The best sports game on mobile gets better every year. This year's release is no exception, showing off some changes much bigger than the new name, FIFA Mobile. EA's benchmark soccer game improves so much more than similar games because it does something other sports apps struggle to do: aware that it's a mobile game, it decides against cutting down a console game to fit the new size. Instead, it transforms itself specifically for mobile, adding as much as it subtracts.
With an overhauled user interface, FIFA Mobile emphasizes its new game modes by starting with Attack Mode and Live Events, locking everything else until you reach level 5. And with these two modes, it makes it clearer than ever that it's a game designed to play on mobile. The app is free, with lots of in game opportunities to foolishly spend real money (you have a certain amount of "charges" that you spend to play games; this has become the trend among mobile games to persuade people to spend money). It weighs in under 100 MB and lets you sync your account between devices by logging in with Apple Gameenter or Facebook. Log in and you're thrown back into the always surprising depth of this mobile game.
Attack Mode, the biggest new feature, is a truly miniaturized version of soccer, condensed without ruining the beauty of the app's gameplay. It's also a huge extension to online multiplayer—essentially a turn-based game where you only play the offensive breaks and skip defense altogether. The game starts from kickoff, or a throw-in, or corner kick, or even in slow motion in the middle of a drive to the goal. That's where you grab the controls and try to score. Miss the shot, kick the ball out of bounds, or let the other team take possession past midfield and the drive ends, jumping a few rapidly passing minutes until your next attempt.
Every drive starts differently, since the game essentially simulates every minute that you're not playing. So you might start from a free kick if the AI opponent fouls your player during the sim. I got slide tackle happy when I realized I wouldn't have to worry about losing possession, since I get the ball right back anyway for the next drive. But after awhile, I realized I had to be more careful because I was giving the opponent more chances to shoot. When your 45 accelerated minutes are up, your real-life opponent gets a notification that it's their turn. Each of you plays a first half, and then a second half, and whoever scores the most goals wins.
Live events, another exciting addition, take this condensed play and transforms it into challenges: make two shots in five attempts from a certain spot on the field; come back in the second half to tie or better against PSG; or score a hat trick. It's easy to imagine a wide range of challenges in the future. Most of them have time limits of a day or two before they disappear and winners emerge.
A good team is still essential to both of these new features and this continues to be the part of the game where you can lose yourself in the depth. Between the player market and the unlockable, winnable, or buyable card packs, team building takes time and strategy. Serious players can spend serious time trading and trying to grab that golden midfielder. The game boasts 30 leagues with 650 real teams, total—that means 17,000 players, plenty to drive fans crazy. The "Ultimate Team" factor might have disappeared from the title but it did not disappear from the game.
The controls remain as simple as ever: just a few buttons, a joystick, and some swipes to master. Oh, and now you can join online leagues, complete with inter-league championships and tournaments. In case you still haven't downloaded the game, it's worth saying that it's not some 8-bit side scroller (although those can be extremely fun!). FIFA Mobile has fantastic graphics that equal any portable console. The app is insanely fun, surprisingly deep, constantly getting better—it's a console game transformed (not just adapted) for a phone or tablet, and that's the key that makes it the best sports game on mobile.