With around 10.2 squillion apps available, or something, there's pretty much an app for everything. Dead hedgehog identification? There's an app for that. Teach yourself gynecology? There's an app for that. Peering into your neighbour's house while she's getting undressed. There's an app for that too. And a custodial sentence.
However, while there are plenty of them, few apps genuinely stand out. Some because they offer a wealth of information. Some because they aid your creative juices in ways that a pad and pen cannot. And some because, when you pick them up for a brief dabble, they take over and consume your life. This is one of those...
New Star Soccer
- iPad (version tested), iPhone, iPod touch, Android
- Free (+69p in-app purchase to unlock career mode), £1.99
- iTunes, Google Play
New Star Soccer is both brilliant and the spawn of Beelzebub himself. It looks unassuming graphically, and is superficially basic, but you only need to play career mode for more than five games to realise that it's the pixelated equivalent of chocolate-covered crack.
The premise is simple: you are a 16-year-old footballer who has been signed by a semi-professional team and must, through a cunning blend of training and on-pitch action, win games in order to progress up the leagues. That can either be with the same team or in a more cavalier style, earning enough of a rating and respect to be signed by a better team. Either way, the game is about progression: in statistics, lifestyle and success.
At its heart, New Star Soccer is a role-playing game, even though it looks like a footy management sim, and that is where the hook lies. You will want to improve your player season after season, especially if you're a football fan in real life, as it is so rewarding. Yet you will also want to win the league, the cups, the European tournaments and even international honours. Oh, and you'll want to win big at the casino too. There really is far more to the game than you initially think.
Away from the lifestyle choices, the game engine is simple but very effective. As a player, your main statistic revolves around your health. Training can negatively affect it, as can going out with your girlfriend or mates, and, of course, playing in matches. You can replenish it by drinking energy drinks, but they cost cash, and you can only earn that by playing in matches - and playing well.
And this is where the most addictive part of New Star Soccer comes into its own. The in-game graphics are more Kevin Toms than FIFA 12, but they do a wonderful job. You see, each time you get an opportunity (as determined by how much health you wish to use up) a mini game appears, with basically the same gameplay style, but always different.
You can then choose to shoot for goal, pass to a team mate, hit a free kick or penalty, or try to intercept the ball for the rest of your team to get an effort. Apart from the tackle mechanic, the passing and shooting is done by dragging back on the tiny Eighties-inspired ball to the strength you wish and then a second screen appears with a (generally) moving ball on which you choose the striking point. Hit the bottom of the ball, it'll go up in the air, the top, it'll skid along the ground. Kick the right of the ball it'll curl left, the left, right. You get the picture.
Hit the ball wrong and you'll overhit or underhit a pass, or blaze a shot hopelessly wide or high. And all of these things will reflect badly on your final rating and the relationship you have with your boss, team and fans. Get it right and you'll win the adoration of them all and points towards levelling up. Level up and you'll be offered transfers to better teams in better divisions.
The rest we'll leave up to you. Needless to say that once you get it, you'll want to play more and more and get better and better. Even when you've won an armful of cups, there's always the feeling that you could score more goals in a season, earn more money, and buy more gear to keep your girlfriend happy.
One tip though: if you want to progress fastest, play New Star Soccer on an iPad (or Android tablet). Because of the larger screen, it's easier to judge distance and the direction of the ball. However, if you want more of a challenge, it has to be a smartphone all the way.
At least on iOS, it's a free download and allows you to play arcade mode and the first 10 matches of career mode gratis, so you could check it out on both or either - then pay the in-app purchase to unlock more. But it doesn't matter that there's an outright cost for the Android version, you will never regret paying it.