It wasn’t really a shock when Glu Mobile was able to distill baseball down to a one-touch affair for its Tap Sorts Baseball games. After all, other video games have been concentrating on the pitcher-batter interaction for years. Football, though? That’s a much more difficult sport to reduce to something you could play with one hand, yet Tap Sports Football manages to pull it off and make it pretty fun.
Naturally, this involves quite a few compromises in comparison to the real thing. Forget about playing defense (somewhere, J.J. Watt just read that and ripped out of his shirt a la the Hulk) or making too many fancy moves in the field. When we say one-touch, we mean it.
There’s not even any playcalling on offense, though you do get to set an offensive philosophy that influences what the AI will call for you. You’re told what play has been called and get to see a small diagram of how it will work. A few seconds later, the ball is snapped, and away you go. If you don’t like the play selected for you, a tap on the screen before the snap will give you the option to call an audible, but only if you have an audible token to spend.
On running plays, the ballcarrier automatically gets the handoff or pitch and hits the correct hole. If defenders are right in front of him, you can tap to make him cut at a roughly 45-degree angle. Do it right and you can often spring your back for bigger gains, though the timing of your tap is critical.
Passing plays focus on a single receiver running a defined route. You can tap normally for a regular pass, or use a quick tap to put more air under the throw and lead your target — helpful if he’s out in front of the defenders. The two bad things Woody Hayes famously referred to on a forward pass are both possible, so if the coverage is too tight, you can tap the big red “Outlet Pass” button on the bottom of the screen to check down to another receiver. If only Jay Cutler knew about that!
It all sounds pretty simple, and it is. Yet to Glu’s credit, the attributes of the players figure into all of it too. Drew Brees, the game’s cover boy, has an outstanding Vision rating, so when he dumps it off to an alternate receiver, you can almost assure he’s going to be open. The quarterback on my fledgling team, Brandon Weeden? Not so much. Backs with high Durability break more tackles, receivers with high Catch ratings are less likely to drop passes, and so on. Your defenders’ ratings matter too, even if you never get to appreciate them on the job.
Most other aspects of Tap Sports Football will seem very familiar to anyone who’s messed with its baseball cousin. Soft currency can be spent on decent players, hard currency on better ones, and both are usable for better coaches who can boost whole units of your team in various ways. Special Franchise Player Coins are also for sale, allowing you to grab someone of Brees’ caliber, but only for a few games at a time. You can also buy more audible tokens by spending gold, the game’s hard currency.
Without an NFL license, the real pro players are taking the field in some pretty generic uniforms, though at least you can customize your squad to look kind of like a wide variety of NFL and college teams. The graphics could most politely be described as a mixed bag, as the players look fine standing still but all move a bit stiffly.
The other things that may rankle you a bit are the somewhat confusing system of tickets and energy used to play games, which probably deserves a tutorial all to itself. At least it can be said that there’s plenty to do, including one-off contests, league play and tournaments, all of which can yield you bonus rewards if you rack up enough yards or points to climb the daily or weekly leaderboards.
All told, it’s probably not enough to satisfy a really serious pigskin craving, but it’s fun enough in the small bites that you’re probably going to be enjoying with it, and it does get you into the “I have to improve my team” mindset that more complex team-building titles give you. Against all odds, Tap Sports Football has taken the most complicated pro sport around and turned it into something very basic, and that alone should make you curious enough to give it a try.