So, just how pure is Pure Football exactly? Well, free kicks are absent, goal kicks are gone, and you aren’t going to be seeing any red or yellow cards either; so you’re free to hack away as much as you like until you max-out your Penalty Meter, at which point your opponent gets to have a pop at your goal. The pitches are pretty tightly walled-in so throw-ins occur rarely, there is no referee, and the bulk of the campaign involves you having to prioritise match-specific objectives over actually scoring goals. Pure Football happily bastardises the same sport that its title purports to hold in some kind of serious regard, and most unexpectedly, the result couldn’t be any less annoying. Or enjoyable.

Because this isn’t a simulation – it’s a thoroughly light-hearted romp that aims to portray a larky Saturday afternoon kick-about. Despite the campaign mode’s globe-trotting structure, the game feels like it’s taking place in a local park or someone’s back garden, and the experience is all the better for it. Channelling some of the magic of EA’s solid FIFA Street series, as well as the shockingly underrated Sega Soccer Slam from back in 2002, Pure Football plays fast and very loose with the sport, but it places hair-trigger entertainment way above pedantic authenticity (and courtesy) and is more than capable of standing toe-to-toe with the best representations of five-a-side football yet made.

The learning curve is fairly steep, and leaping straight into the game’s campaign mode isn’t strictly the way to go, even for hardened FIFA or Pro Evo experts; finding your feet with a few exhibition matches is definitely advised. Player customisation options are fairly limited but largely unnecessary, and the campaign boasts some extremely genial touches, like being able to woo key players from the opposition by achieving specific things on the pitch (getting a passing accuracy of over 60%, pulling off seven skill shots or more, scoring twice etc) and the importance of picking the right squad before each match isn’t completely ignored either, as the default player set-up is rarely the ideal one.

Flashy performances in each match of the campaign earn you Pure Points, which can then be used to upgrade player attributes and progress briskly up the leaderboards. The game plays fairly straightforwardly (with standard through-ball, lob and pass commands) and allows for some surprisingly effective on-the-fly tactical changes to be implemented (via the D-Pad) but Pure Football’s most satisfying mechanic is definitely the Pure Shot. Pressing shoot when you’re on goal will open up the Pure Shot power gauge, and releasing the button when the needle is in the (tiny) white section will result in a goal. Get it in the red and you’ll sky it, but land it in the adjacent green section and the next time you shoot, the cherished white segment will have doubled in size. Focused, aggressive play is always rewarded.

It’s also a very English game, and the overbearing charm of it shouldn’t be underestimated. From the sparse and muted but often hilarious on-pitch dialogue which, irrespective of your player’s country of origin, is delivered in a broad cockney accent (sample: “Well in there keepaaaah!”) to the proud belligerence of the (screen-filling) words of wisdom that appear when you fluff a penalty (“Bottled it!” “Gutted!”) it reminds you at every turn that it doesn’t want to be taken even slightly seriously. Humourless purists are sure to ignore it completely, but the majority of people who pick up FIFA or Pro Evo every year simply because they’re peerlessly entertaining videogames are encouraged not to do the same.

The annual contest for the year’s best football game has been a two horse race for well over a decade – and it still is. But Pure Football is pitching itself at a completely different audience, and unlike FIFA and Pro Evolution, it would feel right at home inside an arcade cabinet. It’s fast, moderately addictive and really shines in multiplayer. It’s certainly a title born of moderate ambition, but when a game strives this hard merely to entertain you as best it can and succeeds this impeccably, it deserves an appreciative salutation. It’s a funny old game, and defiantly lo-fi, but only a miser would insinuate that it doesn’t deliver the goods.

Watch the Pure Football trailer here…

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