It seems to be the trend recently to port free-to-play mobile games to home consoles. This started with Angry Birds and has become more and more common, with varying degrees of success. New Star Manager first released on mobile in 2018, then Steam, Switch, and now PS4. At a time when mobile gaming is a bit of a taboo word, and football games are dominated by FIFA and Football Manager, it will be interesting to see whether New Star Manager can make an impact on all those platforms.
New Star Manager certainly comes with a pedigree that many mobile titles don’t have. It is a sequel of sorts to the wildly popular and BAFTA winning New Star Soccer – a game that had you take control of a football player for key moments in a match. The match would play out via text, and you would be parachuted in for free kicks or scoring opportunities. Your actions on the pitch would then impact your career off the pitch. It was a super simple and super fun version of FIFA’s career mode.
This game takes the New Star Soccer formula and extends it to a management sim. Matches are similar, but instead of controlling just your own player you could take control of any player on the team for those attacking moments. The controls are very simplistic; you won’t find any tricks here, just dribble, tackle, pass, and shoot. When the ball isn’t moving the game pauses, allowing you more time to decide on your next pass, or set up a forward run on to a through ball. Each match will allow you one do-over of a passage of play, so you have a little leeway if you mess up a shot or similar. A slight niggle is that you have no way of preventing goals. Despite a tackle option being included in the game, you will only ever be given control in attacking situations.
Outside of matches this is a management sim with all the features one would come to expect, plus a few extras. You are responsible for signing players and picking the team. You can also sign staff, who will provide bonus cards that can be given to a player to raise their skill ratings. If your staff are on a cool down, you’ll instead earn energy drinks. Cards and drinks can be gained faster by upgrading certain facilities, while upgrading things like the stadium and shops will gain you extra money.
While the button control in the matches generally works better than the touchscreen controls on mobile (particularly dribbling, where it was difficult to see past your finger) this was a change forced due to the controller input. Where the game hasn’t been forced to change anything it hasn’t, so there is a lot of dragging and dropping, which is not an ideal control scheme for consoles. Incidentally it worked better on the Switch version, with its combination of touch screen and controller input.
These control elements betray the mobile roots of the game, and you can very easily see the gaping hole where in-app purchases once existed in the form of the energy drinks and upgrade cards. There is definitely no getting away from its mobile origins right from the start, where the tutorial forces you into certain actions without deviation – hugely common for a mobile game, but somewhat alien to console players. Some odd elements remain which will break the immersion for those that want a more realistic simulation, such as a higher or lower guessing game for contract negotiation and press conferences where you earn bonuses by answering trivia questions about your team.
The absence of in-app purchases is not necessarily a bad thing, but as far as I can see no changes have been made to compensate for this, and it means the pace is going to be slow. Depending on how much tinkering you do, you’ll easily spend the best part of ten hours on a single season. That’s nothing for those used to Football Manager, but this experience isn’t nearly as in-depth as that, so it quickly becomes repetitive. And because you have so little spare cash, most of your management will come down to handing out energy drinks (player energy is very slow to regenerate) and upgrade cards. After two or three seasons the lack of resources you’re working with makes things much, much tougher.
It’s difficult to put a score to New Star Manager. It is, to all intents and purposes, a free-to-play mobile game that will cost you money on the PS4. As a game it’s fun to play and it’s polished, if a little repetitive. It’s no Football Manager, but for those who want a simpler experience on mobile it is certainly one of the best. I can’t, however, recommend it as a purchase on PS4. Leaving aside the fact that football manager sims don’t work hugely well on console, I can’t see how anyone would want to pay money for a game you can get for free elsewhere. Plus the repetitive nature of the game lends itself to mobile gaming on the commute, for example, rather than the longer play sessions you generally have on console. So, if you like the sound of the game, download it for free on your phone or tablet. If you don’t buy any in-app purchases, you’ll get virtually the same experience. Ultimately my score has to reflect whether I recommend this version of the game, but I can definitely say that were this a review of the mobile version, it would score much higher.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*