Needless to say, we’re spoilt for football (soccer) games these days. Ever since FIFA popped its head out of the sand in 1993 the genre has gone from strength to strength. My experiences with the Master System have been much detailed in this blog, Games Freezer and very soon, our podcast. But when I think about sheer time spent on a game I think of World Soccer.
Italia 90 on the 8-bit is virtually unplayable, this is not. At the time I bemoaned the lack of a FIFA or anything decent on the MS football-wise but played this game to death. True to its word, World Soccer has eight countries to choose from. Don’t worry, a combined GBR team makes for more variation and less cross border scraps. And they all have varying AI – Germany and Argentina are tough, whereas Japan are always good to have around to sharpen up your skills. The game has two modes – exhibition match and, wait for it, penalty shoot out (which I’ll come to later on).
The graphics are not bad for a 1987 Master System title. The sprites all have perms which is true to the era and the pitch resembles lime jelly which was very popular in the eighties. World Soccer also has what I believe to be the first ever animated crowd. To the untrained eye it may just look like rainbow flavoured pixels alternating slightly but 8-fanatics will see families, drunkeds and flag bearers alike, joy. A little dance is enjoyed by all when a goal is scored which brings me to the sound and gameplay.
There is a very satisfying thud when kicking the ball. I say ball but it’s more akin to one of those beachballs you partly fill with water that wobbles all over the place, when you press the “pass” button at least. The “theme” music will stick in your head. I can still recite it perfectly after twenty one years – approach with caution. Dribbling the ball doesn’t last long as all sprites move at the same speed without the ball and being in possession of it reminds me of playing the game as a toddler. Crunching tackles galore, Vinny Jones would have been proud to put his name to this game. Playing like the Crazy Gang (tm?) will reap rewards.
Hoof ball. I said it, will get you those goals. Pressing the shoot button in your own half will turn into the best through ball ever. You’re one on one with the goalie but where do you place the ball? Where the arrow is of course. World Soccer doesn’t pick up which direction you’re pressing on the D-pad to shoot, you need to move the arrow up and down. This leads to some interesting game mechanics. When you move the arrow, your player moves too. The only way to score on a regular basis is to Overmars it. For those who don’t know, Marc Overmars was a winger famed for playing on the opposite side (left) and cutting in so he’s on his preferred right foot. Seeing as he didn’t turn pro until 1990 we’ll assume the programmers had other ideas. Good goalies will follow your arrow but you can catch them out with a cheeky cross-field pass. It sounds odd but in retrospect was a lot better than other 8-bit football games. Two-player is a good laugh and this brings me to the jewel in World Soccer’s crown.
The bane of any English national team since 1990, penalty kicks. Other 8-bit games have tried this but World Soccer excels at it. When you win a normal exhibition match you’re greeted by a nice cut-scene of your captain holding the World Cup aloft and the opposing captain strolling over to shake his hand. Big, meaty, 8-bit sprites. They turn up again in penalty mode. So it looks pretty. It plays pretty too. Every shot will be on target thanks to the simple D-pad where you want to shoot mode, add the shoot button to reach those corners. The same controls are for the goalie so match your mate’s button presses and you’ve made a save. Every goal is followed by an amazing star jump celebration, adding to World Soccer’s wholesome feel. When your pal throws his controller down in disgust at missing that vital penalty it’ll seem a bit less wholesome but it’s all good fun.
It’s hard for me to be completely objective about a game that was slated for being distinctly average as it got me through a lot of tough times. To compensate for a lack of tournament mode I’d draw out my own schedule on graph paper and play out the games one by one. It’s a great little package and whilst it has its flaws it’s more than adept at keeping a couple of retro gamers entertained on a rainy Sunday afternoon.