With Euro 2012 in full swing, what better way to celebrate this footballing feast than going way back when to 1989 with this slice of retro football, or “soccer” to our friends over the pond. Nowadays, the only choice for football fans is a decision of FIFA or Pro Evo, but back then oh we had choices, including this game from Jaleco, the same guys who published Maniac Mansion of all games, so a diverse company they were.
So popping this sucker into your machine your greeted with one of the few games not Japanese that gives the player an epileptic seizure-inducing title screen with its purple and pink letters flashing away letting you know what your playing. As if the burgundy man on the front practicing his side kicks isn’t a big enough clue. However after deciding 1 or 2 players, your presented with 4 options which will be described in greater detail; World Cup (Not quite the European Championships but good enough), Tournament. Shoot (Competition) and Continue, which i’ll tell you now is the longest password i’ve ever seen for a game, with a hefty 16 characters of mindless up and down pressing on your controller.
The World Cup is exactly that, a replica of a World Cup tournament but not based on a specific World Cup in particular. You can choose from 16 teams, including the might of the Soviet USSR, which anyone who plays retro sports games from this period will know is a great treat for those not accustomed with the Soviet era. The first 3 matches are played in a round-robin group stage before progressing through in a knock out to the final. The Tournament option from the main menu takes you to a knock-out only competition involving 8 American teams – yes American football/soccer teams. With no ratings and no knowledge of American soccer teams, your best bet is to pick any team you like the sound of and go from there. Its a nice feature for those back in the day who are not use to other nation’s football to play as these transatlantic teams but somewhat confusing for a boy in London wanting to play as Manchester United to be greeted with such delicious options as Atlanta or Miami.
If tournaments are not your bag, you could always go for straight out shoot-out competitions, the third and final playable option. By choosing from one of three exotically named players, Hansen, Roko or Juarez, you get 5 opportunities to score from dubiously placed set pieces. Score and you get a gold star, failure brings a silver star. These offer nothing more than just practice but is a nice break if you don’t have the time or patience to go through a whole tournament, however it is surprising there is a lack of an option to play one-off friendlies as in most football games.
So as to the gameplay, with the view from an overhead angled view like Pele on the Mega Drive, which in a way is nicer than sideways on gameplay. The graphics are bright, with the players’ kits well defined and bright, and vaguely reminiscent of the countries they are representing. Just without today’s fancy sponsors and manufacturers plastered all over the kit. Games are played in 15 minute halves, though not 15 real life minutes, just in-game minutes. Controls are crisp and simple – the A button shoots and tackles, B button changes player and passes, and A+B does a more powerful shot, which admittedly was only discovered 20 years later from when I first played the game. Unlike other retro games *ahem* Pele on Mega Drive * ahem * terrible * ahem*, its not impossible to score a goal, which may sound odd for a football game, but in essence the only way to win is to score, so if you can’t score then why play? There is no difficulty setting for matches which is a shame, however is a decent learning curve so not impossible for new players and not a complete whitewash for veterans of the game. Though for a challenge try completing the World Cup as Algeria!
What is peculiar for a football game is that there is music in the game, reminiscent of a Mega Man game. This strikes as peculiar for a football game, its one of the few games you would expect that would not need or want a soundtrack, so unless you want the whistles from the referee and crowds drowned out by 8-bit tunes in its glory then whack the volume up to 99 on your TV. Its not neccessary to enjoy this game with the sound on, but the tunes are quite catchy for a football game.
So how does this game fair up? Well, what makes this game unique and individual is the little touches, which goes a long way in a smorgsaboard of football games for the time. For instance, when you score, your player streaks across the screen past the crowd punching the air. As well, at half time your treated to a display from cheerleaders. I don’t know about anyone else who has been at the local stadium on a wet Tuesday night, but I don’t remember cheerleaders at Bolton’s stadium. It’s not as grand as choosing your own goal celebrations like now, or holding down different buttons to have different images on video-walls like FIFA, but still a nice touch. Finally, the game has features not seen often before in football games at the time, like swerving a shot after its kicked and on screen linesman.
Although this game is not perfect by any means, it’s still one of the better football games on the NES, with the small touches mentioned above making it more refined. It would have been easy to do a simple review of the first football/soccer on the console, ingenuiously entitled “Soccer”, but wanted to show something of substance, something of style…and at best we have this. Its hard to pick out flaws with the game as being a football game fanatic its difficult so the best thing I can suggest is to pick up a copy, going cheap on eBay and all good retro outlets, and help the USSR er I mean England to win the World Cup – it’ll be the closest thing England get to winning anything since 1966…
Rating – 4 out of 5