Saturday, 2 February 2013

NASL Soccer (1979)

There is, in my view, a curious ratio that applies when you’re a child. It states that no matter how good the Christmas presents are that you receive, you will always be envious of those your friends received. This was the case back in the early 1980’s when I, as the grateful owner of a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, paid a visit to the home of my schoolmate, Trevor. At some point in my stay, he unveiled the prize offering from his festive haul – an Intellivision video game system. No contest.

The Atari 2600 console seemed to have been and gone by the time Intellivision arrived in the UK. Intellivision seemed incredibly modern and comprehensive by comparison. True, we still had a token piece of wood panelling to provide a supposed touch of class, but the Mattel-made system had strange hand-held controllers like telephone handsets connected to their mothership via a curly cord. Strange stuff indeed.

The allure of an Intellivision system seemed almost too much to bear for my 11-year-old self. All those amazing games I could play like Zaxxon and Donkey Kong… Sadly I never got to own either, but at least now at the ripe old age of 41 I can console myself (sorry) with the thought that these are now considered two of the worst games ever made for the Intellivision. Had I owned the console, however, there was one other game I may have been tempted to purchase: NASL Soccer.

Released in 1979 (at the peak of the North American Soccer League’s popularity), we see an ambitious attempt to portray the game using the side-on view - always a challenge for games makers everywhere. Everything appears to be in order, and impressively so at first sight: two teams, one in yellow, the other in magenta, both featuring players with clearly delineated heads, chests, legs and feet. Though we’re never in danger of seeing an actual kit design, this is obviously easier on the eye and more realistic than, say, Atari’s Pelé's Soccer.

As with that game, both sides have three outfield players and a goalkeeper, but here the players can move independently on the pitch. The players nearest the ball are indicated in different colours (orange for the yellow team, blue for the magenta team) and the colours are similarly applied to the scores shown intermittently at the top of the screen. Even the ball has a pixelated Adidas Telstar look to it, despite looking distinctly non-spherical.

All in all, one might say ‘so far so good.’ Unfortunately the game falls down when you try to play it, which is unfortunate to say the least. To begin, the act of kicking the ball sends it into an interminable roll which can only be stopped when another play gets in the way of it. Furthermore, the ball never actually leaves the ground which, if nothing else, should appeal to the anti-Sam Allardyce contingent amongst you.

When the ball does gain enough momentum to cover a long distance without stopping, the screen pans to follow it. A tick in the box for emulating real TV coverage there, but curiously the players that scroll off the side of the screen at the time re-emerge on the other side so as not to be lost in gameplay. A tricky one to get your head round if you plan to send a 60-yard pass down the wing to find your star striker upfield.

Being a soccer title of American origin, the gameplay instructions are wonderfully worded. On the subject of scoring a goal, we’re told: "Your opponent can only move his goalie in lunges' between goal posts. Move quickly to fake him out." For 'lunges' read 'dives' and for 'fake him out' read 'send him the wrong way.' And if the ball goes in? "IT’S A SCORE! Your score increases by one point…" How very helpful.

Perhaps the most inflexible aspect of this game is that it was made for two players only. Not that that was a technical limitation – the Intellivision system had two controllers after all – but without a fellow human to play the game with, the team in magenta would remain motionless throughout. A digitised Aston Villa, if you will.

A bit of a shame really as this wasn’t such a bad game to play back in the day. The players were a bit slow to manoeuvre but it was simple enough really. Sadly you get the impression that this lacked some of the razzmatazz that the NASL seemed to embody and for that reason this has become an overlooked video game through the passage of time. Still and all, it deserves to enter the Football Attic video game archive, taking its place early on the developmental curve that ultimately brought us Pro Evolution Soccer and the FIFA series.

1 comment:

  1. I owned an Intellivsion and spent many happy days (weeks, months) playing Night Stalker and Lock 'n' Chase.

    I also owned a 'soccer' game and looking at the graphics, it must have been this one. Your description misses one other frustrating thing. You could only kick the ball whether a pass or shot, if the player was moving. Alongside the other quirks mentioned above, this caused it to be an incredibly frustrating game.

    Not as bad as 'Sub Hunt' though...

    Alex M