Few smartphone games over the past decade have provoked as much of an intense and long-lasting obsession as New Star Soccer.
This is a game that distilled the world's most popular sport into a portable format better than any game prior to its 2012 debut - or since, for that matter.
It's with considerable excitement that I've been playing an early build of the next chapter. New Star Soccer Manager is due to enter soft launch within the next week or so, but here are a few early impressions.
The first thing to note is that New Star Soccer Manager is not New Star Soccer 2. That sequel essentially arrived in the form of a massive update to the original a couple of years back.
More to the point, NSSM is a very different game. Where the focus in NSS was on guiding an individual player's on and off-field antics, New Star Soccer Manager gives you a much broader overview of a complete team.
Here you're responsible for hiring staff and players, setting formations, picking sponsors, and building whole departments for your chosen football club.
While the on-pitch action gives you the kind of phase-based highlights package action that will be familiar to fans of NSS, it also calls for you to build careful team moves rather than score solo wonder goals or hit Hollywood passes.
Getting the basics right
New Star Games seems to have gone with a much more realistic approach to match-play here. There are no improbable banana shots or crazy chipped through-balls - at least not early in the game.
Rather, you'll find yourself tapping individual players to make high-percentage passes, dragging players to direct off-the-ball runs. You can hit longer balls or shots by holding and dragging in the opposite direction, while dragging a little further will set you off into a dribble.
At this early point it all works very nicely, though I still haven't fully gotten to grips with crosses and lofted balls yet. Shooting also seems to require more precision and a more careful consideration of positioning.
I take this as a good sign for the game's ongoing challenge - something that's still in the process of being tweaked, I'm told.
Don't downplay the 'Manager' part of the title. Decisions you make between matches have a direct knock-on come match-day, and it's very hard to simply play your way out of a bad situation.
So far I've made several poor decisions in these casual management sim sections that have directly hampered my team's performances come match day. Recounting them should at least tell you something about the various systems at play in NSSM.
My biggest error has been selling too many squad members, leaving me with insufficient cover and an inability to play at a high tempo for long periods. This demonstrates the importance of rotation and of investing in your medical and fitness departments.
One reason for my aggressive cuts was the emergence of a talented young multi-functional midfielder from my youth team. While his stats were high, however, he proceeded to struggle with being thrust into the first team, and made numerous mistakes that led to turnovers.
I also failed to take into account the inflexibility of certain senior players in my team, who played poorly when shifted out of position. Elsewhere, a distinct lack of chemistry between two of my forwards (reflected by social media sniping between matches) dramatically reduced my team's chance creation whenever they were on the pitch together.
The main way to deal with day to day issues such as these seems to be NSSM's card system. At any time you can bring up your collection of cards - which are earned from completing board-set tasks, conducting successful quiz-like interviews and the like - and apply them to a member of staff or player to improved their stats or energy levels.
You can apply specific cards to extend a player's contract, bolster their dribbling ability, give an energy-bolstering half time team talk and more.
I suspect that the precise weighting of this card system will be pivotal to NSSM's chances of success. It remains to be seen how the game's monetisation systems will play into all this too.
The game is set to be free to play, with pre or post-match ads and purchasable currency packs for hurrying along your club's development. Neither of these systems has been finalised in the version I've been playing, so you'll have to wait until the full review for our appraisal.
Right now, I'm still just hyped to be playing a brand new New Star Soccer game. It's undoubtedly a brave new direction for the series, but New Star Soccer Manager's pre-season form offers plenty to be optimistic about.