Not expected until October, the iPhone and iPod touch version of FIFA 11 has arrived on iTunes a day before its console big brother hits the stores, presumably to capitalise on the buzz by offering fans something to play before their Xbox 360 and PS3 pre-orders arrive.

And it's already entered the top ten paid app charts, so Electronic Arts is clearly no fool.

But, considering its rush release, does that mean that it's not up to scratch, and that the software company is hoping to shift units before everybody gets wise?

No, is the short answer. It's brilliant.....


iPhone, iPod touch

Having played the Xbox 360 version of FIFA 11 for 2 whole days - morning, noon and night - in order to review it in considerable depth (review now live on Pocket-lint), we thought it would be hard to see the stripped-down iPhone version as anything but an under-featured distant cousin. But we were wrong.

It may not have all the grandstand features that the new console iteration of the game now sports, nor will it ever look quite as good on a 3.5-inch display, but FIFA 11 is a mighty game in its own right - a wonder of modern programming that crams so much into its diminutive stature that you'll be scratching your head as to why EA kept the price down to a measly £2.99.

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Take that price for starters. Bar some touchscreen tweaks and shenanigans, the Apple device version is as good, if not better, than the PSOne or, even, PS2 FIFAs that came out a few years back. Yet, while they cost roughly £30, this is ten times cheaper.

It has also been optimised for the Retina Displays of the iPhone 4 and iPod touch (latest generation), so is better defined, more colourful and crisp than either of those SD consoles were capable of.

This is most apparent in the wide shots during replays and breaks in play. You can actually see the tiny players on the pitch.

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Admittedly, the close-ups aren't really anything to shout about. Certainly, as the console versions feature more and more realism in player models as iterations progress, the players rarely look anything like their real-life counterparts in this instance. You only need look at the picture of Fernando Torres at the top of this review to see that (and who exactly is he standing with? Could be Daniel Agger. Could be Kevin Spacey).

That said, the kits are fully and accurately rendered, and considering that there are over 500 teams from a large number of world leagues on offer, and you realise the scale of the game. Additionally, there are 50 representations of real stadiums in the game, and they look superb, even if there's just a fuzz where the crowd should be. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself to realise that this is a game running on a mobile phone.

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Naturally, another sacrifice from the grown-up versions of FIFA 11, is the number of game modes on offer. However, you can play entire league or cup seasons with your chosen team. There's no transfer market, like with the console equivalents, but come on? This should provide plenty of action for the casual gamer.

If you can get to grips with the control system, that is. We've got to be honest and say that virtual D-pads on the iPhone or iPod are fiddly at best, and if you've got big thumbs you may find it hard to get the direction or button you want at that moment. Plus, they may crowd out the action so that you can't quite see what's happening underneath.

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To help, EA has introduced a new "floating D-pad" which only appears when you place your left (or right, depending on dexterity) thumb on the screen. It will also appear exactly where you want, so you needn't miss the control entirely in the heat of the action.

Also, alongside buttons for pass, shoot, etc, you can tap any player on the screen, and the ball will be hit towards them. Plus, you can create runs for players off the ball by swiping them in the direction you want them to go. This is all expert stuff, admittedly, and extremely hard to pull off for a while, but at least it rewards those who want to put in the effort.

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Ultimately, though, what makes FIFA 11 on iPhone and iPod touch so appealing is it provides an excellent game of football. Yes, it doesn't have the jostling, passing or personality features of the latest console version, nor is it as in-depth, but it plays very very well indeed. And that's more than enough for a train or bus journey, surely.

And did we mention that it's only £2.99?

Have you tried the iPhone/iPod touch FIFA 11 yet? If so, let us know your thoughts in the comments below...