As someone who covers the PlayStation Vita on a daily basis, I’m aware of the common myth that Sony’s handheld has “no games”. While I admittedly disagree with this sentiment, I do have to acknowledge at times that there are some gaps in the Vita’s library. One such void that has truly yet to be filled is a proper selection of sports-based titles, whether they be of the arcade or simulation variety. Thankfully developers Honeyslug have delivered a charming and addictive soccer/football game that does more than simply aid in “passing time”, but in fact eating up large chunks of it.
When you first jump into Passing Time the experience can be quite deceiving. Your first kick at the game leads you right into the tutorial, which as you might of guess, introduces you to the fundamental mechanics of the gameplay. The tutorial is built around Passing Time’s standard mode, which goes by the name Passing. In this mode your players stand with possession of the soccer ball in a perimeter which surrounds the opposing team. The goal of the mode is to pass the ball as many times as possible before the opposing herd of opposition steal it away. The controls couldn’t be simpler as all that is required to pull off a successful pass is a tap of a target on the PS Vita’s touchscreen.
Initially this can see mundane and perhaps even easy, but this is no simulation. As time ticks away, waves of players join the flock that chase after your precious ball. In order to deal with the growing number of obstacles that stand in the way of your high-score you must pass the ball quickly so that your heat meter fills up, and when it’s full a simple tap of a button sets it aflame. With your ball sent ablaze you can direct passes through “enemy” players and send their scorched corpses to the ground. This may sound pretty morbid but thanks to Passing Time’s pseudo 8-bit art style and Honeyslug’s unique sense of humour – it’s all done in good fun. In fact, maaking ash patties out of players is not only funny but it also offers you more room for passing.
Once the tutorial is out the way it can be surprising just how much content Passing Time has to offer. Beyond the aforementioned Passing mode there are also Free Kicks, Corners; Matches and a Challenge mode that incorporates elements of them all with the addition of some troublesome stipulations. Each one of these modes dramatically changes the way that the game plays, and that change of pace can lend a sense of freshness to a title that could otherwise become monotonous.
Take for example Free Kicks you take over set pieces, with no control as to where your players go. Instead each player has been given a predetermined route or behaviour. Some players charge the net, others go horizontal, some go backwards and there are those who stand still. Likewise players on the defending team also have their own predefined courses and it’s your job to manoeuvre your way to the net and score as a many goals as possible in 60 seconds. The one constant in each mode is passing, and you must use this one skill (as well as strategy) to bypass the opposition. Once you have an open lane a quick tap of the net is all it takes to rifle a shot and hopefully rack up a tally of points.
The Challenge Mode brings forty-arduous situations just like this, but with the increased difficulty of various time constraints, handicaps, and goals. Each challenge is unlocked by successfully meeting the minimum requirements of the previous, with multiple tiers of achievement based on how well you perform. In Challenge mode you never linger on any one variety of play style for too long, and as such clicking the button to bring on the next challenge can become unexpectedly addictive.
Where Challenge mode may be the all-encompassing feature of Passing Time, the Matches mode offers a console-light experience of what soccer/football fans are used to. Choosing from either League or ladder play, Matches mode gives the player “full” control of a team in a proper match; complete with two halves. Unlike in Corners and Free Kick, in this mode you have direct control over your players via touch control. A drag of a player sets his course on offense, and on defense the same can be used for marking. A flick for a tackle, a touch for a slide – the amount of control given to the player in Matches is relatively impressive given the bit-sized manner of the title. While gameplay is obviously not anywhere near as robust as FIFA 14 on Vita, and League Mode is at its essence little more than a basic ladder; it manages to round out an already.
Perhaps equally, or even more impressive than the amount of content Passing Time throws your way is the unexpected customization that is available in regards to your team. In the options not only can you change the power and control of your squad, but you can also edit their kit, names and heads. Moreover you can even check on your teams stats or enter into a round of “Kick About” for practice if you are so inclined. These may seem like inconsequential adjustments, but having the freedom to mould the team of your choice allows Passing Time to sink its hooks deeper than it would otherwise. One could even forgive Passing Time for lacking in presentation, but defying reason it manages to charm with retro-style graphics and thudding sound effects. Simple things like watching your tiny players dive for headers, or listening to the cheer of the crowd during a play really draw you in.
The single issue that plagues Passing Time is due to the PlayStation Vita’s relatively insensitive touch screen. In tight scrums the Vita has a tough time determining what exactly you are tapping on. You may be one on one with the goalie after a difficult set piece and instead of shooting on net when you place your finger against the goal, you may just find yourself throwing a back-pass to a marked teammate. This doesn’t happen with much consistency, but when it does (chiefly in succession) it can become increasingly frustrating – especially in the latter stages of the Challenge mode.
Honeyslug games always seem to exist based on ideas that fall outside of the box, both visually and conceptually; and this is no exception. Passing Time ingeniously translates the methodical sport of soccer/football to a fun pick-up and play arcade experience. Filled with far more content than it should for it’s lowly price point, Passing Time excels beyond a soulless time-waster. Its title may be a double entendre, but as a game there is no two ways about it; this is a game worthy of the cup. 4.7/5