Modelling FIFA Football after FIFA 11 isn't a bad thing, but in doing so EA has released a game that fans of FIFA 12 will find hard to play if they're going to continue playing the latest version. On one hand it's undoubtedly the best handheld football game I've ever played, delivering a true home console experience, but it's also a step back compared to FIFA 12.
If you've not transitioned to the new defending systems EA introduced in FIFA 12, you'll be able to jump into this with relative ease. Sure, the excellent Player Impact Engine isn't included here, but aside from that the two games are largely comparable. The problem comes if you did invest the time and effort into learning the new tactical defending.
In FIFA 12, EA encouraged players to do away with the overly simplistic "hold button to tackle" technique that the series had relied on for quite a few years. The new system in FIFA 12 centres on player position and impeccable timing when going in for a tackle, and often you're better off merely using a player's weight and position to prevent attackers making progress. That technique cannot be adopted in FIFA Football for Vita. You hold down X to track and tackle the opposition, just like you did in FIFA 11. That's fine, but play the Vita game a lot and you'll risk hampering your performance in the daddy version of FIFA.
EA has included a number of Vita exclusive control features that use front and rear touch, but these are largely awkward to use. The touch screen can be used to direct passes into space by tapping on the location desired, passing to a player by tapping on the player you wish to take possession, changing player by tapping on another player while not in possession, and shooting by tapping inside the goal. On all accounts the front touch screen controls are hampered by the fact that it's incredibly hard to take your hands away from the standard sticks and buttons in order to press on the screen - ideally you'd need an additional hand.
Rear touch functionality is better, simply because you can access this with fingers that aren't already occupied elsewhere - although it's still far from comfortable. Tap the rear panel and you'll fire a shot at goal, with your player's aim determined by the location you tap. Finger the top right of the touch pad and you'll aim towards the top right corner of the goal, touch the middle and chances are you'll fire straight at the keeper. Things are made more complicated by the amount of time you press determining the strength and quality of the strike, an on-screen guide showing you if you've struck the ball perfectly or overdone it - usually resulting in the ball flying wildly out behind the goal.
At times the rear touch feels great, letting you accurately target your shots into the corners out of the keeper's reach, but after a while it soon becomes too easy - and despite knowing the control set-up I found myself accidentally shooting far too often. For me, touch control in FIFA Football isn't a complete failure, but something I turned off once I'd seen what it was all about. Thankfully the standard button controls work excellently - assuming you can tolerate the step back in terms of defending.
In the transition from console to handheld there have been other sacrifices, such as a frame rate that is largely smooth but not without a few hiccups, and a severely cut-down tracklist. Load times aren't awful, especially compared to the launch line-up's worst offenders, and while the visual splendour isn't the near TV-quality of the next-gen version, this is still a fine looking title.
Thankfully game modes, both on and offline are present and correct, with FIFA Football offering a substantial management mode (including the ability to play as your created virtual pro) - closely resembling the home console counterpart. Online matches aren't entirely lag-free, but certainly very playable for the most part, although sadly the excellent new online features found in FIFA 12 are, perhaps expectedly, missing - that means there's no Online Seasons or EA Sports Football Club.
Also absent at the moment are up to date squads. While all the teams are correct as of the start of the 2011/2012 season, none of the January 2012 transfers have been included. There's an option in the menu to download new squads, but nothing was available at the time of writing. Something less easy to fix is the complete lack of Ultimate Team. While some players won't care about its absence, if you're into the card trading game (and a lot of people are) you're out of luck with FIFA Football on Vita.
While it's abundantly clear that FIFA Football is a version of EA's hugely successful game ported to the Vita as quickly as possible to make the launch, it's still one of the best games available day one with the handheld. Yes, it's missing some features from FIFA 12, but the fact that the game is being compared to the full-fat home console games and not previous handheld entries speaks volumes about what the system is capable of.
This is the best handheld football game ever, but it'll undoubtedly be convincingly beaten once EA has got to grips with the hardware - hopefully in time for FIFA 13 later this year. Fingers crossed we'll then get a Vita version of FIFA that can be played alongside the home console game without having to adopt an entirely different play style. Still, for the time being, if you want FIFA on the Vita, EA has delivered an excellent port of FIFA 11.