Even though Disney Sports Soccer doesn't exactly conform to the traditional soccer-game formula, it is a passable choice for those who just want a simple interpretation of the sport.
Disney Sports Soccer plays so fast and loose with the official rules of the game that you sometimes don't feel like you're playing soccer at all. Each team consists of four field players and a goalie, which is considerably less than the 11 players you'd see on the field during a real MLS or FIFA match. At the same time, positions are fairly meaningless. Players spend half the time defending one-on-one against a corresponding member of the opposing team, and the rest of the time running up and down the field with little rhyme or reason. As a result, passing isn't nearly as important in Disney Sports Soccer as it is in a real soccer match. There are a few foul calls and penalty kicks that give the game a little bit of traditional soccer atmosphere, but generally this game was designed for people who don't know the rules of soccer very well or who just want to concentrate on launching the ball at the goal.
As the title suggests, the teams in Disney Sports Soccer are captained by familiar Disney characters. Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, and Pete all have their own teams that are filled out with players who look just like their corresponding captain. Pete's team, for example, is full of huge, lumbering players who don't run so much as walk up and down the field. One good thing about Pete's team, however, is that his players are so tall that opponents' high kicks tend to bounce right off them instead of going over their heads. Another interesting feature of Disney Sports Soccer are the magic items you can collect. Each one gives you a different special ability that you can activate when your magic meter is filled. These vary from extra speed and turbo kicks to wild tornadoes and the ability to teleport.
While the game doesn't make much of an effort to faithfully emulate soccer on the whole, it also doesn't really need to. The game is fairly playable just the same. The controls are simple, and it doesn't take long to learn how to perform lob passes and headers just as well as ground passes and straight kicks. Switching between players is also relatively easy. When you're playing defense, you can trip or tackle your opponents, but the referee tends to call a foul for the tackle maneuver, so you have to use it carefully. Even though the ref won't eject your players, he will award a free kick or throw-in to the opposing team. Generally, the CPU is a pushover on lower difficulty settings, but on higher settings it will try to trip you or break out a display of flashy head passes in order to disorient you. Nevertheless, there isn't much strategy to the game. You usually won't encounter the defense until you're setting up for a shot on goal, when the game turns into an all-out melee of trips and tackles. Younger players will enjoy this aggressive interpretation of soccer, but older players may be bored stiff by a lack of midfield steals or pass attempts. In this respect, the ability to enable realistic soccer rules, or at least a more aggressive passing game, would have been a nice option.
Visually, the game looks as good as any other sports game on the Game Boy Advance. It uses the system's scaling and rotation abilities to present a three-dimensional field with players who move closer or farther away from the camera, depending on their actions on the field. The characters themselves move stiffly, but they're pretty large and drawn with enough detail that you can recognize your favorite Disney characters. One nice touch is the instant replay system that kicks in after every foul or goal, allowing you to rewind, fast-forward, and pause the previous play. The audio that accompanies all the action isn't as solid, but the music is happy and the sound effects are diverse enough that you never get the impression that the game is quiet.
Disney Sports Soccer also isn't too shabby when it comes to the number of included gameplay modes and secrets. There are exhibition and training modes, as well as two different tournament types in which you can earn magic items that you can equip your team members with in future matches. Using the standard link cable or the GBA-GC link cable, you can also trade these items to someone else with the game or with the GameCube version of Disney Sports Soccer. Besides the traditional options, there are also six soccer-themed minigames to play, as well as a spectator mode in which you can watch two CPU teams compete against one another. All the gameplay modes, except for the spectator mode, support up to four players with the use of a GBA link cable.
Even though Disney Sports Soccer doesn't exactly conform to the traditional soccer-game formula, it is a passable choice for those who just want a simple interpretation of the sport. It may be a little too simplistic for some, but it's just right for younger players and those who find the Disney cartoon characters entertaining.