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.


Seeing red?


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!”

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:



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.


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.


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.


2 – Goal Storm

They have no faces.

Yet they stare deep…

deep into my soul…

hug me…


1 – Olympic Soccer

See #2… also…















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


Mission Implausible


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?


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.

Virtua insanity


Virtua Pro Football is an odd one. Not like UEFA Dream Soccer “odd” but a curious case nonetheless. You’d think with Virtua in the name and it being by Sega, it’d be part of the Virtua Striker family. In fact, it’s a spiritual successor of sorts to the absolutely appalling 90 Minutes for the Dreamcast (the similarities are slightly more obvious if you play the Japanese version known as World Football Climax – the HUD is virtually identical and the graphics have a somewhat more vivid “Dreamcasty” saturation) but tries to fix that game’s myriad problems while adding many new exciting and interesting features of its own.

And you know what? It ALMOST succeeds. Emphasis very much on the almost there.

First of all:

What does it get right?


The presentation is very nice – all brightly coloured geometric shapes and clean text. Everything is logically arranged and clearly labelled. No PES-style head scratching “where the hell do I find that” or “what the fuck does that mean” here.

Those sharp good looks don’t quite transfer on to the pitch however. It’s not an ugly game by any means – perfectly serviceable by PS2 standards, in fact. It’s just completely lacking any pizzazz. Player likenesses could not be used in a court of law, even though they are officially licensed and the more famous faces are certainly not made of stock parts. Gerrard’s tiny forehead, Giggs’ angular cheekbones, Adriano’s perfectly round head – they’re all here… vaguely. Overall though, the visuals just about get a pass.

Features – the editing mode is very much akin to what you’d expect from the Pro Evo titles of the period. And by “very much akin”, I really should have put “completely and utterly stolen”. Making crests and flags from monochromatic clip-art pieces layered together, colouring kits piece by piece, choosing just the right font for the shirt numbers – it should all seem very familiar to those who are au fait with Konami’s oeuvre. It worked there, it works here.

Game modes are your standard friendlies, leagues and cups. Then there’s Career Mode.

Back in the mid-2000s, this wasn’t a common feature to find in football games. FIFA and PES didn’t incorporate their equivalents until a year or two after this. Although with its RPG-lite stylings and focus on building relationships over actually playing any matches, it’s far more analogous to the synonymous mode in ISS 2000 for the N64. So Konami did get there first… again.

The disappointing thing is that VPF’s Career mode doesn’t have the sense of humour of KCEO’s blurry, over-saturated, not-as-good-as-’98-but-still-pretty-damn-good effort. There are still some unusual and somewhat prescient touches here and there though – women only seem interested in you if you buy them expensive gifts and take them out to restaurants (gold diggers going after footballers – who’d have thunk it, eh?). Having a massive ego is seen as a good thing – seriously, if you let your ego meter get too low you get diagnosed with depression and have to spend twelve weeks away from the team! Of course, let’s not forget one of the easiest ways of giving your motivation a boost – buying yourself a shiny new sports car.

Media interviews are exactly as you’d expect as well – even though you’re new to the first team it appears that the media training you’ve received has already kicked in 110% at the end of the day. All answers you give are incredibly banal and contain less insight and basic human intellect than the letters page of the Daily Star.

Pretty neat all round – shame that there’s no coaches telling you that you must use your passion so that it may manifest itself AS A FIRE!!!!!!!!!!! or team-mates shunning you after one of them finds a porn mag under your duvet. You know – little things.

Mind you, they won’t be so little after a quick J. Arthur.

Hey, we might be on to a winner here with this one. Maybe not winner, really, more scraping into the Europa League on the last day but still, all seems well… so far.

What does it get shite?

Before we get to the big one, let’s talk about the audio for a bit. In-game “choons” are instantly forgettable, crowd noises are the usual library sounds and worst of all, commentary is by…

Alan Green.


It’s not like they’ve even given him much to say (then again, the less you hear from the miserable bastard, the better). It’s common to hear him spew out the same tired cliche twice or even thrice in a row. There’s also the weird manner in which he gives out how much time has elapsed in the match – obviously using the same script as Alan Parry did for 90 Minutes, only not quite sounding as much like he failed the audition to play K-9 though.

To pick through Career mode once more – your progression is completely off-kilter. In my first season at Stoke I ended up playing four entirely underwhelming matches, scoring once – and that was a tap-in after the ball came back off the keeper’s arse and he then proceeded to get a rush of blood. The Potters gained promotion but my part in it was negligible, save perhaps for that fortunate late winner against a nine-man Sheffield Wednesday.

I must have impressed someone however because at the end of the season, I get a text from my agent with details of interested clubs. Amongst the usual bunch of Championship stragglers and relegation fodder in the Dutch top flight, one name stands out – Roma.

From having Paul Gallagher as a strike partner to Francesco Totti? Dave Brammer as midfield general to Daniele de Rossi (Nothing against Dave, quite the opposite in fact as a Wrexham fan – I wish we had a player half as good as him at the Racecourse right now)?

And all with a 1,500% pay rise?


Yeah right, as if that would ever happen…

Now the elephant in the room – playability. First impressions are OK – players are responsive, passing is snappy and accurate (mostly… you will sometimes put one out for a throw-in when you swear you held the stick in the direction of a team-mate) and the gridiron-style plays for set pieces are genuinely innovative and well implemented.

But then it all goes to shit – play a slightly stray pass and a colleague will ignore it, letting it roll past him even if it’s less than a yard from his feet. Getting in an accurate cross is impossible… not that you have any hope in hell of ever winning a ball in the air anyway.

The second biggest issue is 1-on-1s. Another blatant nick from Konami here, this time from ISS 3 on the GameCube. The game will enter a third-person mode like you’re Lara bloody Croft or something. Then you’ll inevitably cease control of the ball as your temporary disorientation will cause you to lose focus. Every. Single. Time. Turn it off as soon as you can.

Finally… shooting. Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear. It is far too sensitive – even the slightest tap of the square button will cause you to unleash a thunderbastard that would take off the goalkeeper’s arm if the shot was anything like on target. They hardly ever are though, even if you’re standing two yards from the goal. I hope the crowd are all wearing full face crash helmets, otherwise somebody’s going to be losing teeth.

That’s if you can carve out chances to shoot in the first place – to say your opponents take refuge in blanket defence is putting it lightly. Once you enter their third, you’ll see half a dozen of them swarming around the ball – your only hope here is to try and play through them with a series of one-twos and intricate passing. This is where the idea for tiki-taka came from, it must be. There’s no other rational explanation.

Even then, nine times out of ten the move will break down as one of your lot get flagged offside. Did anyone ever sing about dreaming of a team of Pippo Inzaghis?

No one will ever sing any arias about this game, that’s for sure.

That’s not really On…


Complete Onside Soccer, or just Onside as the spine of the PlayStation game case would have it, was developed by Elite Systems – best known for their arcade conversions for 8-bit computers and being the current holders of the Paperboy license – and published by Telstar, best known for cheapo compilation albums and giving record deals to the likes of Ant & Dec, Vinnie Jones and The Cheeky Girls. Hardly the most auspicious signs, then.

Well, that and the fact that the game was originally going to be released on the astonishingly successful and influential 3DO*.

* Note – words in italics may be sarcasm.

Released in 1996, it purported to be the first game on the PS1 to properly combine playing and managing. Turns out it was less S.W.O.S. and more S.H.I.T.



Look at that screenshot. Glorious, is is not?

Even for the early days of the PlayStation, the graphics could described as “stark”, “unpolished”, “basic” or more accurately “a steaming pile of visual faeces”. And that’s even before you see them move!

Players slide around the pitch, not so much in a graceful Messi-esque fashion though – think Teflon boots on an ice rink. Not to mention the speed – pre-match meals for these folk seem to be about four dozen Pro Plus each washed down with fourteen cans of Red Bull. They’re BUZZED and jittery. Very, very jittery. You’re seeing 22 Jamie Vardys out there. Play shit, get banged… sorry.

Audio is somehow even worse – crowd noises are so generic they barely warrant a mention and the ball makes that “phut” sound that only people who’ve never kicked a football believe doing so sounds like.

Commentary is by… um… some bloke. This might have worked if they’d gone down the route of getting a Japanese guy to try and do a passable attempt at a Received Pronunciation accent, only he’s missed a few elocution lessons. If you’ve ever played Taito’s Football Champ or the 16-bit ISS games, you’ll know what I’m going on about. It’s awful yet somehow brilliant. Unfortunately Elite did not have that level of imagination and seemingly just got the teaboy. And doesn’t he sound enthused?

No. Of course not. He makes Alan Green sound like a ray of fucking sunshine. Necking Mogadons like they’re Smarties before entering the recording booth is never a positive career move.

Controls then. Bloody hell. To say you’re wrestling with them is an understatement on par with Hirohito’s surrender to the Allies or Jim Lovell’s message to Mission Control. They are ghastly. Nominally, each button is meant to do something different but in practice all they seem to do is aimlessly hoof it forward like Wayne Rooney playing in midfield. The only variation is whether it ends up as a misplaced low pass, a misplaced high pass, a misplaced shot or misplaced cross. The only satisfactory way of keeping possession for anything longer than Planck time is to run with it and slalom around opponents in the manner of Alberto Tomba.

Yet it’s still one of the easiest football games ever made. I’ve had no problem putting double figures against rivals on the highest difficulty. How is this even possible if you can’t even kick with any elan? Simple. The keepers are completely oblivious to you simply dribbling the ball into the back of the net.

Defenders are pretty charitable as well. You’ll get at least two penalties in every match, at least 90% of which you’ll have no idea why they were awarded. Mike Dean must be refereeing. Spot kicks are the only realistic opportunity of seeing your player boot the vaguely football-shaped object in a forwardly direction and scoring one of them there goal thingies.

So then…



Look at that bewildering array of options. Sports Interactive must have shat themselves when they saw that. It’s so comprehensive, it’s like you’re actually a football manager.

Seriously though, when you’ve learned how to actually play the game, most of these settings are rendered null and void.

Why do I need to set training schedules if I can just go out and pummel everyone 10-0?

Why do I need to sign a new striker if my right-back is scoring a hat trick in every game?

It’s a difficult balance that quite a few games have tried to strike. The word there being “tried”. Onside doesn’t try. It just has these bunged on because there was still room on the CD. Kind of like this bit of the review, to be honest.

The really annoying thing though is that there are a few – very few, admittedly – nice touches in there somewhere. Being able to change your kit colours (although even this is sorely lacking, you’re screwed for shirt options unless your team wears stripes), and choosing the camera angle is really well done – selecting it by marking a section of the stadium as it would appear on a ticket. I will admit I like that a lot.

An upbeat note to end on then… and I didn’t even mention Jo Guest wearing nothing but a Bolton shirt in the magazine ads.

Go on then… if you must.


Let it never be said that I don’t know what you want… perverts…


First of all, let’s get the basics out of the way.

I’m Liam, 34, 5′ 9″, Welsh, Leo, GSOH. Yourself?

I have set this blog up as a refuge from the constant barrage of most football video game stuff you’ll find online, the corporate behemoths of FIFA and PES that between them have destroyed the competition. Although I have to confess I’ve been on the Konami side since the days of ISS Deluxe on the Mega Drive.

The intention here is to bring attention to those lesser-known or fondly remembered but long since abandoned titles.

Whether it be once promising but now long since derelict franchises like Actua Soccer or  This is Football, arcade favourites like Virtua Striker or Football Champ, the just plain bonkers such as UEFA Dream Soccer or Red Card and of course the just plain crap. European Super League, anyone? Anyone?

I’ll try and avoid clickbait but if I do have a good idea for a top 10 list, ULTIMATE BEST or SHOCKINGLY WORST, I won’t be afraid to go with it. Maybe I won’t actually use those words for titles, though.

Thank you, spread the word and hopefully I won’t get too stuck with blogger’s block!