I'm eight years into my soccer management career. There have been dizzying highs (two cup wins, back to back promotions, last second winners) and there have been shocking lows (a season where I was one game away from relegation, and an ongoing battle with the board to prove I'm worthy of the big leagues), but I've loved every single second. And that's what New Star Soccer Manager does, it makes every second count.
The game is currently in soft launch around the world, and I've been playing it for a couple of weeks. And when I say playing, I mean playing religiously. I've played until my eyes hurt, until my fully charged battery has died, I've charged it up, and it's died again. So the compulsion is definitely there, but even in this pre-release stage, there's a lot more to the game than that.
The game puts you in charge of every aspect of a football club. You're signing the players, overseeing stadium expansion, and trying to keep an army of fans as happy as you can. Then there's the board to consider, and the sponsors whose names adorn your kit and hoardings. You need to get in with the press, too.
It's an incredible juggling act, and that's before you have to actually take control of certain sections of the team's matches. You're choosing passes, moving your players around, and trying to slot in that all important goal. Then the rest of the game plays out in a series of statements, with you gauging from them what you need to change about your team.
There's so much to keep on top of here, that sometimes, inevitably, the wheels fall off. You need to keep your staff happy to generate cards to improve your players, but underdeveloped players will lose more games, and in turn get upset themselves. You can take them to spas, try and talk to them about their problems, and even get spiritual healers in to try and calm them down. Sort of.
But the heart of the game isn't in the digital relationships you're forming, it's in the relationships you're building with digital players in your own head. I've sold players because they've complained too much. I've released players from contracts the day after they've scored hat-tricks. I've off-loaded players who've been with me since the start, and shattered the dreams of young players I couldn't fit into the squad.
And I've been deeply invested with every purchase, every torn-up contract, every time the staff complained that the buildings they're doing their work in weren't up to scratch. New Star Soccer Manager gives you a heavy burden to carry, and sometimes that weight is going to hang around your neck like a millstone.
This is the sort of game that encourages your imagination. You'll swear at player portraits, scream in joy when the simple 3D game engine shows you a ball flying into the net. Everything matters, on some level, and the simplistic nature of the parts of the game when taken in isolation from each other, means it's shockingly easy to fall deep under NSSM's spell.
There's real heartbreak here, and desperation when things aren't going your way. In fact this is a game that runs the gamut of emotions. You can be on the top of the world one second, then crashing down to the deepest pits of misery the next. Such is the nature of soccer, and the game captures it better than any other I've played.
In this soft launch version there are still a few problems here and there, but nothing that feels like it's going to break the game. With a few pre-launch tweaks, this could well be a thing of magnificent beauty. If you've any interest in soccer, then you should be adding New Star Soccer Manager to your wishlist immediately.