As the great Satoru Iwata once noted: "Above all, video games are meant to just be one thing: fun for everyone." Whether you agree or not, games can certainly cheer you up when you're feeling low. With that in mind, Chris Schilling's column The Pick-Me-Up focuses on games that can make you smile in just ten minutes. Today's selection is Soccer Physics : a local multiplayer that will have even haters of the "beautiful game" soon enough cracking up.
For the life of me, I can't quite recall how I stumbled across Soccer Physics, but I'm forever glad I did. It's one of a range of local multiplayer games from Finnish developer Otto-Ville Ojala, that he released on the App Store between 2013 and 2014. Ojala designed them all with immediacy in mind: Each is controlled by a single onscreen button, from the strangely tactical grappling of Wrestle Jump to the simple whack-a-mole pleasures of Mole Hammers. This, however, is his masterpiece: A game of football that's every bit as enjoyable if you hate the sport.
Wisely figuring that the game is most exciting when the ball's pinging around either goalmouth, Ojala has cut down the space between the two nets to the absolute minimum. There are two players on each side: One is a de facto striker, the other a goalkeeper, but the roles are interchangeable. That's because each time you tap the button to, as the game puts it, "somehow control your team", both will jump up and flick a boot out.
Sometimes, this means they'll end up swapping positions; occasionally they'll wobble drunkenly as they land; more frequently, they'll fall over. After each goal, the rules will often change: The pitch will become slippery, you'll play with a beach ball or an American football, the goals will double in size, or your players will be topless and/or headless.
All this chaos can lead to the odd spectacular moment, like seizing upon a kind bounce to launch yourself at the ball and power a diving header into the top corner, or somehow executing a delicate chip that's just about to come down under the crossbar, before the opposing keeper tips it over with a well-timed leap.
"I was so helpless with laughter that I could hardly breathe. My son took things a step further by throwing up in his own mouth."
The rest of the time it resembles one of those compilation videos of football bloopers that a flustered aunt has bought you as a last-minute birthday present—albeit with none of the witless C-list celebrity commentary. In one game, your goalie might pull off an impromptu headstand between the posts. Your striker may launch a flying kick into an opponent's midriff. Or all four players might end up resembling a human centipede, wriggling around helplessly as the ball trickles towards the opposite goal.
My favorite Soccer Physics moment came in a closely fought match with my son. The score was 4-4, and with full-time being declared when one team reaches five, this was the game's dramatic climax. After what felt like several minutes desperately trying to nudge the ball over the line, with both his players lying prone inside their goalmouth, my striker suddenly leapt up and thundered a spectacular overhead kick into his own goal. I was so helpless with laughter that I could hardly breathe. My son took things a step further by throwing up in his own mouth.
There's a two-button option that lets you move each player individually, which gives you a modicum more control, at the cost of some of the slapstick appeal. Over time, you can definitely learn to read the movement of players and ball a little better and to improve your chances of winning.
But Soccer Physics isn't a game that was ever meant to be mastered. It's the kind of game that makes you laugh until you're sick, and I can think of no higher recommendation than that.