Football games come in two guises; action, and management. The action, of course, puts you right in the middle of it. You’re playing as the whole team, sometimes just the one player, but you’ll be right there on the field soaking up the atmosphere, hoping to leave your mark in the annals of football history. Management games, on the other hand, are vastly different. You’ll see the microscopic action of the match itself (unless you’re one of these sadists who insists on it). Most of your decisions take place on non-match days in the boardroom, the training pitch, in the transfer market, and so on.
Some fans much prefer the action games, as they allow them to feel like the stars they follow on an almost daily basis through the news and TV. Others prefer to avoid all the skill-based trickery, and much prefer to take control of the team from behind the scenes. With the first part of this double article, I’m going to be looking at the games which I played over the last 30 years, what was good, bad, different, funny, odd, and so on. There have been hundreds of the buggers, and some have indeed left their mark on this old-timer.
Let’s start all the way back in the 80s…
International Soccer – Commodore 64 (1983)
The first footy game I ever remember playing. Such a basic game, but I was so engrossed when I was maybe three years old. This must have been one of the first sports video games I ever played if not the very first game I played. I was at an age when I didn’t recognise quality in games, so I’d play anything as long as it was fun looking. As a result of 3 decades passing, I couldn’t say if this plays well. It had no game modes, no fouls, and no different teams to play with. Sheer ability here.
I think it still looks good for the time it was released, and it sounds excellent too, but I’ll have to rely on accolades bestowed upon it at the time, such as game of the year awards from the 5th annual Arkie Awards, and massive endorsements of praise from publications such as Ahoy! And Infoworld insisting it was pure action and a mini masterpiece. So I had good taste in games even when I was a nipper.
Kick-Off 1 & 2 – Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Amiga, MS-DOS, ZX Spectrum, NES (1989 -1990)
I was never a big fan of Kick-Off. Don’t get me wrong, I remember playing it a fair bit when I was a kid, but it was just too fast. It didn’t feel realistic enough when the players were running 3 times faster than their real-life counterparts. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of readers reading this and wanting to cut my nuts off for not liking these games, but it just wasn’t me. The sequel was an improvement over the original, and the magazines called Kick-Off 1 possibly the best sports game ever made at the time of 1989. I appreciate there was definitely something there for the masses, but this is one of the few times I know for a fact I was missing something here.
The goalkeepers looked like cute little slugs though so I’ll give them that.
Striker – Amiga, Atari ST, Amiga CD32, Mega Drive, MS-DOS, SNES (1992)
This was definitely a fun aside for when you had a little time to yourself, though it was never going to be a challenger for best football game. After-touch is fun to use here, though there are problems with the pitch feeling HUGE and half of the white lines haven’t been included. No D or centre circle here folks. Maybe a little too fast-paced for some but certainly not a bad game overall.
Sensible Soccer series – AMIGA, DOS (1992 – 1996)
Although the earlier games were released on consoles, computers were where the game needed to be played. I don’t need to say much here except it’s the greatest football game ever made, go check out my article which gushes lyrical on why nothing has ever topped this:
FIFA International Soccer – 3DO, Amiga, MS-DOS, Game Boy, Game Gear, Mega Drive, Seg- it came out on abso-bloody-lutely everything! (
This game felt EPIC when it first came out. Sure there were no real player names, it played sublime and the isometric viewpoint did an awesome job of presenting the playing field clearly. For me and my bro, this was the game to play when we wanted something a little more serious away from Sensi.
International teams were the order of the day here and the usual teams are the ones you want to play as if you want to be the best. So many cool little touches here such as the crowd animation, the celebrations, and of course, the bizarre cat and mouse sequence when the referee wants to card you but you’re not having any of it so go sprinting off with him in hot pursuit.
We would see further 2D sequels over the next few years, until the PS1 and Saturn came in and changed the industry forever with 3D gaming. However, nothing beat the original for sheer fun and gameplay.
GOAL! – Amiga, Atari ST, MS-DOS, Mega Drive, SNES (1993 – 1994)
The legendary Dino Dini then left the Kick Off series to create his own separate footy game called GOAL! And I LOVED this. But… my dad was awesome at it and would kick mine and my brother’s ass at it ALL the time. Plenty of tears were shed by the youngsters during this period of our lives that’s for sure. It was essentially Kick Off, but just under another guise and with refined controls which meant I actually wanted to play a full match through. Thankfully, the pacing issues of the Kick-Off series was solved, the presentation was raised a notch, and the menus were very slick and for me just felt a lot more resolute
Football Glory – MS-DOS, Amiga (1994)
This was a hell of a clone. It looked exactly like Sensible Soccer. Mind you, it did manage to squeeze in a few extra moves that you couldn’t do in Sensi, such as overhead kicks and backheels. It just wasn’t the same quality though, and you could feel it when playing. What it DID have going for it however was an awesome sense of humour, with hooligans and streakers featured in-game, toilet rolls thrown on the pitch, and being able to chase after the referee when he pissed you off. Definitely a game for those who want something different, but don’t expect anything revolutionary.
Interesting fact: the game was developed by the same team who are responsible for the Serious Sam series. Probably explains a lot of the humour in-game then!
Kick-Off 3 – Amiga, Mega Drive, MS-DOS, SNES (1994)
I nearly forgot about this until I started looking up vids on the earlier Kick-Off games and found it was ripped a new ass-hole at the time of release as it didn’t compare to its older brothers. Screw that, I enjoyed this a lot more. Pacing was a hell of a lot better, the player’s size in relation to the pitch was spot-on, and it was a fun game to play with a friend. I also always felt sorry for the goal-scorers as they always just ran off and celebrated on their own. Poor sods. Oh, and don’t play this on the Amiga, consoles were were this release excelled.
Fever Pitch Soccer – SNES, Mega Drive, Jaguar (1995)
Definitely not one for the purists, but certainly one if you want a brutal battle. This game simply oozes fun, and it’s all about playing dirty. You could get away with near-murder in this game, though the true selling point of the game was its players. You would begin your path with a no-hope team of players, and as you progressed, you could recruit gimmick players to add to whichever position you liked.
You could hire the diver, who’s sole intent is to cheat his way to free-kicks and penalties, all at your beck and call. How about the curl-specialist strikers, who’s gravity defying shots were near impossible to save? You could also play it more defensively and go with the Barger, who becomes a rampaging tank on the field throwing players left, right, and center.
It’s a fun game not to be taken seriously, and while the longevity isn’t really there, I do come back to it every few years to give it another go. Definitely worth a look!
International Superstar Soccer & Deluxe – Mega Drive, PS1 (ISSD), SNES (1994 – 1995)
When we wanted something a little faster and more arcadey, my brother and I resorted to the Superstar Soccer series on the SNES. These were the pre-cursor to the phenomenally successful Pro Evo series. With a simple to learn set of controls, awesome graphics and the most over-enthusiastic commentator in football history (DOWN THE WING), this was an excellent experience when you wanted something more arcadey than Sensi.
Also, keep an eye out on that right hand-side goal; they don’t have a back net to them! AND you could also use dogs for your linesmen. Awesome.
Actua Soccer – PS1, Windows, Saturn, Mac (1995)
This had HUGE hype before its release due to the fact it was the first ever football game to utilise a full 3D graphics engine. Being the first however means it looks piss-poor nowadays, and the game doesn’t play much better. Sequels would follow but it never got off the ground and you will rarely hear footy fans discuss this series over a pint these days.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely worth a try to see how the 3D footy game was born, but this needs to be treated as a novelty, nothing more.
FIFA 96 – Windows, Sega 32X, Mega Drive, SNES, Game Boy, Game Gear, PS1, Saturn (1995)
The first 3D FIFA game released and boy were my mates and I excited. This was revolutionary. It looked amazing (at the time), and played so well. It’s extremely limited by today’s standards but it provided us with hours of fun trying to outdo each other with our choices of Liverpool and Man Utd. It’s also worth playing just to hear John Motson’s commentary which consists of either player names, or Motty screaming, “OOOOOOOOOH, saved by the goalkeeper” every time a shot was played.
Adidas Power Soccer – PS1, Windows (1996)
This was SO hyped at its time of release and was effectively one long-ass advertisement for Adidas products. I used to love the in-game video of the goalkeepers gloves which had the ‘finger save’ technology embedded in them. I thought it was a revelation. Sadly, the game was crap. It looked poor, as most early 3D footy games did, played like shit, and as I previously mentioned, the Adidas overkill was a little too much. Avoid.
Libero Grande – Arcade, PS1 (1997)
Definitely an odd one for its time, but what many now consider to be the father of FIFAs Be a Pro mode. You controlled just the one player on the field, and you had to work with your team to get the results. Graphically, it looked fantastic, though obviously there’s a significant difference between the PS1 and Arcade versions. Sadly, the AI don’t respond the best in relation to you, but its quirkiness means it’s definitely worth giving a go. I don’t mind admitting here, this is something that FIFA eventually improved upon tenfold and no-one else has done it as well as EA.
ISS Pro Evolution – PS1 (1999)
I much preferred this over the 3D FIFA series at the time. It felt more responsive, and the goals you scored really felt like your own, and not just using a cheap exploit of the goalkeeper which is what it feels like to play FIFA these days. We got to take part in Master Leagues where we could buy and trade the players of our team, it’s a mode which has been a staple in the series now for 20 years. It controlled like a silky Zidane, looked so much more detailed than FIFA, and the commentary was fantastic.
The series would only get better and better with each yearly release until the mid 2000s when FIFA took over the mantle of top selling footy game. There are some who still say today that Pro Evo is the one to play, though it’s going to take a huge change in fortune for Pro Evo to reclaim it’s rightful spot at no.1 of the modern day.
Me? Sensible Soccer is still just fine with me. 😀
Mario Smash Football – Gamecube (2005)
If it’s mindless chaos you want from a football game, you couldn’t go wrong with the insanely fun Mario Smash Football. Rules were out the window here. No fouls or set-pieces, ridiculous over-the-top power-ups, and the choice to play as your favourite Nintendo character. It was even more fun when played against a friend, a great game to let your hair down with.
Many would turn their nose at this because it’s Nintendo but don’t be fooled. It’s an excellent arcade soccer game and it looks fantastic. However, I much preferred the next game coming up which was released a few years earlier…
Sega Soccer Slam – Gamecube, PS2, Xbox (2002)
A very similar game to Mario Smash Football, but a little less chaotic. It still featured power-ups and abilities, but it was a whole lot easier to keep up with everything that was going on. The commentary is done by the cockney version of Jonathan Pearce and it works surprisingly well for an arcade soccer game.
This was massively ignored on release and yet it’s well worth a look. There’s nothing like it or Mario Smash these days, so it can’t hurt for you to try them.
New Star Soccer – Windows, Mobile Phone(2003 – 2012)
This is a bit of an oddity, and one I played on both Android and PC. It’s effectively a single player career mode where you run one player’s life in football, and try to balance your work with your lifestyle. You can gamble your earnings, blow it all on luxury items such as yachts and mansions, and try to get in everyone’s good books. Which is never going to happen.
Play consists of the match passing by and every now and then you’re presented with a scenario which you take on yourself as your player. Whether you succeed or fail in your tasks affects your relationships with everyone; manager, fans, media, it’s a tricky road to traverse but a very fun one whilst you’re at it.
FIFA 17 – Windows, PS3, PS4, 360, Xbox One (2016)
I have tried, and tried, and tried to like the modern day FIFA games. I really have. They look phenomenal, play so smoothly, and the options to hand feel limitless. But I have never been good at it. When it comes to taking on defenders, I can’t do it for shit and fail to score outside of the usual exploits you’d use. Friends tell me, “You need to use skill moves to bypass the defenders!” Look, we’re not all Thierry Henry, strikers don’t just do pirouettes every time they’re trying to get a shot on goal.
Check out ‘FIFA 17 – GOALS OF THE WEEK #14’ on Youtube. 7 of the 10 goals feature ridiculous skills which you might see once or twice in any given season. In FIFA land, good goals seem to be dictated by how many skill moves you get in before you score a goal. It’s just not football to me, and I think I’m doomed to never keep up with the modern day football gaming scene.
And don’t get me started on this years ‘The Journey’ mode. Play out your own career story? I gave up when after losing in the semi-final of the FA Cup, I was told I can’t progress further in the mode unless I win the match. THAT is bollocks.
And that is that. They say ‘Football is a funny ol’ game’. Depends which one you’re playing I guess. I lean more towards the arcade side of football games, though it’s realism that sells these days, with fans wanting to play games which recreate what they see on Sky Sports down to each blade of grass. I still try and get involved with what’s happening today, but as shown in my FIFA 17 comments, it’s just not for me. I’ll stick with the games in the past which were more concerned with gameplay rather than authenticity.
I’m sure there’s plenty of other footy games I played over the years, and I was never going to be able to write about every single one. A lot of the games I discussed have had sequels which often change only incrementally, or have spun-off into other series. Some games I just never actually played. Others were so bad they weren’t worth writing about. I did also play World Cup USA 94, Super-Kick Off, Olympic Soccer, This is Football, Soccer Kid, about 6 or 7 years straight of the Pro Evo series releases, and of course, one of today’s most popular online games, Rocket League. Not a true football game, but it’s the game I’m playing most at the moment so screw you guys, it’s getting a mention!
I never played Mega Man Soccer, the Premier League series on PS1, Match Day, Tekhan World Cup, Pro Evo since 2005, Virtua Striker, and countless others no doubt, but leave no room for wonder; Sensible World of Soccer 96/97 is still the greatest football game ever made. Check in for pt.2 very soon when I look at footy management games!