Was there life before FIFA?

Well, the short answer is “barely”.  Our man Keith gives us the lowdown on what footy fans had to suffer before EA’s beast of a game:


In the same way that Sky would have you believe that football didn’t exist before the inception of the Premier League in 1992, Electronic Arts would probably be pretty happy if people believed that football video games didn’t exist prior to the release of FIFA International Soccer in late 1993.  We’ve gotten so used to the yearly instalments of FIFA (plus the tournament tie ins) and Pro Evolution Soccer over the past two decades that it seems unimaginable that any other football games even existed.  However, for better or worse (much worse in some cases…) they did, and here we take a look at just a few of them….


World Soccer – (Master System)


Released in Europe in late 1987, and in the US under the title ‘Great Soccer’ (err, ok…), World Soccer was the first console football game I ever played or owned.  At the time, bearing in mind that I was about 7 or 8 years old when I got it, it seemed ok at first.  But young Keith soon grew weary and frustrated with this second rate sim.  Although the pitchside view and cutesy sprites looked ok, the controls were clunky and unresponsive, there were no free kicks whatsoever (apart from offsides!), and it was almost impossible to score!


World Soccer2IF you somehow got close enough to the opposition goal to have a shot, the direction of your effort was determined by a white arrow that slide up and down the goal line, that you then had to stop in the desired place.  You also had to make sure you kept the ball and that your player was facing the right way – this sounds easy in the modern era of responsive controls and pads with 28 buttons, but back then it was a freakin’ nightmare!  And that is where World Soccer shall stay – confined to my nightmares.


Gazza’s Superstar Soccer – (Amiga, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum)


Endorsed by and named after everyone’s favourite blubbing boozy Geordie, Gazza’s Superstar Soccer is a haunting reminder of how bad things used to be.  Bizarrely, it has no scrolling.  This means there are three fixed views of the pitch, a side on view of the middle third, and as soon as the ball goes to one end of the pitch it switches to an end to end view where the camera appears to be floating above the centre circle… If this wasn’t distracting enough, the game is also uglier than Gazza’s fellow Geordie and erstwhile England teammate Peter Beardsley (sorry Beardo), and the players all appear to be doing a poorly choreographed version of Riverdance.   Michael Flatley must be spinning in his grave.  Whats that? He’s not dead? Oh…..


gazza2This is a shocking game and not one that I would recommend checking out, even for nostalgic reasons.  Amazingly, it even spawned a sequel!  Interestingly, in Scandinavia it was called ‘Anders Limpar’s Proffs Fotboll’.  Better title definitely, but not enough to save this game from the soccer sim scrapheap.


Kick Off – (Amiga, Atari ST, NES initially, everything else later…)


First released in 1989, Kick Off became a huge success, and its developer Dino Dini became a well-known name amongst gamers of the time (in true football style he even ‘transferred’ from Anco to Virgin Games in the early 1990’s).   It was another game with a top down view, which worked well.  It was quite difficult to get the hang of, and dribbling with the ball took a fair bit of time and skill to master, but this did add an air of realism to the way it played.  It was notable at the time for various features such as action replays, players with different characteristics and skills, tactics, injuries and even different referees with different moods!


kickoff2Many sequels followed, as did ports to various consoles.  I played Super Kick Off a fair amount when it arrived on the Mega Drive, and always had a soft spot for it, in part due to the “almost, but not quite” player names.  Brian Eclair and Jamie Blueknapp being ones that stand out in the memory!


European Club Soccer – (Mega Drive)


Originally a PC game titled “Manchester United Europe” (I feel sick just typing that…), this sim from Virgin was released on the MD in 1992 and featured 170 teams to choose from, including those from the 1st Division at the time.  A classic case of style over substance, this is a very well presented game with decent animation and fairly detailed sprites.  However the gameplay lets it down terribly.


Euro-Club2The pace of the game is sloooooow beyond belief; the collision detection is appalling and the shooting and passing so weak it’s ridiculous.  Amongst all these frustrations and worthy of a special mention are the slide ‘tackles’ in this game.  Go on, give it a try and watch your defender slide halfway down the length of the pitch without getting anywhere near the ball. ARRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!


It’s a shame as it looks good, there are lots of options (tactics, kits, lots of teams, tournament mode), but the sloppy gameplay and plodding nature of the game suck all the fun out of it.


Sensible Soccer (Atari ST, Amiga, PC… then everything else!)


Developed by Sensible Software (hence the title…) and known affectionately by aficionados as Sensi, this was originally released on the Amiga, Atari ST and PC in 1992.  It featured a top down bird’s eye view similar to many older football games, but from much higher up.  It was most notable for its aftertouch feature which allowed you to put a crazy amount of swerve on the ball after you had a shot.  It was also a departure from most other footy sims at the time in that the ball ‘stuck’ to the player as he dribbled, as opposed to him appearing to tap it front of him as he ran, which was the case in other games.  This allowed a greater degree of control and added to the gameplay immensely as you can dribble round players in a way that had never been properly captured before.


Sensi2A true multi-player legend, the action was fast and furious end to end stuff, and the popularity of the game can easily be measured by the fact that it was eventually ported to virtually every console you can think of, including the Mega CD!  Sensible Soccer must go down as a classic and in the opinion of many, was the first truly great football video game.


They think it’s all over….


So there you go.  We’ve barely scratched the surface of retro football games, as I decided to only cover the ones I have previous experience of, and I wanted to end this article on a positive note with Sensible Soccer.  But for every Sensi, there’s a World Cup Italia ’90…  Now its over to you. What are some of your best loved/most hated retro football sims?  Let us know…


– Keith

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