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.
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.