This classic GameCola article was originally published in January, 2008.
The game that brought me up as a kid. Screw Yoshi’s Island, Sonic the Hedgehog 3—I believe even Half-Life was released around about ’97 or ’98. Sensible World of Soccer was, and still is for me, not just the pinnacle of football gaming, but of gaming, period.
Typing up a review of a “soccer” game for a U.S. site is risky business, but, surprisingly, leading up to the release date of this title on XBLA, a lot of Americans on GameFAQs seemed genuinely interested in this quirky-looking football game. Sure, it isn’t the football that the U.S. is so into, but, based on the response that Sensible World of Soccer (or SWoS) has received, it’s certainly been catching a lot of gamers’ attentions from both sides of the Atlantic.
So, what makes this game so great? What makes what initially looks like a sports game that features 12-pixel-high characters chasing after a little ball to put it into a net so damn good?
I think the perfect place to start would be with its one-button control scheme. The A button does EVERYTHING in-match. Want to pass to your teammate? Tap A. Need to take that long throw-in to snap a Beckham-like cross into the box? Hold down A. Here comes Ronaldo trying to sneak past your Italian super-defense—tap A to bring that Brazilian superstar down a peg. It was this super-simple control scheme that meant that die-hard sports gamers as well as casual gamers could jump on board and be playing in seconds. When I downloaded this game off Xbox Live Arcade, I played it with my friend who’d never played it his life. I had about seven years of playing SWoS on him, and he still beat me once in three games. He was a fan by the end of the second.
The gameplay doesn’t just revolve around the A button, mind you. Aftertouch (swerve, curve) is what really made this game a martyr to the masses. No matter what type of kick you do, the amount of aftertouch you can apply is immense. And thus begins the hunt to pull off some of the best-looking goals you’ve seen outside of the English Premier League. It’s possible to bend a goal in from the half-way line a la Beckham vs. Sullivan/Manchester United vs. Wimbledon back in the day. Bend one in from the corner of the box into the far side of the goal, and watch the keeper curse his luck! Volley a beauty of a dipper from the center circle and watch as defenders diving head into space, only for your shot to slot in the side of the net. It’s a beautiful feeling when you fool your opponent with an absolute screamer, and it’s the kinda thing that will have you scrambling to save your replay to your hard drive.
You don’t just have to play the matches, either. The game has an incredibly in-depth management mode where you can just control the running of your team, from transfers to job changes. The management mode is very simple compared to the likes of the Worldwide Soccer management series of today, but, for what it is, it’s still a blast to play from the Welsh league and work your way up to being England manager in the World Cup final.
The graphics are simplistic for today’s day and age, and, yeah, the game looks extremely primitive. But again, herein lies the beauty of SWoS. It doesn’t screw about. It didn’t add fancy graphics needlessly to show off to the world that it could. It just gave you what you needed to distinguish your players from one another and give you a pitch that looked perfect. The XBLA version also includes updated, high-res graphics as well as the original SWoS visuals, and, to be honest, there’s no way I could go back to the original graphics after playing with the new enhanced ones. The updated visuals allows you to see the various systems, the mud-slides when you tackle, and the goalkeeper making a save when you head the ball, and you can even zoom the view out to see half the pitch at a time—a new feature that adds a new element of strategic thinking to your match-plan.
What about the content? Just International teams here? We talking only the English, Spanish, and Italian leagues? Oh, no…like the original, this version is jam-packed with over 1,500 teams from around the world and over 200 league and cup competitions authentically replicating the tournaments as they were back in 1996/1997. If you want to play in Ghana’s main league, you can . If you just want to give the European Champions League from that time a whirl, sure thing. If you want to set up a league with the best of the USA, England, Yugoslavia, and Iceland, it’s all yours to do. You can set up a tournament with anything from two to 64 of your friends playing in it. You can set your rules specifically if running a knockout tournament or choose how many points the winning team gets in a league match. The amount of customization is incredible.
And here is where one of my major gripes lies. Because the game is stuck in 1996/1997, the teams all feature the names of players who played THEN, not now. Not only that, but every vowel in the players’ names has been swapped around for another, which makes for names so scrambled that it’s often tricky to figure out who exactly the character is supposed to be in the first place. Codemasters definitely wasn’t prepared to spend the necessary bucketload of cash to acquire the official license to include the correct player names, and, unless this is rectified in future with the ability for players to edit the game’s database, we’ll be doomed to have N. Fiwlar playing up front for Liverpool instead of Robbie Fowler.
Not much to write home about the audio, though the game does have one of the greatest theme tunes ever in “Goal-Scoring Superstar Hero”. I could hum that song all day and night and never get bored of it. The fact I first heard this song 10 years ago and still love it proves that, I think. In-match audio isn’t too special. The crowd screams when a goal hits the net, boos when players make harsh tackles, and “oooohs” and “aaaahs” when a shot is nearly a goal. When a game is as simplistic as this, I don’t believe there is much point in aiming for cinematic quality—it just does what it needs to.
There is an Xbox Live match mode, but, as I’m without the ‘net right now, it’s not been an option I’ve been able to peruse. However, from the looks of things, you can play a standard three-minute-a-half match against players from all around the world and see your results put up onto ranked tables. There had been rumors of being able to set up tournaments and leagues with other players, but it looks like that all fell through, which is a shame.
How this game managed to be snagged up by Microsoft is incredible, and even more so is the fact that it took them a year to port a two-MB sized game to the Xbox 360, only for it to be busted on the day it was released, but that’s another story altogether. The game is incredible still, even 10 years after it was initially released, and though it has one or two problems, they’re nowhere near enough to keep me from recommending this game to anyone. If you love your football Premier League style, this game’s got more fun in it than the Pro Evo and FIFA series combined. And it doesn’t take ridiculous button combos like those two to actually pull off a sweet link-up with your players. Viva La SWoS; may you live on in XBLA for years to come….