It would have been Xmas ’96 that I received one of my all-time favourite games. My brother and I had been begging for this off our parents for ages, and we counted the days down to the 25th of December. We woke up, ran down those stairs, looked for the present which closely resembled what we were hoping for, and there it was; Sensible World of Soccer ’96/’97. We probably looked at each other in awe of this gift, then proceeded to tear the paper off the other gifts we got, in a rush to finally get the Amiga 1200 booted up so we could start experiencing football euphoria.
For the next few years, we tried other football games. FIFAs came and went, as did the Pro Evo series, and there were a few notable releases such as Fever Pitch Soccer, Libero Grande, and of course, the Championship Manager series. However, for sheer playability and quick career modes, nothing touched Sensi. For pure management, nothing touched Champ’ Manager, but that’s another article altogether.
With a game that looked as simple as Sensible Soccer, it was certainly never a case of the visuals being the hook to the game. There were 3 different hairstyles, players made of a roughly 50 pixel design, and the same crowd section replicated sideways about 15 times. It was so simple. However, it did the job, and you were never unsure as to whats going on. The original Sensi Soccer didn’t even have a crowd! It didn’t have a referee either, but the ‘World of’ iterations did, and it was almost worth the yellow or red card just to see the cute little fella run on to screen for a few seconds to tell you off. Call up the subs bench and the camera would pan to the side of the pitch and show the eager substitutes sitting waiting to be called up. Tactics could be tinkered with at this point if you felt like things just weren’t going your way at this stage in the match.
It was the gameplay where this series excels. Physics defying shots, fast play, a one button control scheme, it all added up to an experience that anyone could pick up immediately and get a feel for and play a 90 minute game comfortably. What was weird was that you couldn’t do volleys in the game, and yet I never remember even questioning this. The ridiculous over the top diving headers did the job just fine for me. Injuries could be a major problem, and you dreaded receiving a tackle in case you had to then witness your player writhe around in agony for about 3 seconds. It meant he either needed to go off, or he’d be able to keep playing but at about 50% of his ability. Injuries would carry over to the next games too so worthwhile backups were essential to keep your team ability up.
The goals, oh the goals. Whether it was edge of the box diving headers, beating the keeper in a 1 on 1, or even striking from the halfway line and beating the keeper, every goal felt awesome. The classic was passing the halfway line from the right or left hand side of the pitch, and hitting a long diagonal looping shot which, if it beat the keeper, felt so bloody satisfying. Replays meant you could relive your favourite goals and best moments of the match. The Amiga version even allowed you to save your highlights to floppy disk, I don’t know if the PC version did?
Audio was simple as could be, but the crowd noise really helped build the atmosphere up. They yelled in agony at close shots, started singing chants, and went absolutely ballistic when goals were scored. Whistles peeped, balls were hoofed, headers were connected with satisfying sound. And then of course, we had one of the greatest title themes of all time in ‘Goal-Scoring Superstar Hero’. You would NEVER see a song like this feature in a footy game these days, developers are too nervous about straying out of their comfort zones. It was such a catchy tune with a smattering of humour and you almost felt like if you weren’t banging the goals in left, right, and centre, you’d be letting the song down.
You could design your own competitions, and tournaments could be made to any rules you wanted, with any teams you wanted, with as many group stages and knockout rounds you wanted involving up to 64 teams. And how many teams were there! Over 1’500 were featured in the ‘World of’ games, from every continent around the globe. For some reason, I always remember ‘Hearts of Oak’ of the Ghanaian league. I think I just loved that name, but that team stuck with me forever! The content featured is a football fans wet dream. If you and a few friends wanted to get a few games in, by all means you could set up a 5 team league featuring club teams from Egypt, Ireland, Japan, USA, and Australia.
You could edit a mass of custom teams. The existing teams were named after Gamesmaster Magazine staff, things you could buy from the chippy, the Eastenders cast, numbers, and what you might find in a pencil case amongst countless others. You could edit the players looks, the kit colour and design, even the managers name. I remember making my own team based on WWF wrestlers at the time, so having Bret Hart hitting headers home as a striker wasn’t out of the ordinary!
Various iterations of the game have been released over the years, with the low point of the series appearing in both Sensible Soccer ’98 and ’06. They’re not TERRIBLE games, but it feels slanderous to have the Sensi name attached to them as they’re so far removed from the earlier games we know and love. The SNES, Mega Drive, Gameboy, Game Gear, Mega CD, they all saw releases of Sensible Soccer. Thankfully, Codemasters (who had purchased Sensible Software in 1999), re-released Sensible World of Soccer on Xbox Live. It is still available today 9 years after it came out, and it features improved graphics, online (when it works) play, and retains the control that we all know and love. Sadly, with licencing laws changing over the last 20 years, you don’t have the real names for the players and some club names and competition names also had to be changed. It’s a sad sacrifice to have to make in order to play the greatest football game of all time, but it’s a small blip on an otherwise fantastic re-release.
A very interesting event transpired in 2007 in California. The History of Science and Technology Collections in Stanford University named Sensible World of Soccer as one of the top 10 games of all time, amongst other classics such as Doom, Super Mario Bros. 3, and Tetris. What makes its inclusion more bizarre is the fact that the list was drawn up in the USA, where ‘soccer’ is generally considered a lesser sport. Nevertheless, the game got in, and is now registered within the library of congress as being of cultural significance. Go Sensi.
You feel from playing these games that the team who developed them, led by Jon Hare, really loved what they were doing. It never feels forced, it gives you the freedom to do whatever you want, 5 straight years saw 5 releases, but unlike today’s yearly FIFA and Pro Evo releases, there were always significant changes found within the game. Codemasters sadly don’t seem to see this in the franchise, and have done nothing with it, outside of the 360 re-release. It’s such a simple game, and surely so easy to program with new features while maintaining the classic feel of the game. Fans would KILL for an up to date version, with new features, an expanded career mode, more realistic AI teams in management mode, you could go on and on with what could be added to make this game better than ever. Unfortunately, kids today are unaware of the series, and stay happy with FIFAs annual cash-ins. I can only imagine Sensible World of Soccer ’15/’16 being mass released at a low cost of £10. It would be a blessing in disguise for those of us who aren’t treated with a genuinely good yearly football title. If anyone knows someone who works for Codemasters, tell them we want to see this classic given the update it desperately deserves!
I’ll never forget playing the original Sensible Soccer, it may have been the original European edition, and my dad had a few friends around for the night, all Sensi fans. They decided to get a league together for the night and there’d be 7 of us playing, I was only 9 at the time. One of my dad’s friends who i’d never met before, was bragging about how he’d been playing ever since the game came out and reckoned he’d mastered it. I still remember my dad taking me aside, telling me to win the whole thing, if only to shut this guy up.
We picked our teams, naturally most people went for Italy, England, Germany, the big teams. I settled for Wales, and I was mocked by the adults. I had my reasons. We started playing the league, and I was on a roll. I may have drawn one or two matches, but had won my other 4, so was sat pretty at 2nd in the table. The bragger was sat at the top by a point, and what a surprise, the game had drawn up a fixture list which would see me and him play the final game. It was the perfect ending to the long night we’d had and we finally locked horns. I’d love to say I wiped the floor with him, but he was a genuinely good player. I did however beat him, and silently revelled in my glory, with my dad annoying everyone with his gloating about his son winning the contest.
I’m a very good player of the game, but this night I played it very clever. The original Sensi games featured ‘Star’ players. These were players who stood out in a team, and were essentially the playmakers you would want to take advantage of. There are very Star goalkeepers in the original Sensible Soccer, but Neville Southall of Wales was one of them, and man could you see the difference! I knew I was good enough that I didn’t need the 3 outfield Stars, so going for one of the best goalies in the game was the secret to my success.
The point of my story is that, no matter what age, what gender, or how many friends and family might be playing with you, there’s always a feeling of your own chapter being written within the game. I’m currently playing the Xbox 360 version, player managing Albpetrol of the Albanian Primary divison after being sacked from Chester City. I had a rough first couple of seasons in Albania but 2 years later, i’m about to win the league for the first time, having also played in the Cup Winners Cup for the teams first time ever. I’m hoping my success will lead to a bigger European team calling for my skills, but until they do, i’ll be satisfied sticking with my £100’000 valued players!
Sidenote: To experience ‘Goal-Scoring Superstar Hero’ in all its glory, and actual gameplay of Sensible World of Soccer, here’s the link you need: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNyU4xc-G6Y
Follow Carl on Twitter: @auto2112