Presented by Nreive & Duffman

With the 2010 FIFA World Cup well underway, we thought we would have our own little World Cup of soccer games tournament. We discussed — nay, argued — for what seemed like days to what was the best eight football (aka soccer) video games in existence. Not only that but we had to agree on what games should even qualify for the competition in the first place — oh, it is games before the year 2000 for obvious reasons — and then, most importantly, the games’ final standings. We also picked out our outstanding player award for each game — basically, what we think is the best version of that game (oh, as controversial as Maradonna’s “Hand of God”). So, to kick things off, and in no particular order, here are the games that made it to our quarter finals…

Match Day II

Match Day II was a bit of a revelation when it was released for the main 8-bit computers in 1987. Taking the basis of the first game, developer Jon Ritman added to it and produced a very playable football game. The game has league and cup options as well as some unique gameplay elements. The main feature of MDII is the Diamond Deflection System. This feature means that the ball deflects realistically off players and goal posts at the correct angles, creating realistic ball movement.

Other features include a kick meter, where a power bar at the top of the screen cycles through 1, 2, 3, 4 and down again. If a player kicks the ball while the meter is at one then the player will produce a small pass/shot, while kicking at three or four will produce a much harder and higher shot. While innovative, the feature means that you often delay shooting or passing until the meter is at the correct area, thus enabling the opposition to close in to dispossess the player. Producing headers and volleys is also possible, with the volley speed depending on where the kick meter is when you connect with the ball. Barging against opponent players is also possible, with two players pushing against each other to get to the ball.

With custom team names such as Ritman Utd and Soccerama and the use of the When the Saints Go Marching In tune, it’s hard to forget the memories of playing the game. Despite its minor faults, Match Day II remains one of the greatest classic football games of our time.

Outstanding player award: Amstrad CPC (Ocean Software, 1987)

Microprose Soccer

It’s often said that Microprose Soccer is the forerunner to the fantastic Sensible Soccer, and it’s true. Using a unique overhead viewpoint, Mircroprose Soccer brought a whole different direction for the football game market. Initially developed by Sensible Software for the C64 in 1988, the game has been ported over to many other home computers, with varying degrees of success.

One or two players can take part in a full 11-a-side international game or a 6-a-side indoor game. As well as the standard movement and passes, the game features slide tackles, chips and interestingly some rather whacky swerve shots. The game does tend to run at a grand old pace and the player needs to be alert at all times. This is amplified in the indoor game where the game doesn’t pause for throw-ins or corners as the ball bounces off the surrounding walls.

One feature that had gamers foaming at the mouth in 1988 was the action replay that occurred after each goal. This is indicated by a pulsing “R” at the top of the screen as the goal is replayed in slow motion, sometimes with rewind crackling effects just before the feature.

The Sensible Software team are a humorous bunch of guys and you just have to play their games to witness this and Mircoprose Soccer is no exception. This is evident when the weather features are implemented. When the rain comes pelting down — accompanied by some pretty effective lightning effects — players slide about and the ball can zoom straight into the goal, leaving the goalkeeper sliding across helplessly.

The game probably doesn’t take itself seriously enough for many gamers — Sensible Soccer fans included — but this is an enjoyable arcade style game that even novices can enjoy.

Outstanding player award: C64 (Microprose, 1988)

FIFA 99

Unfortunately, our copy of FIFA 2000 wouldn’t work so we had to settle with our copy of the previous edition, FIFA 99. When EA Sports released FIFA International Soccer back in 1993, the game seemed like a breath of fresh air. What with its superb presentation, options galore, some fine gameplay elements and a unique pitch perspective. While those are all true, it can’t hide the fact that the game suffered because of these elements – and still does to a degree. The isometric pitch perspective was the wrong decision for a start so thankfully this changed when the series entered the free flowing 3D perspective phase. FIFA 99 uses this free flowing camera perspective and while it’s not entirely successful it is an improvement on the earlier 16-bit versions.

What the FIFA game also has up its sleeve is the official licensed content, including teams, players’ names, several leagues from around the globe, introductions from football presenters Des Lynam and Gary Lineker as well as match commentary from John Motson along with Mark Lawrenson and Chris Waddle. We can’t deny that all this adds to the authenticity of the game, but what lets the game down (as with all FIFA versions) is the viewpoint and gameplay. The viewpoint is very restrictive and prevents the player from producing successful strategic passing movements. The passing itself is computer controlled, meaning that when you press the pass button, the computer will direct the pass to the other player’s feet. Not only does this slow down the gameplay, but it can also mean that the ball goes to the wrong player or direction intended.

If you are after a fun kick ‘n’ rush football game without the need of any passing, strategy, or a decent view of the play area, then FIFA is the game for you. (For the record, current versions of FIFA have disbanded with the free flowing 3D viewpoint, moving onto a TV style side-on main view, and the gameplay has improved somewhat — although many of the passing issues remain.)

Outstanding player award: PC (EA Sports, 1998)

International Superstar Soccer 2000

International Superstar Soccer is Konami’s long running football franchise which is comparable to EA’s FIFA series. Arguably, the best “qualifying” version is ISS 2000 which was released on the Nintendo 64 in 1999 — although a Game Boy Colour version was released in Japan. The game may not feature official player names, but it still gives FIFA a good run for its money.

ISS 2000 is a fairly enjoyable game with some fancy player movements to liven things up a bit. Players can sidestep opponents, drag back the ball and various other moves that look good on screen. Besides the usual gameplay and tournament options, developers Konami Computer Entertainment Osaka (aka KCEO) introduced a career mode where you can create a player, their position and deal with real life situations as well as football decisions.

However, despite the game’s many positives there are negatives as well. As with all games in the franchise, ISS suffers from an extremely sloppy passing method. Play is hampered by passing which goes astray or to the wrong person and when the ball does reach its destination it still slows play down. The problem is that passing is entirely in the hands of the console’s AI and can not be directed manually by the player. Of course, the player decides when to pass and what general direction to pass to, but this still doesn’t help in producing a smooth flowing passing game that can be produced by passing manually. So what we end up with is basically the players passing to each other’s feet, slowing down the play as they stop to control the ball.

So, despite its excellent presentation, graphics and vast array of options, ISS 2000 is ultimately a disappointment which can only be enjoyed briefly before abandoning for more accomplished (in the gameplay department, at least) football games.

Outstanding player award: Nintendo 64 (Konami, 1999)

Coming soon… Retroaction World Cup of soccer games: the semi-finals.

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