Review by Ryan Harrison
It's the Paul Gascoigne of video games - good back in the day, but sadly hasn't aged too well.
Soccer. What a wonderful, inspired name for a video game! Okay, maybe not, but as you could probably guess from its simple name based from the sport it simulates (to an extent), this is the Nintendo Entertainment System's very first association football (soccer) video game. It is incredibly simple, with VERY little to mark it out from any other footy game out there, but being the first one to grace this great system, I do suppose this would have been considered a lot better back when, and even today, in all fairness, Soccer is still at least playable.
This game was released along with the NES console when it first launched in 1985, even predating my birth by a full two years. Back then, the NES console's technology was still young so it's quite understandable the makers would go for something simple. Like many of the other 'Black Box' sports games, for example 10-Yard Fight, Ice Hockey or Baseball, there is little in terms of teams, modes or customisations.
For those of you who enjoy deep, complex sports-sim games with a range of modes, teams and players ranging in ability and skill or flashy graphics with different stadiums, weather effects or camera angles, Soccer isn't going to be for you. Like any good game out there, the gameplay is the selling point in this game. When you begin, you can select which team to control from a possible seven. The only thing that separates one team from the next, however, is the colour of their kits. The players all look the same, and play the same. You can also choose your skill level from 1-5 (1 being easiest, 5 being hardest), and the length of each half of the match, before you begin the match and set out to put as many goals past the opposing team as you can, and outscore them to win.
For such a simple console still finding its feet in 1985, Soccer for the NES does not completely, faithfully or accurately recreate the sport. Rather than a full 11-man squad, this version only has 6 players on each side (five outfielders plus a goalkeeper), and cuts out fouls, yellow/red cards and some set-pieces to make for a simpler, free-flowing soccer experience. The sport itself is still one of the easiest to understand so you'll know what to do in this game; gain possession and advance deep into the opposing half, and try to shoot the ball into the opposing goal to score.
The control isn't too difficult to understand, but it is still notably flawed. You can only control one payer at a time both when on the offence and the defence, and switching between players to control is finicky. Quite often I found myself trying to string passes together, though the intended recipient for a pass will often run away from the ball or sometimes just completely miss the pass when it reaches them! The dribbling mechanics also leaves something to be desired; whenever you run into the ball, the player knocks it a couple of inches in front of them, and keeping possession proves tricky, as does making shots or passes, because you have to press the action buttons at the same time your player touches the ball, so it takes a bit of good timing.
Scoring, thankfully isn't too difficult to do in this game, though again can feel quite frustrating as it requires the use of the D-Pad to move a flashing arrow along the goalline to determine where to place your shot, but this is controlled simultaneously along with your player. It's tricky to make sure you have firm possession and the time you need to make the shot without being closed down by defenders, as well as shooting towards an area of the goal with enough open space and hoping the keeper does not reach it. For the easier skill levels, thankfully the opposing keepers are pretty dumb and often miss many shots. I often find my own score sheet getting into double figures, so winning at this game is not all that difficult unless you try the higher skill levels.
The graphics in this game aren't pretty, but they get the job done. The pitch itself is a simple, flat green colour, with chunky white markings for the boundary lines, centre circle and penalty boxes. All the characters look the same, and they have incredible simple stick-figure style designs. There's almost zero detail to the players, but they do at least have different kit colours to mark your own team out from your opponents. Goalkeepers are also easily distinguished via differently-coloured jerseys. A nice wee touch is the half-time show of cheerleaders dressed in hot pink dancing around the pitch. Nothing special, but it does at least add something to what would otherwise be considered a rather standard, generic soccer game. The animation is simple, though the games are also played at a slow pace, which at times is tedious.
The audio of the game, likewise is nothing to write home about, though it's quite good that for the earliest soccer game on the NES, the game has a small range of musical tracks. The title screen uses the trademark theme also heard from other Nintendo sports games, and there are a few other high-pitched jingles heard when you score goals, during half-time and after winning a game. There is only one background theme heard during an actual game, however, and while it's not too bad, you could very well get tired of hearing it after a while if you play a few games in succession. Some extra background music, even if just a couple of extra tracks, would have helped this game.
The sound effects are simple, but they suffice. When a player dribbles the ball, the sound effect is a strange 'squelch' sound. Shots and passes are accompanied by low, rising 'whoosh' noises, and a high 'beep' indicates the referee's whistle when there is a stoppage in the game, or when a goal is scored. All in all for the audio, it's not the most pleasant on the ears, but it gets the job done.
Because of its very simple style, Soccer isn't a particularly challenging game, and it is playable and can provide you with some enjoyability, however the major problem is how short-lived this game is. A full game only lasts for a few minutes, and you won't see anything new or different on a second game. These days, there's any number of soccer games that offer season modes, and customisable cup tournaments with a bigger range of teams. The lack of any kind of extra modes to add lifespan and replay value really hurt this game. It's not too bad for a quick pick-up game to burn a few minutes away either alone or against a second player if you're looking to try out a simpler, old-school soccer game.
At least with the handful of skill levels the game provides upon starting up, you can have adjust the challenge to your own liking depending on how familiar and experience you are with the game. On the lowest skill level, you'll very much wipe the floor with the opposition once you've gotten your head round the controls and mechanics, and on higher skill levels, keeping possession and beating the opposing keeper proves much more difficult.
Is there any reason to go out of your way to have this game in your collection? In all honesty, no. Those of you who take your footy seriously aren't missing anything by passing this game up, especially now that we live in age of FIFA and Pro Evo games being released every year, that provide tons of modes and simulate the sport to a near-lifelike experience. This game set a standard that was perhaps considered much better back when this game was new, but that standard has continually been met, and raised by a number of later soccer games on this system. This is perhaps best kept for game collectors or those who enjoyed this game from back when. It's easily found for little money and can also be downloaded for the Wii via the Virtual Console, but if you're wanting a better footy game on the NES, try Nintendo World Cup.
Four Goal Ins out of ten.
Rating: 2.0 - Poor
Product Release: Soccer (EU, 12/22/06)
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