Football games have been a console staple since the simply entitled ‘Soccer’ released in 1985, where players stumbled around the pitch like snowmen mimicking Emile Heskey. However, from the SNES (Nintendo’s second console) generation onwards football games of note (and of varying quality) started to be released, and they now make up one of the most critically and commercially successful genres in gaming.
Sensible Soccer – 1992 (the year Manchester United won their first Premiership title)
The cartoony, ironically named ‘Sensible Soccer’ featured players were able to slide tackle from their penalty box to the half way line in one motion – and as such is a very entertaining game. For a few hours at least nothing gets the heart racing like scoring a belter with players like ‘Ryan Goggs’, as he is known in-game. Oh, and the game also features ‘star’ players who can simply kick the ball really, really far.
The only downside is fixed positions on the pitch players always score from. This problem is inherent in many football games, but unusually in Sensible Soccer shooting at the perfect angle from the half way line always beat the blundering keeper. For a few hours therefore – until players start exploiting this – the game is brilliant, proving that realism isn’t necessary for fun.
Super Soccer – Also 1992 (when Chelsea were still sponsored by that unassailable behemoth of modern computing, Commodore Computers)
Released in the same year as ‘Sensible’ was ‘Super Soccer’, featuring a button solely dedicated to overly violent Joey Barton style shoulder-charging. This plays like a decent version of ‘Soccer’, where despite featuring tubby players meandering around the pitch, you do have some control.
The game also features a fantastically stupid ending where the Referee steals the World Cup and forces you to challenge ‘his team’ for it; who are better than Brazil. This is why I miss the insanity of old games.
International Superstar Soccer (ISS) – 1995 (the season of the ‘Kevin Keegan’) to 2003
The early ISS games must have had rave reviews. The SNES version looks hand drawn, 3D and plays smoothly; making it probably the most ‘serious’ football game of its day.
However once PES came along ISS seemed to decay. The N64 versions barely improved on gameplay while ISS2 on the Gamecube recruited the whiny Mark Lawrenson to rub salt in the wounds. Konami tearfully put a bullet to the series after ISS3.
Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) – 1999 (the year Manchester City spent in Division 2) until present
Pro Evolution Soccer now gets some flack, yet at the time while ISS 98 and 2000 were being excreted, the first and second installments of PES played like real football. You could unusually score from all over the pitch, and despite the best team being named Oranges11 for legal reasons PES was better than everything else.
However, for anyone thinking of going back, imagine Dennis Bergkamp’s head as a square geometric shape and reconsider. While SNES graphics look quaint, PS1 graphics haven’t aged kindly. If new to PES play the later games. Although gameplay has barely been improved, they’re much easier on the eyes.
FIFA Series – 1993 (the year nobody won the French championship) until present
In its early days the FIFA series was hit and miss at best. Highlights were the all round dross of FIFA 2002 and the useless ‘off the ball’ gimmick in FIFA 2004. However with recent editions FIFA has deservedly taken the gaming mantle despite still having flaws.
The newest game FIFA 12 incorporates a smoother, faster engine, but also incredibly demanding (and downright irritating) ‘tactical defending’. If used to the old system where you simply hold a button to pressurise the attacker prepare for broken controllers and high-scoring games.
FIFA has come a long way, yet EA still haven’t found the perfect balance between accessibility, skill and refs that make the right call. Two steps forward, one step back is usually the way however, so expect next year’s edition to please everyone with the defending but annoy them in some other