPhone football is bound to be disappointing, as we said at the start of this review. But Real Football 2009 confounds those expectations. Game on.Remember, you can keep up-to-date with the latest iPhone news and reviews in our dedicated iPhone section.