Among the main challenges when it comes to the development of competitive online gaming in Kenya, and many parts of Africa, are the cost, speed and reliability of internet access. Broadband is still too expensive, unlimited data plans are either unheard of or come with unreasonable caps on the data you can use, leaving users to contend with the unpredictable connection from mobile ISPs. This obviously means that anyone hoping to develop a game that could turn out to be an online sensation has to scale it down to fit within these very low standards of internet connectivity.
For African game developers aiming for the potentially massive market of youth who are mostly connected to the net on their mobile phones, the correct approach would be to focus on developing games that do not consume too much data but at the same time prove to be an entertaining experience for the users. The good folks at RECON-Digital have certainly got this formula right with their flagship video game offering called Spotkick Challenge.
Spotkick Challenge is a straightforward football penalty shootout game which only involves two characters, the kicker and the goalkeeper. It can be played offline with the game’s bot or online with other human gamers in Challenge Mode or Tournament Mode. As the kicker you can select 1 out of 9 equally spaced out zones of the goal to direct the ball to. As the goal keeper you can select up to 3 zones to block. This is done by tapping the zone(s) you want to select on your phone’s touchscreen or using your mouse/touchpad or number keys 1-9 if you’re playing on PC. Not selecting a zone before your timer runs out results in blocking or kicking the ball dead centre.
Other dynamics such as the strength and curve of the shot, or the type of kick are absent, understandably because there is only so much controls you can get out of a phone’s touchscreen. The audio-visual experience is pretty basic. It tries to capture a monotonous “cheering stadium” sound without much variation throughout, which could either to be a distraction or a booster depending on how you like to take your penalties. Thankfully, there is an option to toggle audio on and off. The visuals also stick to what matters the most – the ball, the goal, the kicker and the goalie. The kicker kicking the ball, the goalie trying to block the ball. Nothing more, nothing less. Nothing fancy. Sorry, you have to do all the celebrations yourself when you win.
Before you can get to play against actual human beings, you’ll have to accumulate points by facing off against the game’s extremely stubborn AI that will seem unbeatable for a while. This will soon be forgotten once you experience the Challenge Mode. All the exciting intrigues concerning penalty shootouts come to life when you face off against another player and try to pick their brain and strategy while at the same time trying to hide your game plan from your opponent.
It gets even more intriguing in the Tournament Mode which typically runs from Thursday to Saturday of a given week with 15-30 minute sessions at 1 PM and 8 PM Kenyan time each day. The top ranked players at the end of each tournament get to win cash and/or physical prizes. For example, tournament winners in May 2014 won $100 and the new android-based Nokia, the Nokia X. How cool is that?
Of course, all sorts of cheats have been used to try and accumulate false points to win the tournaments, such as creating multiple accounts and exploiting a “disconnected opponent means you win by default” rule that has since been abolished. The development team has been really pro-active when it comes to creating a level playing field, often correcting loopholes that allow cheating, even to the extent of restarting a tournament afresh. In fact, the latest tournament (Tournament 11) was probably the fairest since the game’s inception.
The only major gripe we have with the game is the online option of receiving your prize money. Select this at your own peril because the preferred service used is Neteller. Now, getting your cash out of Neteller, or getting any online vendors that accept money from Neteller will be a major problem. It is a mystery why they choose to use this service instead of a universally acceptable one such as Paypal. If you can help it, always use M-Pesa to receive your prize money. UPDATE: The good folk at RECON-Digital explained their choice of Neteller over PayPal. PayPal do not accept cash from game winnings so they had to look for less pleasant options.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Spotkick Challenge is a simple but entertaining game with a very competitive edge that could get you hooked, especially since cash and prizes are up for grabs. It takes a small toll on your data, be it on phone on on PC. We understand that the game is still in beta so many more tweaks and extra features are bound to show up in future versions. You can download the installation file for free directly from the developers’ site or from any of numerous vendors from Safricom App Store, Ovi Store to even Amazon – the choice is yours. You can also play it on PC here.