Have you played Atari soccer today?

The Atari 2600 (or VCS if you’re even more decrepit than I am).

Let’s get it out of the way, then. Thanks to the Stella emulator, a full romset and searching for the word “soccer” I’m giving you four for the price of one which considering this blog is free to read means absolutely bugger all.

Apparently this game was endorsed by Pelé – it’s hard to tell as there’s not really any mention of it on the box. I wonder if he actually played it and if so, whether he included any goals he scored into his infamously inflated tally. Hey, if he can count ones he got in fever dreams after necking too many Viagras…

54 game modes, eh? [Insert GIF of “ain’t nobody got time for that” woman that Russell Howard played to fucking death]

Start a game and oh, it’s Pong… fancy Pong but still…

You control a trio of Tic-Tacs bound together like they’re in a chain gang. The sequel to this should have been called “Gonna Dig Me A Hole”.

Kick the ball and you get to see their legs. I say legs, they look more like aelirons. I guess they’re UFOs flying in formation which probably explains why they have such little influence on the movement of the ball. It shunts about like a puck on a broken air hockey table. Not to mention it’s a bloody square.

If you do happen to score though, you get a nice little fireworks display on what I assume is one of those gigantic but charmingly crude scoreboards Americans are so fond of. Best bit of the game, that. Otherwise… it’s shit. But you might have guessed that.

Hang on… this is just Pelé‘s Soccer again. I knew there were a ton of rip-offs on the 2600 but this is taking the piss.

Oh… it says it’s the same game on that shiny sticker. Fuck.

Moving on…

…checks to see it’s not just Pelé‘s Soccer again… again

Phew.

First things first – recogniseable human beings. Sort of. Legs so bandy, they look like John Wayne’s got off his horse and not drunk his milk. That and he forgot his Vitamin D tablets. Never mind a football, you could get a medicine ball through that thigh gap.

Side on, they’re not much better. Running like they’re trying to perform the Moonwalk while moving forwards and bending over to reach for the remote control at the same time. Just like LiberoGrande, they also make Iggy Azalea look arseless. Say no to backstreet silicone injections, kids – they’ll be amputating your legs before you know it.

Where was I? Right… I thought this game was somewhat easy at first as my opponents didn’t seem to be doing anything. Probably idiotic A.I. once more, I thought. Whadadyaknow? I was wrong! Who’d have thunk it?

Turns out this is a two-player game. Two-player ONLY. I felt I missed the point as badly as those people who complained to the BBC after they took off an episode of the Antiques Roadshow to show Nelson Mandela being released from prison. This actually happened.

As a deeply lonely individual, I had to improvise. Digging out a spare USB controller and taking off my socks, my toes took on the role of adversary. So there I was playing with myself wiggling my joysticks.

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(Use this space to make your own masturbation jokes. Honestly, you’re sick in the fucking heads, the lot of you.)

What’s so real about this then?

Players per side – three. If you’re on your lonesome, you’re in charge of the indigo lot against those TWATS in salmon pink. I nickname my absolute gods of men Geddy, Neil and Alex as they all have to act as rush goalies, leading to a load of 21-12 scorelines on your way to the odd one little victory or two against those ABSOLUTE BASTARDS. HAHAHAHA HAHAHAHA HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!! Kill me.

No permanent waves here as the entirely invisible “crowd” barely utter anything save for the occasional burst of static. I promise I’ll stop now.

Each of your Adonises, your perfect human specimens, your saints is somehow confined to a third of the screen – top, middle or bottom like Strike It Lucky. Not that it stops them from destroying those COMPLETE COCKWOMBLES.

You switch between them by either pushing the button when not in possession or by somehow successfully completing a pass. This is indicated by said protagonist being illuminated in a slighter brighter hue like Eddie after his Ready Brek (please note: the ethereal glow gained from ingesting said porridge mix can only be attained by adding so much sugar that you hallucinate one just before falling into a hyperglycaemic coma).

OK… completing a pass. Again, ball movement is somewhat non-Newtonian. This particularly affects shooting – the number of times the ball will park itself right on the goal-line just before one of those STUPID PINK CUNTS manages to clear it, start a counter-attack and invariably score is frankly terrifying. This shit gets old quickly.

In conclusion… I blame myself for knowing exactly what I was getting myself into. Only before someone else beats me to it, mind.

A Grande day out

First of all, I feel I owe you guys a bit of an explanation as to why this place has lay dormant for so long. I had always intended to take a bit of a break after Christmas ( I should have mentioned that at the end of my Euro ’96 review, really but I can barely think straight at the best of times, let alone a week before Crimble) as playing so many absolute steaming turds was starting to put me off video games. Seriously.

I needed a few weeks to reignite my love of the medium, reacquaint myself with some old favourites and recharge the batteries. Well, that and I was really struggling with sleep deprivation and could no longer trust my own critical judgement.

Then a couple of days ago, I got the fresh impetus I needed – that little push to carry on.

Thanks to a few kind words from Chris and Rich at the Football Attic podcast and Denis Hurley of Museum of Jerseys and Squad Numbers (amongst others), here we go!

So then, LiberoGrande

Yes… that.

Originating in the arcades in 1997, the PlayStation release (what be the one I’ll be rambling on about as my PC ain’t turbo-bastardy enough to run it in MAME with anything approaching dignity) emerged a year later.

Its USP was that during the course of a match, you would control one player and one player alone. A pretty standard feature in modern football titles but twenty years ago, this was enough to get me intrigued. And intrigued I stayed… until last year when I finally found a copy in a second-hand bookstore of all places.

Question is… should I have saved that quid for one of those crappy Poundland sandwiches like I had intended?

No, of course not. I mean, LiberoGrande is no great shakes but at least it wouldn’t give me E. coli.

Poundland sarnies? It’s not the insomnia you should worry about, mate

When you get started, most of the options are pretty self-explanatory. Two might throw you a bit, though. World League is actually a multiplayer mode, a tournament for up to eight players with no co-op. Player Challenge is a skill test to assess your accuracy and speed amongst other things.

Before you kick off, you get to choose your protagonist, all not-so-loosely based on contemporary stars. Mind you, there’s no fucking point going through them all here as Ricard Castro is clearly the best. Then choose one of the 32 teams that do not match up to those who played in France that year in a brilliant bit of foresight.

Into actual gameplay and one thing immediately broke my brain. You see, if you leave the game case open in front of you, the inside of the front cover proudly advertises the Dual Shock but the thing is… LiberoGrande does not support analogue controls. What the fuck are you doing confusing me like that? I know I should have checked the back of the box but I’m a man. Men are stupid and reactionary and stupid.

Once I’d realised my error, the controls continued to cause me great consternation. When the opposition has possession, Square and Circle will perform various kinds of tackles while X will cause you to chase the ball like I did in every school match I ever took part in… all one of them. This seems fine at first but for random, inexplicable reasons the game will decide not to take a blind bit of notice as to what you’re trying to accomplish about 20% of the time. Dunno about you, that’s what I’d call a significant margin of error. Or “shit”, let’s go with “shit”.

This does not improve when your team has the ball. Quite the opposite.

When one of your colleagues is in control of the pig bladder, pressing the aforementioned Square/Circle will command them to either pass, shoot or cross depending on control setup and context. Trouble is they’re deaf as posts and will mostly happily carry on doing their own thing which is usually losing possession cheaply, scuffing the ball straight at the keeper or booting it into the stratosphere. Hence having to try to do everything yourself but not really knowing how, like if Roy Race had become a decapitated galline.

Somehow… somehow… this is EVEN WORSE. Response switches from ignorant to just plain obtuse. You’ll run one way while trying to go the other. A simple pass will end up as a 40-yard lob. Your best chance of scoring a goal is to try and kill the football.

All that and the biggest indignity of all, you have a massive arse. You sprint like you’re attempting to twerk at the same time. Nicki Minaj has nothing on you and your booty.

I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly

Other that the disproportionate posteriors and the to-be-expected-by-now “running like you’ve just shat yourself” animation, the visuals are acceptable. There’s a pleasing chunkiness to it all… like a hazelnut and raisin Yorkie.

As for audio, you can choose to have music in-game which is similar to the Worldwide Soccer titles on the Saturn. Unlike Sega’s efforts however, this is less “guilty pleasure instrumental guitar” and more… erm… eh… I’ll tell you as soon as I can recall any of it.

In conclusion – preferable to food poisoning, but spend that money on a hazelnut and raisin Yorkie instead. Mmm… chocolate…

 

P.S. Apologies for calling Rich “Rob”. Proof reading isn’t easy sometimes.

96 tears?

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Euro ’96 – like Italia’90 before it – was a tournament more memorable for the ephemeral moments than the standard of the football. The dentist’s chair, the “indigo” kit, Stuart Pearce losing his fucking mind. I’m not English so I can view these with a certain amount of emotional detachment. However, I can’t say the same for the OFFICIAL LICENSED PRODUCT game.

This was my introduction to the next wave of football games – polygon graphics with multiple camera angles, motion captured players, full match commentary, buttons that actually passed and shot rather than just kicked the ball to varying degrees of “have it” – the works.

As such, it holds a special place in my heart despite its flaws.

OFFICIAL LICENSED PRODUCT

Released on the Saturn and PC under the Sega Sports umbrella, this was basically a reskin of Actua Soccer with fewer teams. Considering the largely positive critical reception Gremlin’s title had upon its initial release, this was not necessarily a bad thing especially as it was to be the first time a game tied to the series was to be seen on Sega’s big black beautiful breezeblock. Yes, I did say beautiful. My love for the Saturn is way past “bordering on the unhealthy” and on the road to “I want to marry it and have its babies”. No wonder I’ve turned out the way I have.

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Presentation can be described as minimalist. More honestly, I’d go with “Shit! I’ve got snowblindness!” So… much… white… The rest of it is nicely thought out, however. High resolution menus with clearly labelled options and lots of CGI rendered maps, kits and stadia. Splendid stuff.

One lion on the screen

Another aspect of the visual stylings can also be seen in the form of Goaliath, the OFFICIAL LICENSED MASCOT. He’s absolutely everywhere, far more so than he seemed to be at the actual matches as far as I can recall. As uninspiring a creation as he was, at least it’s not the bloody rabbit again.

Music is by Richard Jacques, infamous for the… hmm… divisive… compositions to be found in Sonic R. I fall into the “my ears are bleeding” camp on that one. For this, he’s “treated” us to an ambient electronic Eurohouse jazz funk fusion. Not exactly the soundtrack of the summer a certain other ditty connected to the tournament would become, that’s for sure.

Unless it’s the summer of 1997, your mum’s found this game in Currys for a fiver and you play it constantly because the only other Saturn game you had was Sega Rally and your sister broke the disc by sitting on it and you’re sick of playing the demo disc with bloody Golden Axe: The Duel on it… anyway, carrying on…

OFFICIAL LICENSED SPINDLY LIMBS

Get into actually playing a match and it just seems to be Actua Soccer but a bit scruffy looking. I know the Saturn was a bastard to program for but there’s no excuse for just how rough this is – compare and contrast the Japanese only release J-League Go Go Goal.

The players in particular just look plain weird. To my eyes, it seems their heads and torsos are constructed from polygons (which was the style at the time) but their limbs are sprites animated in a manner not seen since the likes of Noggin The Nog and Captain Pugwash.

However the audio is peerless and there’s at least one current franchise that could learn a lot from Gremlin’s work here – you listening, Konami? Of course not… just keep pissing off Guillermo del Toro if that’s what makes you happy, I suppose.

This is largely thanks to one man – the doyen of commentary, the one, the only Barry Davies. His unquestionable authority and velvety tones add so much to the enjoyment to be garnered here. Oh yeah, about that…

Shapes that go together

There’s always been one thing about the earlier entries of the Actua series that has really honked my chuff and that’s context sensitivity. I understand that there’s a certain amount of this in all football games but at least in those it’s broken down simply into what happens if you are in possession of the ball or not.

This however tries to be too clever for its own good. It’s all about shapes, see.

Two of these are fairly self-explanatory in all honesty – with the ball, the cursor highlighting your player will be triangular. Without it, it’s circular.

The flashing star signifies that you’re in a position to make a first-time action – whether that be a header, volley or spoon into row Z. The square tells you that you are able to cross the ball in.

These two are completely superfluous, I reckon. Surely the former is simply a matter of timing? It’s better for me to see where I am in relation to the ball in play rather than wait for a stupid flashing star.

As for crossing – there are more than enough buttons on the controller, why can’t one be reserved specifically for the job? I’ve got the ball out wide, I’ve got men in the box – I KNOW TO FUCKING CROSS IT, ALRIGHT?

The big issue is putting it in the old onion bag. Despite the hundreds of hours I sunk into it way back when, I only found one way I could score enough goals to win games. Run through the middle, evade tackles, line myself up and shoot just before the keeper will charge out to take the ball from my feet. I perfected this technique to such a point that playing a 15-minute-per-half game against Scotland, I ended up victorious by a margin of 109 to nil.

No wonder it kind of lost its lustre for me after that.

OFFICIAL LICENSED END OF POST

Ultimately… meh…

 

 

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I can’t help shake the feeling that Ultimate Soccer was supposed to be some kind of flagship series for Sega. After all, they gave Rage Software permission to plaster Sonic all over the menus. Mind you, it seems they had their own license tied up at one point as the caricatured player featured alongside the Blue Blur has more than an air of Paul Gascoigne about him. Maybe Empire still had the rights to his likeness and weren’t getting rid of them cheap, I dunno.

(Either that or Rage were somewhat reticent on spunking serious wedge on paying for them considering he had just come back from a serious case of self-inflicted knee knack.)

The game was released in 1993 on the Mega Drive, Master System and Game Gear. The latter two are just another pair of Kick Off rip offs and therefore bear absolutely bugger all significance to me. The 16-bit version is far more interesting however as it’s a slightly refined and rejigged version of Striker which had made an obligatory appearance on the MD the year before.

So many menus

The first thing that really hit me about the game was the sheer array of options available once you choose them from the main menu screen. To describe them as bewildering is to do a disservice to bewilderment. There are football games released this year with less customisation available to your experience. Most of them are your usual guff – match length, weather, extra time yadda yadda yadda – but a few are capable of raising an eyebrow. You can disable a player’s inertia for example – a kick in the bollocks for Sir Isaac Newton, there. The only one that really seems anything other than superficial though is being able to switch between your bog-standard 11-a-side on grass and six-a-side indoor matches.

Next comes selecting your team. This is strictly an international only affair and let’s just say that Rage’s ideas of proper team colours and skills and attributes are a tad askew. Denmark wear yellow and red stripes. Japan have maximum ratings in all three (that’s right – THREE) categories – I’m guessing as another conciliatory sop towards getting a sweet deal from Sega.

Everybody play the gaaaaaame…

First things first, the graphics are fucking awful. They’ve tried to do a clever perspective trick with the pitch which ostensibly works but it some becomes apparent that it looks glitchy as hell. Weird dark lines, markings not meeting up properly – that kind of thing. And the players! Mis-shapen, oddly outlined, barely animated affronts to visual decency. That and they run like they’ve been sitting on a bicycle seat made of porcupine quills and cacti for a month.

They don’t scale with the pitch either – they’ve done a perspective trick yet THEY DON’T KNOW HOW PERSPECTIVE WORKS. Where’s Father Ted with a toy cow when you need him, eh?

Controls are little better – on the surface, A is meant to be a strong pass, C a weak one while B is your shoot/tackle. I say that, trouble is that bears little relation in theory to what it does in practice. That’s right, it’s “press random buttons and see what sticks” mode again – see my Onside review if you want more of that kind of shit.

I’m about to cry here

Gameplay – do we have to? I’ve got Christmas presents to buy…

Alright then… on your heads be it. Today’s review has been brought to you by the words ABSOLUTELY, FUCKING and BROKEN. In a one-player game, your AI opponent will take inspiration from the 1986 Uruguayan World Cup squad. It’s frankly astonishing how many leg-breakers and mistimed lunges you will be on the end of. There is no flow to a match whatsoever.

If the ball runs free and two players chase after it, they will reach an impasse until such a time that you decide to play chicken and press a button. This time you will give away a free kick.

The ref can’t decide who gets the decision when the ball goes out of play. Throw ins are awarded to the wrong team, corners and goal kicks are seemingly interchangeable.

I don’t think this is some kind of Champions of Europe-esque glitchfest, it’s mostly just incredibly poor implementation and/or interpretation of the rules of the game. Almost makes it more realistic – at least that’s what I like to think to save me from committing hara-kiri.

I don’t get it. I was never the biggest fan of Striker but at least it was functional and you could garner some enjoyment from it. This is such a backwards step, it’s fallen into a cesspit.

Maybe the Gazza thing was him seeing sense for once. He caught one glimpse of this steaming bowl of arse gravy and said “Na, thank yee!”

Champ… or chump?

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Euro ’92 wasn’t the most memorable of tournaments if I’m honest… unless you’re Danish. Then again, if you’re English you remember it for all the wrong reasons. One look at a teamsheet would probably invoke some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder to an England fan of a certain vintage.

In a move that almost seems typically strange by now if you’ve read this blog before, the official game was only released on the Master System. Mind you, publishers TecMagik dealt almost exclusively with Sega’s 8-bit console so no surprises there, then.

Andy Sinton

First of all, I have to admire the boxart for its prescience in predicting that the victors would wear red shirts with white trim. Even more impressive considering that when the game was being developed, Denmark would not have been taking part due to Yugoslavia having not yet entered a state of civil war and general fucked-upness.

Note the branding as well – my first two words of this post are a misnomer as this was the last European Championships not to come under the Euro moniker. They did just nick the logo and mascot from the ’88 finals though, only changing them from German to Swedish colours.

Keith Curle

Right then, let’s Photoshop our heads onto some turnips and have a butcher’s at the game then. Switch it on and alongside the Technicolor rainbow that is the TecMagik logo and a copyright screen, we are treated to a piece of so-called music that I’m pretty sure would count as a breach of the Geneva Convention. Things then get slightly better with a nicely animated sequence of Rabbit (Really fucking original name, guys. Some sources would have you believe he’s called Berni -including the title screen itself for that matter – but no, that’s what he was named four years earlier) emerging from his warren and playing keepy-uppy. I don’t want to spoil too much for you but this is probably the second-best thing in the game.

Then we have the menus to deal with. Shit.

The layout itself is just fine and there’s a more-than-respectable array of options – everything from wind speed and weather to the location of the radar and choosing a referee. No, it’s the controls. WHOSE FUCKING IDEA WAS IT TO USE A MOUSE CURSOR? Especially with a D-pad as mushy and imprecise as that found on the Master System joypad. Then choose your team on a map of Europe I would have drawn as a six-year-old, again with THE FUCKING MOUSE CURSOR. Good luck trying to select a nation smaller than England because unless you have the patience of Job and all the saints put together, it ain’t happening.

Geoff Thomas

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Yep, in case you couldn’t tell it’s a Kick Off knock-off. This means it already scores minus points in my opinion due to my hopefully-by-now-infamous hatred of Anco’s series. Players are always chasing the ball because as soon as they try and trap it, it flies off 20 yards away. Also like Kick Off, the pitch is far too big… or maybe it’s the right size and the players are all like Tom Thumb.

Controls are pretty much as you’d expect – one button (sorry, can’t remember which as I was losing the will to live) will either pass or tackle, the other shoots or sprints. Of course, this is all in the context of whether you have the ball or not but considering your first touch, the former is only the case approximately 0.000001% of the time.

Tony Daley

Now my favourite part of the game – the speech bubbles. In lieu of a proper HUD, players and referees (decked out in American style uniforms for some unfathomable reason) talk to themselves and each other – scores, calling dead balls and throw ins, fouls etc. Victims of a foul will even shout “OUCH!”. It’s a cute touch and gives the game some much-needed personality all of its own.

So then… it’s like Kick Off but worse, which means it’s automatically shit. But that’s not the worst bit. Not even close.

CARLTON!!!

This is an utter cornucopia of bugs. Entomologists would have a field day.

Most infamously, score an own goal and it’ll count FOR you. Collision detection is beyond woeful – breathe on an opponent within ten yards or look at him funny, he’ll win a free kick. Keepers just stand there like they’re riddled with rigor mortis. Quit a game when it’s goalless and it’ll think you’ve won. Bloody hell… finish a game in the tournament with a 0-0 and you’ll jump straight to the final!

In brief – it’s a shameless copycat with shit for brains. The Phil Neal of football games.

Seeing red?

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It’s unusual for me to start with an unequivocal and unconditional recommendation. Mind you, it’s unusual for me to recommend anything at any moment what with some of the absolute dogshit I’ve covered so far. Red Card however is one of those rare games that is both fun to play and fun to talk about… hopefully for me.

Before getting to the game itself, let’s study that cover. An obvious homage to THAT photo of Vinnie Jones committing testicular assault on Paul Gascoigne, transporting that image to a Sunday League setting with the perpretator looking like a dead spit for Martin Skrtel.

Note that this is only the boxart for the European release – the Americans got an action shot of Brian McBride in a Photoshopped landscape that makes it seem like he’s farting fire, which I will freely admit has its own strange charm and makes me think he ended up getting the same anal probe as Eric Cartman.

Even by my own “standards”, that was a strange tangent to go off on.

The point I suppose I was trying to make is that the cover is a perfect fit for the game – it shows that there is a strange beauty in indiscriminate violence.

Released for the PS2, GameCube and Xbox in 2002, Red Card was part of the Midway Sports series that also included the likes of NFL Blitz and NHL Hitz. What all of these had in common was a hyper-stylised approach to their respective sports – fast-flowing arcade action with simplified rules and an aggressive edge.

The intro is exactly what you’d expect – dramatic zooms into stadia, hyper-exaggerated skills and the kind of bone-crunching challenges that make the Battle of Santiago look like a pacifists’ convention. The key words I believe are “get”, “you” and “FUCKIN’ PUMPED!!!!!!!!!!!” Yes, this was developed in America (San Diego, to be precise) – however did you guess?

Into the main menu and you’ll notice the usual friendly, customise team, options yadda yadda yadda… the advanced mode may throw you a tad, though. It’s just a rather odd way of referring to its competitions: finals (initially locked out) and tournament are pretty straightforward, being analogues to World Cup and knockout respectively. World Conquest is the crux of the game, acting as a qualifier for the finals and allowing you to start unlocking extra stuff. I won’t spoil the unlockables for you – Google can do that and it also gives me a bit of wiggle room for a list article I’ve got in mind. You lucky people…

Actually getting to the meat of the game – I have to say that one of my few criticisms of this title are the graphics. I mean, the stadia look nice enough and the animation is OK (even if it does make the players look like they’re running on a cushion of air sometimes) – it’s the player models. Even for the officially licensed squads, likenesses are piss-poor and all the body proportions are off. I know they’ve gone for a certain look but it just seems like they’ve taken a Remington to a silverback and then put him in the body scanner.

Commentary comes from the unlikely combination of Simon Brotherton (who actually seems better known these days for being the BBC’s voice of cycling even though he still does Match of the Day and the like) and Chris Kamara. As you’d expect, Brotherton remains authoratitive and level-headed throughout the increasingly psychotic proceedings, whereas Kammy gets giddier more quickly than a 3-year-old on a merry-go-round.

Erm… gameplay?

The basics are your standard stuff and work reasonably well, although it’s appropriate to note that for a game of this nature that when you’re defending, three out of four of the face buttons perform some kind of challenge. By challenge of course, I mean GBH.

What really sets this apart are the variables opened up to you by judicious use of the shoulder buttons/triggers/bumpers/what have you. The right is for your turbo – each player has his own individual supply of this and unlike most run buttons in other football games, subtlety be damned! You can actually see yourself leaving a trench in your wake as you make Billy Whizz look like a tortoise on diazepam.

Left is the REALLY good shit – this is your boost, shared amongst the team and its effects are multiplied. The manual itself says “over the top” and who am I to disagree? Shots become full-on Matrix bullet-time acrobatics full of turns, flicks and kicks of the bicycle, scissor and rainbow varieties.

Tackles, which could already be aptly described as “robust”, “agricultural” or “murderous” turn into the kind of unhinged lunges, barges and stamps that defined the likes of Harald Schumacher or Benjamin Massing. It’s almost a shame that this came around too early to incorporate some kind of tribute to Zidane’s denouement that summer night in Berlin. Almost.

In summary, then: “TOTAL CARNAGE… I LOVE IT!”

Ronaldo’s game… boy!

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1999: despite his disappointing performance in mysterious cicumstances in the previous year’s World Cup final, Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima is still amongst the hottest properties in global sport. It seemed obvious than his famous buck-toothed grin would one day be plastered over the boxart of a video game and so it proved thanks to those chancers at Infogrames, who seemed intent on releasing about 37 separately-licensed football titles every month in the period spanning between 1998 and 2002. If it wasn’t one of the big two, basically you name it and it’ll most likely have had that armadillo slapped on it somewhere.

Of course the main release was on the PS1 but I’ve covered that system enough recently, so let’s have a butchers at the Game Boy Color version instead (coded by the Spanish developers Bit Managers – Spaniards and football should bode well, right? Right?) … and not just because it allowed me to make a bloody awful pun for the title of this post.

Brazilian brilliance?

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First of all, the general presentation is about as good as it gets on the GBC – there’s a neat little intro showing Il Fenomeno himself charging down the pitch and smashing one past a bewildered keeper. Then we enter the game’s menus and everything is crisp, clear and easy to navigate. All the usual stuff is there – friendlies, cups, leagues, practice and delve a little deeper into the options, you’ll see that you can even edit the club team names to something a little more accurate. Player names are also the real McCoy with the exception of the German sides – both domestic and international.

There is one icon that stands out somwhat though and that relates to the Ronaldo Cup – a blatant and rampant moment of egotism more akin to that of his preening, posing, Portuguese namesake. This is split into two modes – a three team round robin or a four team knockout. Your life has been enriched an unimaginable amount by that salient smidge of information. You can thank me later.

In-game graphics are fairly snazzy too – players are animated pretty well and have differing skin and hair colours and as you can probably tell from the screengrab there, kits are mostly spot-on too… although it does appear that everyone’s wearing gloves in the same hue as their shirts.

Audio is where it all starts to fall apart slightly – try as it might, the GBC’s humble audio chip cannot accurately replicate the somewhat cliched but nonetheless evocative samba rhythms required to give this game a true flavour of Brazil. Likewise, Bit Managers have attempted something a little unusual with the crowd noise. Most other football games on the handheld would just use bursts of white noise to recreate the roar of a packed stadium – not so here. A more tuneful sound is attempted and while it is unquestionably better than the cacophonous shite served up on an alarmingly regular basis by the England Band, to my ears it just ends up like it could be from R-Type.

He shoots, he scores?

Speaking of falling apart… actually start a match and you’ll soon notice that the game has all the pace of a tranquilised sloth. Players don’t so much sprint as gambol with all the carefree nature of aspring lamb. Mind you, this is one of those black cartridges which signifies that it’ll also work on the monochrome models. Play it on one of those and F… U… C… K… M… E… it makes World Class Fussball Soccer Voetbal Calcio Futebol Pel-Droed look like it’s running on some turbo-nutter gaming PC with 17 graphics cards. It chugs more than a rugby team on a post-match pub crawl.

Passing is beyond laughable. Tap A and it feels like you’ve tried to propel the ball via telekinesis. Double tap and it trickles forward aimlessly. Hold and release in the direction of a team-mate and suddenly it’ll shoot off like shit off a shovel, right past your colleague and almost certainly into touch. B will just boot it indiscriminately and arbitrarily. A possession game is impossible. I really mean that… even skewing the odds in my favour as much as possible – Brazil v San Marino on easy – I reckon I had no more than 20% of the play. These lot could teach Hal Robson-Kanu a thing or two about chasing lost causes… only in this case, they are actually lost. Winning the ball back relies almost entirely on perfectly-timed slide tackles… good luck with that!

Shooting… hold B and you’ll just lob it harmlessly straight to the keeper. Double tap and you’ll get the power to beat him but all the accuracy of one of the bad guys on The A-Team. I did actually manage to score a few every game, enough to even win the odd match. Fuck knows how though.

In summary then – gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, gerraway wi’ yer. Doesn’t deserve anything more than that really.

Pure and simple every time

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Appearing on shop shelves a mere six years ago with its somewhat haunting image of Steven Gerrard looking more than a bit peaky, Pure Football may be the newest game I ever get to write about on this blog if I don’t ever touch upon mobile and indie stuff. It currently stands as the last real attempt to steal at least a small part of the market away from EA and Konami, even if it wasn’t really trying to compete with them. Unless you count FIFA Street, that is. Yes, this is strictly five-a-side in urban environs only.

A large part of that “last real attempt” thing has to do with its critical reception. Metacritic currently has it at 38%. I think that’s a shame as although I agree it is flawed, it does have something to offer especially as you can get it for less than a quid just about anywhere that still sells last-gen games.

Let me explain.

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Yes, this is an arcade-styled game. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s pick up and play and you’ll be master of all you survey within five minutes. Bloody hell… there’s a lot to take in – it’s UEFA Dream Soccer with a degree in maths.

That red bar you can make out under the scoreboard? That’s your foul meter – let that fill up and you give away a penalty NO MATTER WHERE YOU ARE. Master the arts of pressing and the shoulder barge as without them, you’re pretty much fucked.

Top left are your Pure Points. Clean tackles, stringing passes together, shots on target and of course them there goal thingies – you know the drill here. Keep doing the good stuff and you’ll build up a multiplier. These points aren’t just there for show – they’ll allow you to improve players you’ve created yourself or buy them from the Player Market (whether this is still up or not, I can’t tell you as I keep forgetting to renew my Xbox Live subscription – I highly doubt it is, though).

The crescent around your currently controlled player acts as both your sprint and shot meters. The latter acts not unlike those in old-school golf games – the closer you get the marker to the optimal zone, the better your shot will be. Button combinations also allow you to prioritise either skill or power as you wait to pull the trigger. This also adds a nice risk vs. reward mechanic as these have to be timed absolutely perfectly, otherwise you’ll look like an arse.

If you get shots on target that don’t go in, they will help fill your Pure Shot meter. Fill this and your next shot will be a perfectly struck thunderbastard even if you cock up the timing. This does tend to lend itself to a shoot-on-sight policy not unlike the one employed by its cover star for a few years before this title’s release.

Those arrows act in lieu of a radar, by the way.

Unusual for me to go with gameplay first, isn’t it? Right then – the other stuff.

Let’s go with game modes as there’s only really one worth gabbing on about and that’s the campaign. Start by creating your captain – if you’re as deluded a fantasist as yours truly, this will be in your own graven image. Only in my case, not so fat and hairy just to carry on with the general theme of delusion.

Your task is to get your rag-tag bunch of nobodies and one “star” up amongst the top eight teams in the world in a cripplingly short timespan to ensure you qualify for the final tournament. You may as well call this the Chris Coleman mode.

Thankfully you can get rid of the dead wood pretty sharpish if you just keep winning and meeting certain criteria in matches. Likewise, those Pure Points I mentioned can be used to give your skipper suspiciously large boosts to his attributes. And when I say “suspiciously large”, I mean “East German Olympic team doctors would say you’re overdoing it”.

Carry on with this palaver and if you’re in one of those octet of spots.. well, I won’t spoil it. Mind you, Ubisoft do that for you with the first match you play in a flash-forward moment.

Graphics hold up pretty well as you’d expect for one so relatively recent. The aesthetic is somewhat stylised and in my opinion in a good way – players are all long and lean but still incredibly ripped in a way that suggests that Peter Crouch has been on one too many protein shakes. Odd but as I said, fitting.

Audio is no great shakes – menu music is… um… THERE, I suppose and in game it takes a diegetic, almost ambient approach as you’ll barely hear anything other than shouts for the ball. That is, until there’s a goal. Then you get all the pomp and bombast of a military tattoo.

So then? I touched on flaws and they’re certainly there – a painful lack of content (there’s only 17 teams to start with!) and a lack of replay value once you’ve successfully navigated the campaign, but what is here certainly deserves reassessment from somebody who hasn’t dismissed it out of hand after playing a handful of matches.

Everything is tight – passing, shooting, tackling all feel as they should. Good moves finished off with a smart shot are satisfying as hell. The campaign – brief as it is undoubtedly is – offers a genuine sense of achievement. Multiplayer – REAL multiplayer with other people in the room – is a bloody good laugh.

With a bit of refinement, we could have had the finest “alternative” football game since Red Card. As it is, it’s still worth a punt for the price of a grab bag of crisps. The tragedy is due to its undeserved kicking, this may very well be the last of the breed. The last to take that risk.

Green pixels? More like brown trousers!

You may have noticed that today is Hallowe’en. I couldn’t resist an opportunity of commemorating this somehow and an idea popped into whatever could be called my brain.

May I present to you:

THE 5 SCARIEST-LOOKING FOOTBALL GAMES ON THE PS1!

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5 – All-Star Soccer (boxart)

The game itself isn’t that horrifying to look at but that front cover is something else. Truly awful 90s CGI combined with caricatures vaguely reminiscent of Spitting Image puppets that have started to rot. That and the nose on the Cantona-esque fizzog just left of centre looks rather phallic. Not helped by his ridged brow looking like a pair of bollocks.

Not to mention the poor bloke on the far right – his mouth is going in at least five separate directions simultaneously.

The eyes on the floating disembodied head to the right of the Gullit analogue – he’s seen some shit, man.

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4 – FIFA ’97

Pale, shambling, unblinking humanoid forms trying to fit into society and failing. This can mean one of several things – replicants, zombies, pod people – but all of them are deeply unsettling.

I can’t help feeling that EA were trying to revive the Mutant League franchise but forgot that they were supposed to knock out a FIFA game that year and hurriedly slapped the license on.

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3 – Three Lions

No doubt, you’ll have read a story or watched a film where a murderer will wear the face(s) of their victim(s) either to hide their identity or as some kind of trophy.

Now imagine twenty-two of said murderers running around a pitch. It could only lead to one thing, really – a Battle Royale situation where a sole survivor emerges with 44 faces.

Also worth a mention – the giant shovel hands (perfect for bludgeoning) and huge chunks of flesh taken from the shoulders.

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2 – Goal Storm

They have no faces.

Yet they stare deep…

deep into my soul…

hug me…

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1 – Olympic Soccer

See #2… also…

THEY HAVE KNIVES FOR HANDS!

STABBY, STABBY, STABBY!

 

 

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGHHH!!!

FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…mummy…

Still not as terrifying as the idea of ever playing The Mission again, though. So there’s that.

 

Mission Implausible

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Now… I understand that this blog is meant to be about football video games so what am I doing writing about a game where you take out cyborgs as part of a heist? Well, the cover should give you a bit of a hint.

Yes, that is Edgar Davids essentially playing keepy-uppy in a badly Photoshopped laser security system. Yes, that is Lilian Thuram wearing that headset. Yes, this game was a bad idea.

For a start, it’s based on an advert. A good advert but still…

Someone at Nike had obviously seen one too many movies as a crack team try to capture the new Geo Merlin ball from some kind of industrial complex that is being protected by a squadron of robotic kendoka. As well as the aforementioned Davids and Thuram, the cast almost reads like a Ballon D’Or shortlist for the year 2000 – Totti, Guardiola, Nakata, Figo, Bierhoff, Yorke and Cole. Presiding over them – one Louis van Gaal. Obviously his later Man Utd “philosophy” hadn’t really been thought up by then as this actually ends up being pretty entertaining for something that had to have been thought up in a cocaine-induced haze. This is the advertising industry we’re talking about after all.

Then everything explodes at the end. I cannot confirm whether this was directed by Michael Bay or not.

Aren’t we supposed to be discussing a video game?

Hang on, do you want some background or not?

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I knew I was never going to be in for a good time as soon as I saw the Microids logo. Even then, I wasn’t prepared for just how “not good”.

I already said this game was a bad idea. Bad ideas can occasionally work if the execution is on point.

Right then, execution…

The graphics are a disgrace to the word “shambles”. Taking into account most of the environments are meant to be some kind of bizarre warehouse-meets-museum, they’re still far too sparse and grey. Just looking at them could put you into a catatonic state that would be hard to snap out of. The players run like they’ve just shat their tracksuit bottoms whereas their upper bodies appear to be in full-on mince like they’re auditioning for some dreadful 1970s sitcom. Or indeed, Mrs. Fucking Brown’s Fucking Boys.

They also greet a successful mission with dance moves that look like they’re having a seizure in a way that almost makes me feel sorry for handsome multi-millionaire athletes.

The soundtrack is ripped directly from the commercial – whether this is a good or bad thing is dependent on your opinion of dramatic-sounding but instantly forgettable electronica. SFX are your bog-standard alarm whoop-whoops and metallic clanks and therefore reasonably appropriate.

Now for the real shitstorm… playability.

The set-up is that it’s always two players on each mission – this means that if you’re playing on your own, you struggle to gain control of one star while the other does absolutely bloody nothing with no semblance of AI taking over to at least attempt to help you.

Meanwhile, there you are trying to take out targets and enemies with your freestyling skills. Unfortunately, it seems you have a level of ball control akin to that of Stephen Hawking as more often than not it’ll just trickle forward with all the force of gently blowing away a bit of fluff from a coffee table.

Alternatively you can try and slide tackle the bad guys. This actually works quite well but I can’t help feeling that this was yet another missed opportunity – if Paul Scholes had been on board, his badly-timed scything could have taken out about seventeen foes at once and meant less time suffering through this absolute garbage.

And that’s pretty much it. I don’t know whether that’s because that’s all the game has to offer or that’s all I could tolerate.

So then… as a video game it fails. As an advertising campaign it fails. As an exercise in making the poor sod holding the controller want to kill himself it very much succeeds.