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.

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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.