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?

Retroreflection #3 – Ghost in the Shell (PS1)

Developed by: Exact (now Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan) and Production I.G.

What would have been deemed impossible for both the anime and movie industry 20 years ago, a Hollywood adaption of Ghost in the Shell was released. Masamune Shirow’s original manga of nearly 30 years ago is philosophical, sociological, psychological and essential reading, a feat echoed by the 1995 anime classic. Following its success on both eastern and western shores, and with the Playstation in full flight, Sony released a Shirow-designed video game just 2 years later.

Ghost in the Shell is an action-packed yet simple first/third person shooter and a great entry for fans of the franchise as a whole. Retaining the excellent animation and voice acting from the English dubbing, the highlights of this now-collectable PS1 title are most definitely the original cut-scenes that give the impression of an interactive movie of sorts. You play as the ‘Rookie’, a new recruit to Public Security Section 9 alongside Major Kusanagi, Batou, etc., as a new terrorist threat, the Human Liberation Front, claims to be responsible for the bombing of the Megatech Body Corporation building, but all is not as it seems….

In order to complete the investigation and infiltration, you control a Fuchikoma, a highly-manoeuvrable spider-like mini tank, the result delivering hi-octane 3D action in the form of standard shooting designated targets in order to access the next area type stuff; it can jump, strafe, scale buildings, fire missiles and comes with an unlimited-ammo machine gun by default. Set pieces such as navigating through tight sewer systems and free-falling down a skyscraper are high points in between the glossy mission-brief cut scenes.

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But despite the stunning cut-scenes, top soundtrack, and easy pick up and play access, a full play-through of the game only takes around the same time as it does to watch the movie, with little to no replay value, and is incredibly easy. I remember my first play-through came from an overnight rental, back when rentals were an excellent try-before-you-buy method. This was more tried-and-don’t-need-to-buy, with the game retailing around £34.99 on its release, a little less than the standard £40+ but still a questionable price. Amazingly, it has never been released on PSN in Europe, meaning that original copies are now fetching £60+ on eBay in today’s inflated collectors market.

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Ghost in the Shell is unique in that there are very few titles like it; an original anime production straight from the creators, which is ultimate fan service. 20 years on, it is astonishing that it still stands as the most original anime-based video game ever made. Unfortunately, much like the new movie, it is a disappointingly shallow-yet-fun experience. A must for any fans/completest but nothing more.