Retrospective: Soccer Video Games

Championship Soccer (Atari, 1981)

Pele's soccer

Atari ruled the gaming market during the 1980’s and Championship Soccer (also known as Pele’s Soccer) was one of the more popular soccer video games at the time. As you can see from the screenshot, it’s difficult to discern which rectangle represents the Brazilian legend Pele, but thankfully the manual provides the following description:

“CRASH” MORGAN the galloping goalie, is the fastest man on the team. “CRASH” got his nickname because he is forever slamming into the goal posts chasing after the ball. Fortunately, the goal posts are never damaged, but sometimes you can score a goal on him before his ears stop ringing.
NICK DANGER, the frantic forward, is mean and nasty and just loves to blast the ball into your goal shouting, “eat leather, chump.” Don’t let his bad manners bother you, it’s just his way of rattling the opposition.
“LUMPY” DURAN, the left back, is without a doubt the clumsiest player in the world of soccer. Penalized twice for stepping on the ball instead of kicking it, he was finally thrown out of one game for toe-kicking the referee!
ALEXIE PUTSNOWSKI (Putsy), the right back. What can we say about Putsy? A real ladies man, a great soccer player, a sore loser. Even though “The Puts” has kicked and gouged his way to soccer stardom, for three years in a row he has been voted the “least likely” player.

Soccer (Nintendo, 1987)

NES Soccer

Soccer was a “first generation” sports game for the NES. The game lets you play 6-vs-6 matches against the computer or a friend. During halftime, players are treated to a performance by a group of cheerleaders (never seen that in a real soccer match, but I digress).

Kick off (1989, Anco)

In the late 1980s, soccer games focused on fun arcade action. The player sprites were small, the ball was bouncy and the gameplay was intense. This trend is most evident in Kick Off, one of the first soccer video games to have a top-down view. Unlike other titles of the time, in Kick Off the ball was not glued to the feet of the players so the game required coordination and skill. There is even an option that lets you practice set pieces, passing, sliding tackles and dribbling.

Sensible Soccer (Sensible Software, 1993)

Sensible Soccer

Sensible Soccer is the first soccer title to challenge the supremacy of the Kick Off series. The graphical view is from overhead, giving players better visibility of the pitch. The basic control system involves dribbling and one-touch passing. The game featured league and cup competitions including the 1992 European Championship. There are 168 teams in total with 40 European nations and 64 clubs.

International Superstar Soccer (Konami, 1994)

Konami took a big leap in soccer gaming with the release of ISS in 1994. This game had it all: good controls, graphics, challenging AI, arcade dynamism… The game let you intercept the ball with sliding tackles, play through passes, one-two combos and so much more. There was also team strategy and a large number of adjustable variables right down to referee leniency. ISS is probably one of the most advanced 2D soccer games of all time.

Virtua Striker (Sega, 1994)

Virtua Striker

Modern soccer gaming began with Virtua Striker. The game was released on Sega’s Model 2 arcade board, which offered detailed characters and fluid animation at 30 frames per second. Virtua Striker lit up arcades with its amazing 3D graphics, eventually becoming one of the most recognized franchises around the globe. Here’s what developer Satoshi “Bin” Mifune has said about the series upon the release of Virtua Striker 2002 for the Dreamcast:

The VS series is originally for arcades, and it emphasizes playing with two players against each other… I think real soccer is very ‘free.’ It’s been hard for a game to reach it, but we want the users to feel as if they actually kick the ball on the field. Therefore, we have tried to improve the graphics, movement reality, and control. We know nothing has changed inside us since we created the original VS…Other soccer games sometimes look like they are made from the viewpoint of the audience, not the players — and I can’t get into those games. But I think this is because I want the feeling of taking part in the game on the field rather than controlling a famous soccer player.

Actua Soccer (Gremlin, 1995)

Actua Soccer attempted to revive the feel of 2D arcade games. The 3D graphics were cutting edge with a lot of camera angles, thrilling action replays, stadium and crowd details and great sound effects. The game even had a feature allowing 4 players to compete at once on the same system.

FIFA 1999 (EA Games, 1998)

EA have raised the bar for all successive soccer games since the start of the FIFA series. FIFA ’99 offered a large pool of teams (over 250 club and 45 international) and players with their realistic strengths and weaknesses. Matches are narrated by Gary Lineker, Mark Lawrenson and Chris Waddle. For strange legal reasons, the Brazilian superstar Ronaldo does not appear in FIFA ’99.

Updated: April 23, 2016

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