Much like the video games industry itself, the 1990s was also a time of great experimentation when it came to football/soccer games. I understand it’s called soccer in some parts of the world but I shall be calling it football from now on.
Long before FIFA won the virtual Premier League every season there were a great many pretenders to the throne, all vying for the chance to lift the trophy and be crowned “Best Football Game.” Here I want to look back at some of my favorites.
Match Day 2 — ZX Spectrum, 1987
This was my first ever football game. I must have been 11 years old when I owned a copy for my Spectrum computer and I loved it. When my younger brother and I couldn’t get out to play actual football we played this. I remember it having a full range of moves on the pitch, a plethora of leagues and cups (with a password save function), and 2-player competitive and co-op play. You could edit team names, and we did frequently (who wouldn’t want to take “Bum Utd” to cup glory) and I put hours into this game.
World Soccer — Sega Master System, 1991
In terms of options, unbelievably, this was a step back from Match Day 2. Only 8 international teams and 2 options (match and penalties) didn’t stop me from playing this for hours at a time. Beautiful big players, gorgeous colours, and an animated crowd elevated the experience. Ok, so I had to write my leagues down on a piece of paper and had to duplicate teams to fill the team quota but it didn’t dampen my enjoyment.
Kick-Off 2 — Atari ST, 1989
My friend was amazing at this game. We played it at his house around 1991/92 and I’m not ashamed to admit I was terrible at it. The loose ball mechanics (the ball didn’t stick to your feet) and controllable after-touch made it a game that took hours to master, and it’s still regarded as a classic by many.
Sensible Soccer — MegaDrive, 1993
I know this originated on the Amiga, and it was released on every system available at the time, but I played it on MegaDrive. A classic then and still a classic today. Crazy custom teams, European teams, International teams, all fully editable including team and player names, kits, and formations. Loads of different cups and leagues, plus the option to make your own, meant fans all over the world could live out the dream of championship glory for their side.
Then there was the gameplay, easy to learn but tough to master. It was rewarding for players who put in the practice, as you could score all types of goals: 30-yard screamers, diving headers, free kicks, or scruffy tap-ins (all with just one button) this game had the lot, making it a classic. I also have to mention Sensible World of Soccer, the Amiga release that expanded the longevity with a 10 season player/manager campaign.
FIFA International Soccer — MegaDrive, 1994
I don’t think anyone back in 1994 could have imagined what EA would turn FIFA International Soccer into, but even back then it was a revelation. Huge players with ultra-realistic animations, corner flags, and realistic nets that moved when the ball hit them; full stadium crowds with individual movements, individual goal celebrations, and tv style action replays, everything you needed for the feeling of being in the stadium.
I first played this at a friend’s house on Boxing Day 1994 and the next day went straight for my own copy. FIFA 95 was better still before the series peaked with ‘98 Road to the World Cup. The series fell from grace in the early 2000s before returning to form around 2008 to become the monster hit it is today.
Sega Worldwide Soccer 97 — Sega Saturn, 1996
Following on from the poor International Victory Goal that launched with Sega Saturn this next version in the franchise certainly elevated the quality. No official license, but editable player names and good quality gameplay made this a favourite while I had a Saturn. The 98 version added club teams but I felt that the 97 version played better.
International Superstar Soccer 98 — N64, 1998
International Superstar Soccer 64 was the sequel to the two SNES football video games and was the main reason I bought a Nintendo 64. It was an amazing game that improved on the prequels in every way. The 98 version, brought out to coincide with the 1998 World Cup, improved further still. This game had everything; you could play the game using just 2 buttons, pass and shoot, but take the time to learn all the controls and you had the deepest football experience ever. Through-balls, one-two’s, chipped passing, crosses, aftertouch, and individual flicks and drag backs gave players more control than ever.
This is my favourite football game to this day and I still play it regularly. The 2000 sequel added more modes and RPG elements but lost some of the gameplay along the way.
Pro Evolution Soccer. — PS2, 2001–2007
While the N64 had one Konami football game the PS1 had a different version. Developed by a different team the “Pro Evo” series sold incredibly well. The PS2 versions set the standard to which all football games would be compared in that generation. In the last great era before online play, couch co-op matches were the best way to play this. My friends and I had many pre and post-beer tournaments together. 2004 is regarded as the pinnacle of the series and probably my favourite.
FIFA International Soccer — PS3/PS4, 2010–16
And we’re back to FIFA. Whatever you think of EA and the way they churn out yearly updates, there’s no denying the global success of the FIFA series. Getting back to form around the 2008 mark, it was 2010 onward when they really started to shine and overtake the Pro Evo series. Online play was a massive part of this, but you also can’t deny the official FIFA license is used to perfection, giving us an experience that’s as close as watching a game on tv as possible.
Online play for points was replaced by online seasons and then Ultimate Team with its microtransactions and massive online community. Personally, I think 2013 and 2016 were the high points, though I’m sure everyone has their own favourite.
And that’s it. There have been many other great (and not so great) footy games over the years, but these are my personal highlights, have I missed any that you enjoyed? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!
Writtern by Andy CarrickOriginally Published on Medium at Aug 16