Sega Master System / Mark III / Game Gear
Complete with a stadium full of options, this is by far and away the best 8-bit version imaginable. The graphics are attractive, the scrolling fast and the superb dribbling ball control has been pretty much preserved.
So you want a portable version of the fabbiest soccer game ever written! And why not! Well you’ll have to wait for a bit, according to US Gold — responsible also for the Game Gear version. Despite rumours it might be around before Christmas, I’m told it’ll be more like April.
In fact I might have managed a few extra-super GG screen shots had it not been for the fact that US Gold’s advance chip had fish in it and wouldn’t work. Still, it’s not really a problem because the code’s very much the same as for the Master System version and the features and graphics look very like those of the Amiga game. What’s more, the whole thing runs a deal faster than on the Master System.
Better still, is that US Gold are planning a linkup version, so you’ll be able to play head-to-head with a friend — a good reason to rush out and buy the essential GG links before spring has
Inevitably, however, there are some quirks. Yep, it’s possible to hit a ball straight across the goal, squarely hit the post, then somehow spin right around the outside of and over the crossbar! More annoying is the way the action periodically slows down when there’s a lot happening on the screen and, occasionally, the players or ball briefly disappear. Nevertheless considering the overall pace of the game, it’s still a remarkable achievement on the Master System.
The game’s pace is probably made possible by a rather sneaky enlargement of the pitch, over the original Amiga game. This means you see less of the pitch on screen and hence less players appear to slow the scroll down. This, along with a tiny radar scanner, makes long-range passing difficult — even though the excellent ball control system has been retained. You can trap the ball by holding down button 1, then select a direction before releasing it to pass to a team-mate in that direction — if there is one.
Until you get the hang of guessing where your players are, play degenerates into the standard end-to-end dribbling of most simple footy games. Of course, the difference — the element unique to the Kick Off series — is that the ball isn’t stuck to your foot. Instead you have to push it along manually and it’s easy to lose control when changing direction. This is very realistic, although a joystick is definitely recommended — using a joypad’s very tricky!
Tackling is achieved by either running into the ball or by pressing button 1 for a slide tackle. If the tackle connects the ball flies off at great speed, so gaining possession is hard. Also, sliding tackles always risk being judged a foul, resulting in the victim being injured and substituted, while the offender may be punished with a yellow or red card, plus a free kick against his side.
If this is near the opposition’s penalty area you get a set-piece kick. Via button-1 and a direction this can be passed to a nearby player, dummied or swerved around the wall of defenders. Direction of corners, throw-ins and goal kicks is similarly selected.
Feeble shot strength makes scoring extremely difficult., especially with the computer-controlled goalies resembling a cross between Gordon Banks and Peter Shilton. The best way to fool them is by dragging the ball diagonally wide, turning 90 degrees and slotting the ball just inside the post. Another method is to lob them with a chip — activated with button 2.
The low scoring means that most of the matches we played went to extra time — inevitably followed by the notorious penalty shoot-out. However, even this isn’t much of a tie-breaker as once again it’s very tricky to score. Taking a penalty is achieved by stopping a left/right-moving arrow to determine the kick direction. Unfortunately the arrow moves so slowly that it’s easy for the goalie (here player controlled) to see where it’s going and save it. Honestly, it’s like England vs West Germany all over again, but with both teams consisting entirely of Pearces and Waddles!
During normal play, pressing button-1 when in possession results in a set-strength kick forwards. With ‘Aftertouch’ seeded from the pre-match options, this can be swerved left/right by moving in that direction immediately after the kick. This adds yet more to the realism, although you only get a set amount of swerve, and that only happens after the ball has travelled forwards a few feet.
Amazingly, despite all its foibles the game still retains a lot of Amiga Kick Off 2’s immense playability, and many a lunchtime has been spent enjoying two-player matches. Quite simply, one of the best two-player games around is still really playable. One-player mode is a bit more problematic: with the computer doing the thinking for your opposition the slow-downs seem a bit more frequent. Another flaw is that the huge club/international eight-team leagues and cups lack a save function.
Other options are more useful. You can alter the type of pitch, wind speed, match time (anything from 2 to 20 minutes each way}, skill levels for both teams, and referee (ranging from totally blind to red-card-happy).
Pre-match selections include picking the team from your squad, choosing formation (unfortunately not changeable during the match) and whether to play in one/two-player or team mode — the latter having two players on the same side.
A good, comprehensive footy game, then, fast and highly playable. It’s not a perfect miracle, the Mega Drive still has room to do better restoring some of the original’s subtlety, but it’s amazing for 8-bit and well worth buying even for non footy fans (ie Arsenal supporters!).
There are plenty of football games on the market, but Super Kick Off on the MS deserves to be up there with the best of ‘em (and that comes from someone who ain’t a football fan!).
The game is graphically excellent, play is both smooth and fast most of the time and the pitch scrolls really well. There are options in abundance, from selecting your playing formation to choosing garish team strips.
The bugbear of most footy games is ball control. Fortunately, this isn’t a major problem in Super Kick Off. Dribbling and tackling s fairly easy, although changing direction with the ball in your possession is slightly awkward. Nevertheless, that’s just a minor moan, it’s a great game for two players. Whether you’re a football enthusiast or not you’ll love Super Kick Off. And thankfully for people like me, there’s a practice mode!
A superb conversion retains all the best bits of 16-bit computers