Sports games are generally praised if they have depth, but there's something to be said for a shallow game that gets everything right. And how far can anyone get through an entire baseball or basketball season before the grinding repetition becomes too much to bear? (That was a rhetorical question, but the answer is "About a dozen games.") There's probably no reason for owners of EA's FIFA Soccer series to pick up 2006 FIFA World Cup, since it basically grafts the same general mechanics onto the crazed pageantry of this summer's event in Germany. And yet there's something to be said for a short, dramatic run through a major event like the World Cup: Counting the round-robin regional qualifying matches, it only takes 11 matches for, say, an obscure Caribbean islet to upset those pampered Brazilian prima donnas.
A solid advance on the World Cup title from four years ago, largely thanks to features cherry-picked from Konami's definitive Winning Eleven series, the game has added qualifying rounds, so countries that didn't make it to Germany in real life get another chance. The gameplay is simple yet nuanced: lobs, strikes, passes, tackles, and through balls are easy to master right away, but there are subtler options available so you can devise formations and strategies to advance your game. More atmosphere-building might have helped—covering the players in confetti before every game seems a little half-assed—but the stakes are high enough to make each goal a fist-pumping thrill. And you only have to settle for ties in the preliminaries.
Beyond the gameplay: Included among the thin extras are movies that show footage of the German host cities and pitches without any context or narration.
Worth playing for: Goals are hard to come by, so when you manage to put together a sequence of plays, capped by a through pass that slices through the enemy's backline, it's a beautiful game indeed.
Frustration sets in when: The Global Challenge mode allows you to relive classic match-ups from World Cups past, but licensing issues force you to use only current players. What's the point?
Final judgment: Priced to sell, World Cup supplies just enough vicarious excitement to bridge the gap between now and early June.