No time for fancy intros – let’s get on with the list…!
Fresh off the back of Kick Off, Dino Dini made a game that to this day has no obvious parallel. Combining the idea of being a manager and a player on the park, where you could control the actions of just one individual in a team, seems such an obvious thing to do. Yet while Sensible World Of Soccer let you control a team, and the latest versions of FIFA allow you to be a single player (and who remembers Libero Grande, where you too were a solitary player, or Peter Shilton’s Handball Maradona where you played the goalie?), nobody has done the union of them in any kind of satisfying way since (with one exception, that we’ll come to shortly). A promised sequel never materialised (the resulting Player Manager 2, many moons later, had nothing to do with Dini), and it could be a frustrating game to play, but this was still golden.
Sensible World Of Soccer
An obvious, but entirely correct, inclusion. Forget the recent Xbox Live version, emblazoned with as many advertising hoardings as could be squeezed on a screen, and head to the Amiga original if you want the purest SWOS experience. A deathly addictive title that built on the successes of Kick Off 2 with some style. To many, this is still the best football game ever. You can kind of see their point.
New Star Soccer 3
Enter the curveball. New Star Soccer isn’t a great or entirely polished game. At least not yet. But for an indie production, that’s entirely PC based, it’s bursting with the kind of ideas that you’d love EA or Konami to address. This is where you literally take a single player through their career, addressing life problems as well as simply trying to get picked for the team. The incoming New Star Soccer 4 looks set to redress some frustrations with the original, too. Given the low asking price for the game, it’s an absolute bargain.Microprose Soccer
Sensible Soccer’s first football game was the best reason for a long time to buy a Commodore 64. Replete with banana shots, driving rain and the chance to enjoy some brilliant moves, it was one of the two truly great 8-bit action football games. Sensible, to be fair, would beat the game with its own Sensible World Of Soccer many years later.
Match Day II
Jon Ritman and Bernie Drummond gave the world the quite brilliant Head Over Heels, and Ritman himself was behind the planet’s greatest Batman computer game as well as the original Match Day. This was a side on football game that purists argue worked best on the Amstrad CPC, although our memories of the Speccy version are quite fond. A shame that Ritman only did one more football game ever, and a shame that it didn’t turn out very well…
Track Suit Manager
The first football management game to this writers’ knowledge to include scrolling text commentary, Goliath Games’ international management sim may have been forgotten, but it was exceptional for its time. Genuinely challenging and with some innovations up its sleeve too, it was very, very addictive.
Championship Manager ‘93
You can track back the current chart-dominating Football Manager franchise to the second full Championship Manager game in the early 90s. The first CM was painfully slow yet full of promise and ambition, and CM ’93 fixed a lot of the problems, and crucially sped the game up as well. A detailed management sim, this was like nothing we’d seen at the time, and while Football Manager 2008 has clearly polished it all up to the nth degree, CM’ 93 is surely the purest version to date.
Pro Evolution Soccer 4
Fans of International Superstar Soccer and Pro Evolution Soccer will happily argue which is the best version of the planet’s greatest footballing franchise. Was it the Nintendo 64 version, perhaps? Or was ISS Pro Evolution on the PlayStation the highlight? For this writer, PES 4 marked the point where the improvements pretty much all improved things for the last time. PES 5 had the boggy midfield battles, which we had a soft spot for, but by the time PES 6 and 2008 came along, dribbling was overpowered and the goals were pouring in. Thus, PES 4 gets the slot.Football Manager
Like it or loathe it, Football Manager was an early, pivotal moment in football games. Kevin Toms’ ambition management sim set a template that many would follow for years to come. His sequels weren’t too strong, and the original game has clearly dated, but if the criteria for inclusion here is the games that took weeks out of your life, then Football Manager is an absolute shoo-in. Credit too for some of the better imitators of the time, such as The Double and Football Director.
FIFA 98: Road To The World Cup
The FIFA series gets unfairly maligned sometimes, and while the early isometric versions aren’t great (anyone else remember repeatedly standing in front of the goalie), they did used to push things a lot harder than they do now. Under threat from Gremlins’ once-promising Actua Soccer series, it was the 98 version that suddenly elevated FIFA into something special, where the game finally matched the presentation. It’s not made such a dramatic jump in the years that have followed, and in many ways it lost some of the spark of FIFA 98 along the way. But it’s the one we happily keep going back to…
Agree? Disagree? Head to the comments!