A little over three weeks from now, the 2006 FIFA World Cup will kick off in Munich when the tournament's German hosts take on Costa Rica. Recent player injuries are already providing plenty of pre-tournament drama, but if you really want to get your experience under way ahead of time, you can claim the FIFA World Cup Trophy for your country in EA Sports' 2006 FIFA World Cup. EA Canada's latest football offering does a good job of re-creating the carnival atmosphere that surrounds every World Cup competition and boasts a number of gameplay refinements over last year's FIFA 06.
Gameplay options in 2006 FIFA World Cup include quick matches, online play, practice sessions, and penalty shoot-outs. In addition to those football game staples, you get global challenge scenarios, a slightly reworked FIFA lounge mode, and, of course, a chance to guide your favorite international team through the World Cup competition. The World Cup mode will almost certainly be your first port of call, and although its default settings see you assuming control of one of the 32 teams that qualified for the finals, it's possible to play as any of around 125 different teams from all over the world. Furthermore, you have the option to take your chosen team through the relevant territory's qualification process or to jump straight to the last 32 teams using real or randomly generated group information.
The presentation throughout the World Cup mode, and throughout the entire game, is great. Before each match you'll see a camera, which is positioned somewhere in orbit around the Earth, zoom in on the appropriate German stadium, and then you'll be treated to flybys of the grounds where it looks like almost every supporter in the crowd came through the turnstiles armed with streamers, confetti, and balloons. You'll also get to listen to one of the game's many licensed songs, which come from an eclectic soundtrack spanning some 14 countries. Good pre-match commentary replete with World Cup trivia and anecdotes is the icing on the cake, and as your players line up on the pitch before kickoff, you feel both excited and nervous at the same time--exactly as you'd expect to before a real match.
Although there have certainly been some improvements made to 2006 FIFA World Cup's gameplay over the already superb FIFA 06 (which are most noticeable in the shooting and passing mechanics and in the very dramatic penalty shoot-outs), the GameCube version of the game suffers from some occasional doses of slowdown. These drops in the frame rate aren't nearly as pronounced as those in the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of the game and generally occur only when there are a lot of players on the screen simultaneously. The flip side, though, is that the GameCube game doesn't look nearly as polished as those versions.
Occasional slowdown issues aside, 2006 FIFA World Cup offers a football experience that is certainly comparable to what's offered on other platforms in terms of quality, though it's not quite as realistic. It's not difficult to score goals in 2006 FIFA World Cup (largely because the game's keepers aren't too clever), but they can still be very satisfying. And if you're playing on the correct difficulty level or against a suitable opponent, you'll inevitably still have goalless draws from time to time. The player animations are uniformly excellent, and although every player on the pitch has a handful of skill moves at his disposal, you'll find that good use of the excellent first-touch controls, along with passes and through balls, is generally the best way to beat opponents. The GameCube controller handles 2006 FIFA World Cup very well, with the caveat that since it's lacking a fourth shoulder button, there are no "dummy" moves in the game, which is really unfortunate.