It's not often in the gaming industry that a title from fifteen years ago can make a comeback in it's original form. It's generally thought that everything must be tweaked and changed and updated ad infinitum until the modern version becomes so far removed from the original that a common thread can barely be found. Well, Codemasters (publishers) clearly don't see it that way and Sensible Soccer 2006 has just arrived on the Xbox in demonstration of the fact. Many of our, shall we say "more experienced", readers may well remember a time in the early 1990's when Sensible Soccer was as immediately recognisable as Beanie Babies, Bum-Bags and The Macarena. Released by Sensible Software to the Amiga, Atari St and PC formats in 1992, the game thrilled it's audience with some of the most fun-filled soccer antics ever seen and eventually spawned a number of sequels and other games based on the same cutesy, sylised design (Cannon Fodder anyone?). Back then Sensi, as it was affectionately known, wooed the hearts of millions and established itself as one of the true kings of gameplay. However, while nothing would give us greater pleasure than to indulge in a nostalgia-filled reverie of the games of yore, the truth is that to cut it in today's footie-saturated, dev-eat-dev market, more than a previous history is required. So, doffing the rose-tinted specs of retrospect for a few short minutes, let us take the new Sensi on it's own merits as a modern contender for your (undoubtedly) hard earned dosh.
For the uninitiated, play is at first a tricky affair involving many missed passes, fluffed tackles and wildly inaccurate shots on goal. Over time though, those screamers get slowly reigned in toward the general direction of the net and after a few hours of further experimentation you're soon sending rockets in toward the top corner from well outside the box, laying in precision crosses to the waiting boot / head of your most prized striker and passing the ball around faster than a case of jammy doughnuts at the policeman's ball. Another great aspect of SS is the AI of the goal keepers, they come up with some incredible diving saves on regular occasions and challenging them is never a predictable affair. It all adds immensely to the fun and the combination of cute graphics, hectic gameplay and spectacular on screen events results in one of the few games to ever provoke genuine laugh out loud moments. Before playing SS you just couldn't imagine how much drama can be squeezed into a mere ten or even five minutes of gaming. Every post-shaving near miss, every inch perfect sliding tackle and every pad bending frantic fumble becomes a major event worthy of raucous jubilation or despondent self commiseration. Of course this is doubly so when playing in local mulitplayer which supports up to four people although the computer AI can still offer a decent challenge depending on the quality of your selected team. Rather than getting the user to choose between easy, medium or hard difficulties as in most games, SS simply has one preset AI level which you can kind of balance yourself by choosing to use either a crap, moderate or superstar squad against them.
|"Any more comments about my ears and |
youuu're outta' here mister."
The visual style of the game features a combination of cartoony, cell-shaded players with oversized heads and amusingly cute animation sequences. In fact a lot of the animation is so cockle warmingly laughable that it almost seems a shame to only get a good look at it during the replays. The default (and unalterable) birds-eye view of the pitch means that the players are too small to really admire the detail present. Although, that is by no means a criticism for were it any other way, the game simply wouldn't function as well for the player. The wide, slightly isometric view of proceedings facilitates good general awareness of the pitch so well that it's hard to imagine any alternative camera position offering a better angle. SS contains a total of three sounds, there's the ref's whistle, a rather satisfying thunking sound when striking the ball and the roar of the crowd which rises and falls respective to on-screen shenanigans. It's very minimalist but the game is certainly no worse off for it and it does actually lend the title a rather convincing match ambience.
|"Oh why can't I play online multiplayer."|
Of course it's not all back-slapping congratulation though and despite SS's long and distinguished list of assets, there are still a couple of minor foibles here and there. As great as it is, there's nothing more than the standard game of soccer to be played in the title, no mini-games or other distractions and given that information, many may still see thirty pounds as a fairly considerable investment. Then of course there's the issue of online gaming and the lack thereof, it's an unbelievable shame because this game is exactly what online gaming needs at the moment, something everyman, for no sake but the sake of gaming itself. It may well be a blessing that there is no online play, for if there were our entire global economy would no doubt grind to a shuddering halt, although that won't stop us grieving it's omission. The control system also betrays the faithful on odd occasions, performing a risky, floating chip shot seems to be a pretty random affair and there are times when you can pick up the ball right in front of the six yard box and hammer the bejesus out of the shoot button only to find the game ignoring your desperate request. Perhaps the most annoying events occur as a result of the diving headers and volleys being mapped to the same button as the sliding tackle, it makes it all too easy to mow down your nearest opponent instead of achieving the intended first-time shot. However, most of these issues do actually become less worrisome as experience is gained and the controls are mastered and it must be said that SS is largely very fair to the player.
|Screenshots alone sell the game|
|"I think the blue would help to make your|
head look a little less huge, sir"
|Despite the simplicity, graphics are pretty impressive|
Despite any of these minor issues, SS is still far and away one of the most entertaining games to be released so far this year and what's more, it could easily appeal to just about anything with two hands and a pulse, whether football fan or soccer hater, gamer freak or digital virgin, even your mum will love it. A few weeks continued play will eventually see a mild waning of interest but a further few weeks of abstinence will have you chomping at the bit to get it back in the box we call X. SS deftly captures that essential addictiveness of the greatest games from the twentieth century, having "just one more go" may seem an innocuous proposition but when you find yourself coughing down the phone at your boss and incorporating get-out clauses into social arrangements, then you know something of note has got your attention. We can only hope and pray that Kuju and the Codies conquer the online issues and deliver the full-on Live multiplayer experience that the game so richly deserves in the very near future.
SS is a much needed confirmation of the fact that gameplay is still far, far and away the most crucial of vital aspects to be considered and all this modern focusing on uber-realistic representations and flashy visuals is, like the pop-video, essentially distracting the consumer from what's really underneath. There is a place for all that of course and that place is firmly set upon the solid foundations of intuitive mechanics, intelligent design and awesome feel. Frequent and enthusiastic use of clichéd superlatives may be out of fashion at the moment but fashion be damned because SS is the most, the first, the funnest, the funniest, the bestest and the highest. It almost makes you wonder why Fifa and PES even bother. Finally, on a personal note, perhaps the greatest compliment to be paid to the game is in the fact that my own game fearing g'friend actually asked, of her own accord and umprompted, if she could have a go on Sensible Soccer and that puts it right up there alongside Mario, Sonic and Barbie Gets "naughty word alert"slapped.
| Longevity||> 8|
| Overall|| > 8.5|
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