Wednesday, 11 September 2013

World Soccer, (Sega) 1987

My mate Martin and his older brother Darren loved video games and video game consoles. The spare room in their house was like an Aladdin's Cave of computer-based entertainment, and I loved paying them a visit every weekend just to wallow in the splendour of it all.

Their shelves were packed with title after title - good, bad and downright peculiar - and yet strangely only one in particular has stuck in my mind after more than 25 years: World Soccer for the Sega Master System.

There's no reason why it remains so memorable with me other than the fact that the cartridge case was often displayed front-on rather than showing only the spine.

That minimalist cover with the grid and a cartoon-style leg obviously had enduring qualities in the way no manufacturer would dare emulate nowadays. I don't even remember playing the game either, although it's entirely possible that I did. Certainly the evidence that YouTube provides has stirred one or two long-dormant memories in the back of my mind.

So what about the game itself? Essentially this was arcade fare - bright, zingy colours, low resolution and squeaky synthesised music, but par for the course back in 1987. On boot-up, a cheery title screen preceded the playing options which offered the choice of either a regular game of football or a penalty shoot-out competition.

Choosing the former prompted a further screen in which you chose the nationality of your own team and that of your opponent. There were eight countries to choose from covering a wide range of credibility, depending on your viewpoint. Alongside the international heavyweights of Brazil, France, Italy, Argentina and West Germany were the USA and Japan (neither of whom had made any real impact on the World Cup at that point) and Great Britain, a team that didn't actually exist in football terms.

No matter. By selecting the two countries desired, you were treated to a Casio-keyboard rendition of the anthems for both - a nice touch, and one that certainly showed the attention to detail that the team strips lacked. West Germany in yellow shirts?

With the teams picked, it was on with the action as the two sets of six small players ran onto the pitch. The roar of the crowd was as confusing as it was loud. If you've ever held a rolled up newspaper to your ear and listened to a toilet flushing, you'll probably get fairly close to the sound that greeted the teams' arrival.

Once the game was under way, the players scurried around in an appealing fashion, chasing a nicely animated ball that give a simple depiction of rotation and movement. Unfortunately the bounce of the ball was so minimal that you'd have been forgiven for thinking it was filled with concrete. On the positive side, however, it was unlikely you'd have kicked the ball into touch, no matter how hard you'd kicked it.

Unlike the games of today, there weren't many special moves that the players could make other than dribbling, passing, shooting and slide tackling, but there was the possibility of executing an overhead kick in front of goal if you'd timed it right and if you were optimistic enough to think you could score from it.

If you did score, however, the crowd went wild!

(Sorry - 'a bunch of kaleidoscopic ants behind the goal did the lambada.' Well, it amounted to the same thing, really.)

You'd also get to see a digital scoreboard showing the current tallies for both sides, and just as well because the score didn't appear permanently on-screen during the match. The provision of double figures to display both teams' scores was rather redundant too, as the close interplay on the pitch was hardly likely to see one team score ten or more.

Upon completion of a game, there was a lovely little sequence showing a member of the winning team joyfully holding the World Cup trophy aloft while one of the losing team walked up to offer a gentlemanly handshake.

Drawn games were decided by a penalty shoot-out competition, but if you couldn't engineer the score to suit your needs, you could also play the penalties in isolation via the main menu screen. The same setup applied - pick two teams, enjoy the national anthems for as long as you could stand them, then try to plant the ball past the opposition goalkeeper more times than they did it to you.

In this instance we saw the players in all their full-size glory as you controlled either the kick taker or the goalkeeper. Again there was some nice (if basic) animation sequences in which the kicker was seen either sinking to his knees when his shot didn't go in or elatedly doing star jumps when they did.

And that was about it, really. All in all, World Soccer offered simple, easy fun. It wasn't perfect, that's for sure; the pace of the game could've been a little quicker and the ball ought to have rolled and bounced more than it did, but the graphics were vivid and the game was easy to play.

We therefore doff our hat to the imperfect qualities of World Soccer - a good arcade football game that used its charm to win you over in the end.

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