AFL CHALLENGE / Wicked Witch / Sony PSP
Normally I don't attempt games that are of a sport that I have zero familiarity with, but AFL Challenge makes it easy on a complete newcomer with simplified, arcade-style gameplay. Unfortunately, it makes it a little TOO easy, as I came in not even knowing the rules of the sport and won my first match 80-1.

Of course, I didn't know the game defaults to "easy" difficulty and you have to go into the options to change it upward at all. This led to my second disappointing discovery, however - the game only has two real difficulty settings for the computer, Brain Dead and Robotically Perfect. One setting makes your guys always zero in on the ball and be in the perfect position every time while the computer jerks off in the background; the other is the complete opposite. You can either stomp or get stomped, no middle ground.

The game looks to be made on a seriously shoestring budget, and janky AI isn't the only indicator. It actually manages to render the pitch and players in full 3D, surprising for a small title that only is about 100 MB in size, but it's barely-above-PS1 quality, and all players share the same character model. And while my research indicates that the game offers the full roster of licensed teams and players from time of release (a few years ago), there's only two stadiums to play in - one that looks like a proper stadium and the other looks like a high school field out in suburbia somewhere.

There is a season mode but it's about as basic as it gets. This is the only area where it is newcomer-unfriendly, as there's no overall ratings for any of the teams. Aside from basic roster juggling, all that season allows you to do between matches is spend money earned each game (based on your performance) to upgrade player stats in a simple "$100 = 1 point" scheme. Legalized 'roids in Oz, I guess. And when a season is up, there's no "dynasty" or "career" mode of any kind; it just ends and you're back to the title screen to start a new one. No custom team or player creation either.

I think the game's craptitude really comes down to the way it handles "marking." At the "jump ball" during the outset, or when the airborne ball comes down between two jostling players, as far as I can tell it's a complete random dice roll as to who ends up grabbing it. When the ball is "marked" and the guy gets to stand there and kick it, the guy defending him makes no real effort (and seemingly has no ability) to block or interfere with the kick, so if you get possession close enough to the opponents goal it's basically guaranteed points. This comes back to the problem with difficulty and the AI; the AI never gets better, it just monopolizes the random dice rolls whenever the ball is contested, meaning you pretty much either stomp by 80 points or get stomped by 80 points.