Retroreflection #4 – Foray Into Football’s Arsenal (FIFA)

Football: it’s a funny old game, a game of 2 halves, and many other obligatory clichés that lead us to question the IQ of the football world at times. But at the end of the day football is fun, or should be, and there have indeed been some frankly fabulous fun football games (try saying that three times fast) from years and gaming generations past. 

 

Before the original FIFA Soccer for Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, there were little if no football simulations to speak of; most were arcade interpretations of the world’s most popular sport. The SNES never truly had a great football sim until Konami’s International Superstar Soccer came along. The port of the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis FIFA was weak and frankly didn’t fit in the catalogue, which is a fair reflection on all of EA Sports’ simulations for Nintendo’s 16 bit beast. But of these arcade efforts were a few fun gems, and that’s why this edition of Retroreflection is doing what many nostalgic football fans do: look to the glories of the past.

Fever Pitch Soccer (SNES/Mega Drive/Atari Jaguar)

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Unlike today’s FIFA/PES same old year-in-year-out efforts, Fever Pitch is a much simpler affair; just switch on and enjoy 1-2 hours of pure fun.

Fever Pitch is hardly a simulation, but ironically simulation itself is one of the many ‘skills’ on offer in what is a superbly slapstick football/soccer video game. Your team is made up of rough and ready ragamuffins, each with a dirty skill (diver, banana shot, fireball shot) that can (or will) be use, as desired with the touch of a single button, to win at all costs. In practice it makes for some frankly ridiculous scores on the board, but you’d be too busy laughing at players diving all over the place to even notice.

It may now be well over 20 years old, for me it is still a great example that football video games shouldn’t have to take themselves so seriously. As the saying goes, its a funny old game, and if nothing else, Fever Pitch Soccer achieves that perfectly.

Football Manager (PC/Mobile/Nintendo Switch)

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Wrecker of relationships, destroyer of social lives, all for the chance to live the dream: to see your team win, all achieved by your hand and yours alone. I’ve known girlfriends be bribed with presents just to secure a day of play on Football Manager. A somewhat unimpressive feat for sure, but not to a Football Manager player.

Forget all the depth, the fact you can train each single player individually how you wish, manage any team in almost any league imaginable, do the unthinkable (yes, even Spurs winning the Premier League).

Football Manager takes itself as seriously as you desire, leaving it open for the most dedicated of football managers, or for those who prefer to keep it simple. Not many video games can lay that gauntlet down and succeed. I am a semi-retired Football Manager Player myself, but it is a series so consistent that I would easily be able to jump back in any year if I so wished. Maybe just one more month before bed won’t hurt. What’s the worst that could happen?

Sensible World of Soccer (PC/Xbox Live)

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Holy hell I lost a lot of my youth on this game. Perfectly balancing the core features of football management with arcade football only the 90’s could provide, Sensible World of Soccer was/is indeed the best of both worlds; either manage a team, train and buy players and watch the games, or same again but play out the outcome. Using the old-school up and down pitch view, the football on offer is fast and fun, and while it will never compete with FIFA for realistic gameplay or Football Manager’s exhaustive stat-heaven, the beauty of it is that it doesn’t need to.

Despite being released in 1994, patches are still being released for PC for the latest Premier League squads, which is a testament to the games legacy as quite possibly the most fun football game in existence. No sequel could improve SWOS. Still available on Xbox Live also, enhanced in HD goodness, it’s a bargain at under a tenner. And although it is the last game in the series in almost 10 years, it’s still top of the league, and any football fan would be mad not to check it out.

How about you – outside of FIFA/PES, what football games are close to your hearts?

Animation Advent Calendar – 12 Days of Christmas #11 – The Simpsons: Miracle on Evergreen Terrace

Another classic Christmas episode from The Simpsons, and Bart is the catalyst once again. After an attempt at a cheeky sneak peak at his Christmas presents in the early hours of Christmas Day, Bart inadvertently burns down the Christmas tree and the presents with it. If that wasn’t bad enough, he hides the evidence in the snow-covered front lawn snow, and instead of confessing, conjures up the lie that they were burgled. What results is a fantastic show of charity and togetherness from the residents of Springfield to save The Simpsons’ Christmas. That is, until the town discovers the truth…..

The Simpsons S09 E10 – Miracle on Evergreen Terrace

Often hailed as the last-best season of The Simpsons, Miracle on Evergreen Terrace is a corker. Homer’s Christmas Eve shopping strategy is hilarious. As is Bart’s prediction of his family’s presents under the tree. Concocting such a lie just to temporarily save his own skin is up there with stealing from two seasons before, but in many ways both have endearing qualities. Lying often seems easier, but of course always makes it worse, but what ten year old hasn’t? Excellent nod to Miracle on 34th Street with the title, too.

“Aren’t we forgetting the true meaning of Christmas? You know, the birth of Santa.” – Bart Simpson

Miracle on Evergreen Terrace is an excellent episode of The Simpsons. Some of the later Christmas-related episodes don’t have the endearment on display here, and like many episodes in the earlier seasons (bear in mind this one is now twenty-three years old), this is a stark reminder of how good The Simpsons truly is.

Animation Advent Calendar – 12 Days of Christmas #9 – The New Batman Adventures: Holiday Knights

I don’t know about you, but I do love a good anthology. The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror and Futurama’s Anthology of Interest episodes are the standouts from an animation perspective. But this opening episode of the second nineties Batman animated series breaks from it’s own mould and is a trio of tales set around festive period. This episode surprisingly aired on September 13th 1997. Not complaining, but you know, weird.

The New Batman Adventures S01 E01: Holiday Knights

The three tales of tinsel-time are divided by the dates they are set: December 22nd, Christmas Eve and, of course, New Year’s Eve. On the third day before Christmas Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, cooped up hiding in crappy digs, fancy some fun and fortune over Christmas. Their master plan is revealed as, while disguised among a group of well-to-do ladies on the arm of billionaire Bruce Wayne, a single chemical-laden kiss from Ivy means he is under her physical control. The subservient body of Bruce quickly becomes Harley and Ivy’s Christmas shopping spree wallet.

“May we give you a ride, Mr Wayne?” – Poison Ivy

“No thanks, I have my own car” – Bruce Wayne

“Oh, but we insist.” – Harley Quinn

Of course the villains get carried away with the use of a blank cheque Bruce Wayne. And as helpless as he is originally, and aware of his actions and state of mind, the chemical effects naturally dissolve which give Bruce the moment he needs to engineer an escape. The climax with the caped crusader also has a very different use for a Christmas Tree.

Tale number two is on Christmas Eve, with Barbara Gordon doing some late Christmas shopping. When she notices a small kid shoplifting, and attempts to stop him, the kid’s hand dissolves in hers. Harvey Bullock and Renee Montoya are posing as Santa and his elf at the mall, aware of several robberies, supposedly by children. When confronted however they merge to form Clayface.

A simple yet fun tale, which features legend Tara Strong in her first credit for voicing Batgirl, replacing Melissa Gilbert from Batman: TAS. Harvey Bullock as a shopping mall Santa Claus is a definite highlight.

And finally there’s New Years Eve. Batman, Robin, and Commissioner Gordon discover that The Joker is planning to wreak havoc at Gotham’s countdown celebration. Enter the new Dynamic Duo: Batman and the new Robin, Tim Drake. Their search for The Joker leads them to room full of Jokers – all celebration participants are wearing Joker masks. This quick caper is brought to an end as Batman, although wounded, drops a giant bell on the Clown Prince of Crime just as the new year rings in. Great stuff. The episode ends with a denouement, following the Joker-centric event, as we learn that Commissioner Gordon meets with Batman every new year’s night. Also, amusingly, Batman manages to sneak away while paying for the coffee each and every time.

“Hi-ho couch potatoes. I’m interrupting the Toilet Bowl to bring you my very special New Year’s resolution: ahem, starting tonight at midnight, I, your loving uncle Joker, do solemnly vow not to kill anyone for a whole year. Which means I’m going to have to work extra fast to bump off a few more of you today.”. – The Joker

As a season opener, Holiday Knights works as a form of light entertainment, easing viewers back into the swing of things. The fact that it wasn’t aired closer to Christmas instead is a little strange in terms of placement, but it also serves well as a taster of the design changes of the new Batman season. Although a continuation of Batman: TAS, The New Batman Adventures is visually quite different. It looks more like a kids show, coinciding with its move in the US from the Fox network to WBKids at the time. But creators Bruce Timm and Paul Dini have spoken previously about having more freedom following the move, and it is clear that the show’s integrity was preserved as a result. I still have issues with The Joker’s look, though. Nevertheless, a nice little collection of Christmas tales from the one of the best superhero shows ever produced.

Animation Advent Calendar – 12 Days of Christmas #7 – The Simpsons: Marge Be Not Proud

Can you believe it is only two weeks until Christmas Day? Mental. A bit like work at the moment also. But now it is time to get back on track. There’s Christmas entertainment to be had, dammit!

The Simpsons S07 E11 – Marge Be Not Proud

One of the few more subtle Christmas-themed episodes of the world’s longest running animated show, Marge Be Not Proud is a cracker. Christmas is approaching, and the latest video game advertisement leaves Bart with an itch that can’t be scratched by his parents. Unfortunately for both Bart and his parents, it leads the former to make a decision that completely alters his relationship with the latter. That decision being, to obtain said video game using the “four-finger discount” method.

This episode of The Simpsons is true evidence of a show at its creative and comedic best. Christmas may merely be a secondary backdrop, but the tale told and lessons learned here could only come at Christmas time. But lets not forget that season 7 was absolute peak Simpsons Marge Be Not Proud is an incredibly funny episode.

The advertisement for Bonestorm, the video game that triggers Bart’s criminal actions, is a fantastically hilarious parody of both the Mortal Kombat videogame franchise and the in-your-face commercials of the 1990’s. Its relentless assault on the desires of a ten year old boy are laid bare as his pursuit of Bonestorm becomes more and more desperate. Each step leads Bart down a path where the moral imperative, seemingly, is to take it from the local department store. What really resonates here is that this isn’t just the decision of the character Bart Simpson, but a decision that many a ten year old could make. That was certainly the intentions of episode-writer Mike Scully, who based Marge Be Not Proud on a similar experience he had at twelve years of age.

“Christmas is a time when people of all religions come together to worship Jesus Christ.” – Bart

Marge Be Not Proud is a prime example of just how good The Simpsons really was in the nineties. And, an excellent Christmas episode too. The end credits are among the best the show has ever produced, with the now-legendary Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge segment still as hilarious as it ever was. It is also a true testament to a gamer’s contempt towards an unwanted title. Christmas may not be the big draw here by any means, but this empathic, meticulously funny and charming tale of a boy-done-bad-but-done-good-again is wonderful entertainment.

Animation Advent Calendar – 12 Days of Christmas #3 – Batman TAS: Christmas with the Joker

Finished your disappointing chocolate? Survived another day of Whamageddon? Seriously, google that. Time to move on to the early 1990’s with arguably the greatest comic book cartoon of all – Batman The Animated Series.

Batman: The Animated Series S01 E02 – Christmas with the Joker

Batman’s most famous villain, The Joker, makes his first appearance in just the second episode of this incredible and landmark animation showpiece. Its Christmas all right, but not if the psychotic clown has anything to do with it. After making his frankly hilarious escape from Arkham Asylum, The Joker kidnaps Commissioner Gordon, Detective Harvey Bullock, and reporter Summer Gleeson. As Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson prepare to watch It’s a Wonderful Life, the broadcast is interrupted as The Joker lures Batman and Robin into his latest game.

Mark Hamill’s debut as the clown prince of crime is but a taster of what is easily one of the world’s greatest examples of voice acting. But what a taster it is. Hamill’s sinister snigger is one of the most recognisable in film and television, and it all started right here. He is of course the standout in a show full of standouts – it cannot be stated enough how good both Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester are as Batman and Robin, respectively.

“Jingle bells! Batman smells! Robin laid an egg! The Batmobile lost a wheel and the Jo-ker got a-wa-a-a-ay!

Crashing through the roof, in a one-horse open tree. Busting out I go, laughing all the wheeeee! Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!” – Joker

As Joker’s plan to kill the hostages at the stroke of midnight nears, this iteration of Batman shows his true detective colours that would become a staple throughout the show’s three years on air. Bruce Wayne’s 21st century tech surrounds him against Gotham City’s art deco 1930’s style setting. Bruce is of course a man with resources well beyond most and this purely amplifies that, whilst looking ultra cool on the eye to watch.

Originally airing on the 12th November 1992, Christmas with the Joker is simply brilliant comic book television. It serves as an excellent early episode of such a landmark cartoon series. This was the episode that got me hooked back in my pre-teen years, and enjoyed it just as much as research for this post. Easily one of the best Christmas themed TV episodes in existence.