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?

The Console Wars: Aladdin Vs… Aladdin?

Forget the current resolution wars between PS4 and Xbox One. This intellectual property added fire to the already-brutal console wars fire of the 90’s. I remember having brutal teenage arguments with friends, unjustifiably defending my choice (SNES) even though I’d never played a second of the Mega Drive version at that time. I was a bit of a SNES fanboy. I won’t deny it.

Having since experienced both from start to finish, is there an actual definitive answer? Let’s see which one truly is the diamond in the rough. (Sorry not sorry).

Aladdin (SNES)

aladdinsnes1First of all, both versions of Aladdin for the SNES and Sega Mega Drive/Genesis were published and developed independently. The former by Capcom, due to its Disney licensing rights with Nintendo at the time. It is a simple, enjoyable although not-so-challenging 2D side-scrolling platformer. It does however boast some of the crispest visuals to ever appear on the platform, accompanied with a great, faithful soundtrack.

Although not the longest of games, every level plays out at pretty breakneck pace. As Aladdin you vault from posts in the ground and swing from those stuck out of walls, Prince of Persia-style. Capcom implemented the Super Mario method of bad guy disposal: jumping on them. Such disposals are integrated into the paths you take, creating an often seamless journey through the streets of Agrobah and beyond.

Capcom’s Aladdin was the first hit game of designer Shinji Mikami, of future Resident Evil/Vanquish/Evil Within fame. It is indeed the level design that is Aladdin’s greatest attribute. The traversing of obstacles flow effortlessly when negotiated with the desired precision. It’s a game to perfect as well as conquer, with the charm and essence of the movie all wrapped up in a nice few hours of entertainment.

Aladdin (Sega Mega Drive/Genesis)

The Sega version of Aladdin was published and developed by Sega and Virgin Games respectively. Sega’s licensing gave them something Capcom didn’t – Disney animators. Yes, Disney actually animated this game. So naturally, the character sprites looked ripped right out of the movie, and are superbly animated.

But not just the visuals were different; Aladdin was given a sword, and jumping on enemies just caused you harm – cue a more recent Prince of Persia homage with its basic swordplay. For those enemies further away, collected apples become an essential secondary attack, which adds an extra dimension to the very few boss fights.

RugridealaddinAfter the first couple of levels the fun factor soon transitions into massive frustration and annoyance. The learning curve steeply rises about halfway through. The ‘Rug Ride’ level was nearly as frustrating and life-sapping as the infamous Battletoads bike level.

Comparing the Genie levels of both editions, this one is just a mess in level design, and at times too difficult to be tolerable. Catching, holding and jumping between several balloons with instant death should you miss just feels so unnecessary. Who knew Robin Williams’ Genie was so malicious? Oh wait, he wasn’t, so why is he TRYING TO KILL ME?

Another soon-to-be-famous designer was responsible for this version: Dave Perry, of Earthworm Jim fame. You can definitely see the resemblances between the two. Unfortunately for Dave, I wasn’t a fan of Earthworm Jim mechanically either, despite both games’ success. It looks nice, though, I suppose.

References today

You have my view, but the debate still rages on between the two. As recently as February 2014, Polygon posted an interview with Shinji Mikami, who stated he preferred the animation of the Mega Drive version. He further complimented the game by saying he would have probably bought the Mega Drive version – if he hadn’t have made the SNES version of course.

Over on Twitter, someone declared their love for Aladdin on the Mega Drive to the @GAMEdigital handle, only for Game to re-tweet and add an image…..of the SNES version. It was later claiming it would be a ‘clearer’ image. Take that, Dave Perry.