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Monday, April 28, 2014

NES Replay: Soccer

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: March 1987
They say that soccer is the Beautiful Game. Being raised as a 'Murican, I was disinclined to agree for a long time. How can a soccer match that ends 1-0 be more interesting than a football game that ends 24-17?

Now that I play soccer more, though, I get it. Playing a game of soccer requires outstanding stamina and balletic skill. Unlike sports like football, baseball or basketball, soccer doesn't stop. Everyone is always running at all times. Your footwork has to be impeccable or you'll end up looking stupid out there, so hours of practice has to go into flexibility and movement so that you can apply those skills when the time comes. Also, because goals aren't as common, each one is either amazing or devastating, depending on which team you root for.

It's the world's most popular sport, so naturally developers have been trying to make soccer video games almost from the beginning. One of the earliest attempts was on the Atari 2600, with Pele's Soccer. Pele's Soccer showed the field from a top-down view, and all the players sort of looked like blobs. Next, the seminal Football Manager games came out for the PC starting in 1982, and it was very popular. (It has no relation to the current Football Manager series.) However, the player couldn't control the match while it was in progress.

So, yes, in the early years there were soccer games available, but none that really approximated what the actual game of soccer was like. Understanding this is key, because if you compare Soccer to modern games it feels really bare-bones. For its time, though, it was the best soccer game available for consoles.


In Soccer, you can pick from one of seven teams that all play identically, then play a match against a computer player of varying difficulty. There's also a two-player mode which seems like it would be a ton of fun.

For an early game, they did a lot right. It's not full 11-on-11, with just five men to a side and a goalie. but the field is small enough that you barely notice. There's an offsides rule, annoyingly enough, but offsides is a part of soccer so whatever. You can also aim your shots on goal, which is kind of a huge leap forward.

So what's missing? Well, there's no tackling. (For those who don't know soccer, that's not a joke. "Tackling" in soccer is when you dive, feet-first, towards the ball. It's a tricky skill to learn, since you have to avoid hitting the opposing player instead.) I understand why they maybe couldn't put it in to Soccer, but it's such a big part of the game that it should probably have been there.

Another problem is that the player you control changes depending on where the ball is, but it almost seems like you control two players sometimes without your knowledge. Like, you'll pass the ball while running downfield, and then you'll find that your offscreen player who was supposed to be receiving your pass is also running downfield, away from the ball. Once you realize what's happening it's easy enough to correct, but still, the first couple of times it's really annoying.

Finally, when you finish a match, that's it. There's no additional modes, no additional fields, no season mode, nothing. All that's in Soccer is the ability to play a single-player or two-player match and that's it. As I mentioned before, though, the two-player mode seems like it would be both a hoot and also a holler.

All that being said, Soccer was probably the best soccer game available at the time. Considering what was released beforehand, Nintendo did an outstanding job of bringing soccer to the NES. They would improve upon it later, but that's an article for a different day.

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