Sports games can be tricky to get right because people engage with them on such different levels. Some folks want a deep simulation, others might be seeking a casual competitive game with familiar rules, still others might want to simply manage the business of their sports industry of choice. The neat thing about Retro Goal is it splits the difference between just about every kind of soccer game you can think of, and it does so in a way that every piece of the game feels deep and meaningful without being overwhelming.
Trade and shoot
Retro Goal might sound like a casual arcade soccer game, but that's only sort of true. While you do control pixelated players on a pitch using simplified controls, you also are responsible as the manager to pick your team's formation, make substitutions, build up your team's facilities, and even manage morale.
In between matches, you can also sign additional players and might get pulled into dilemmas like having to decide who to criticize after a tough loss. Retro Goal has you ride with your team for a whole season, at which point you can opt to jump over to another team and reset whatever you've previously built, or press on with the same club to try and do better in the coming year.
Pass over the boring stuff
The nice thing about Retro Goal is that it never makes any of its various layers boring or overwhelming. For example, there are just three team facility bars to manage and a short list of new players you can try to add to your team at any time. You never quite have enough money to always be building your team up, but at the same time you only have a focused list of things to juggle, giving you just the right amount of things to try and work toward.
This "focused" design approach applies to when you're actually playing your soccer matches as well. As opposed to giving you the full back and forth of a match, Retro Goal only gives you player control when you have an opportunity to drive down the pitch to score. Similarly, the touch controls aren't concerned with minutiae. There are gestures for changing direction, passing, and shooting, all of which take into account your players' stats when you perform them. And a quick note on stats: they matter in Retro Goal, but you can outmaneuver teams with better player ratings than you so long as you're careful.
Retro Goal is a free-to-start game, giving players the freedom to try every thing the game has to offer through 10 matches. From there, it only takes $ 0.99 to unlock the unlimited version of the game, though there are a bunch of other in-app purchases you can make to boost your team's income or outright buy really talented players.
In my time with Retro Goal, I only played the unlimited version of the game and found the push and pull of income and player talent really satisfying. I was almost always an underdog team, but the game difficulty allowed me to succeed so long as I played well and made sound strategic decisions for the club. At the same time, I still lost plenty of matches and am still yet to win a championship (tied a few though!). This is the ideal difficulty curve for me, though. I don't want a sports game that lets me hire a bunch of all-stars and trounce everyone else. I also don't want a game that feels like I'm doomed to a certain level of performance unless I pay.
The bottom line
Retro Goal falls into a very satisfying middle ground between arcade soccer action and light management sim. Impressively, it also has a finely-tuned difficulty curve that you can ease by paying if you'd like, but provides a healthy and fair challenge if you don't. Most importantly, it feels like a sports game without trying to be too realistic or granular. Retro Goal is now my go-to mobile sports game, and I'm not sure there's any good reason why it shouldn't be yours, either.