Pixel Cup Soccer [$2.99 / Free] is, for better or for worse, an arcade sports game using just two buttons, and one that revels in its inaccuracy to the real sport. Those expecting a version of FIFA 14 [Free] but with pixel art will be sorely disappointed. But as an arcade soccer game, it's charming and worth coming back to again and again.
There are 16 national teams to play as with fake players, albeit with ones named after real-world soccer stars for each country, such as a "Robin" for Holland, representing Robin van Persie, "Luis" for Uruguay representing Luis Suarez. Each team has its own stats for attack, midfield, defense, and goalkeeper, with higher star rankings meaning players are faster and can kick harder, though each player has their own consistent stat rankings. Better goalkeepers will be able to cover more space, and catch the ball more often. This also means to only expect the kind of panicked free-for-all of a loose ball and out-of-position goalkeeper against terrible teams.
For a game with "Pixel" in its name, thankfully it delivers on the pixel art. The characters are represented in a style resembling Technos games, with goofy, over-the-top emotions when their team scores, or is scored upon. The animations are smooth, with many frames used to make jumps, slides, and shots look great. Even the way that a hard-hit shot flattens out the soccer ball is a great touch. Fans of the pixel art style will love this game.
The performance levels of the teams are heavily weighted in favor of much better teams. Is it possible for a team with one-star ratings to match up against a four- and five-star one? I'm not sure, becuase opposing defenders can come in and tackle the ball away too easily. Teams with slight differences have a shot, but if you're a big fan of Cameroon, don't expect to beat Spain, though they inexplicably have an amazing goalkeeper to force draws. Sadly, there's no extra time or penalty kicks for tie games - even cup matches just have rematches for draws.
This is arcade-based soccer to its core, so don't quite expect anything resembling realism. The way to score goals is to charge up a kick and spin it past the keeper, making it important to shake off defenders. If passing was at all effective, it would help with the aforementioned mismatches, but ground passing is so slow that it's easy to lose the ball to the defense, and lob passes can create situations where the ball just gets headed between different groups of players. Basically, get the ball to the fastest player, get into the goal area, curve the ball past the goalie, and win. Don't pass unless absolutely necessary.
While I'm not a soccer expert, I do feel like I could nitpick a lot with Pixel Cup Soccer's depiction of the sport. But with the art and fast-paced action, any inaccuracies feel like they're just part of the game's charm. This is not meant to be a realistic soccer simulation, and if it was claimed to be a revival of an actual early-90's soccer game, I'd probably believe it. Casual soccer fans in the mood for a game of footy with the World Cup about to take off will enjoy picking this up - I've played friendly matches several times just to kill time. There's also a free version of the game which serves as a race against time to score as many goals as possible that's worth checking out along with the full version. Just, again, don't expect hardcore soccer simulation, but the kind of soccer game you'd play on a Sega Genesis back in 1994.