You'd only have to have the intellect of a small frozen pea not to have realised there's a World Cup this summer. (I resent that remark! Small frozen pea's voice) I mean, you surely didn't think it was a coincidence that every single software company in the world (and their dog) were inundating us with 20 trillion (at the last count) football games this year, did you? (Actually, yes. Small frozen pea's voice) I rest my case.
Anyway, of the aforementioned flood of footie games, here comes the only officially licenced one - it's Virgin Mastertronic's World Cup Soccer italia 90. This game originally came to the toff 16-bit machines from a coin-op converted by some bizarre Hungarian programming house! Our version though, you'll be pleased to hear, has come via those much more sensible Probe chappies.
Gone is the horribly baffling Hungarian version of the World Cup qualifying charts, but so too has the ref, the red and yellow cards (yuk yuk!) and the players being carted off on stretchers (boo hiss!). What we're left with is your usual one or two-player sort of overhead viewpoint arcade football game in which you lead Italy, England, Belgium or Spain on their bid for the World Cup. Why? I mean what happened to Scotland, Eire, Brazil, West Germany and the other 16 qualifying teams? Perhaps Virgin thought these were the only teams worth watching!
Anyway, the control system again offers little new - as usual you control the arrowed player (press Fire to move to another player). When pursuing the ball you press Fire to perform a sliding tackle and when in possession press Fire again to kick. Where World Cup Soccer 90 differs is in the way it switches viewpoint once you approach the goal - you find yourself positioned behind the striker staring into the net! Oh, ad if you're defending you get to control the goalie. Anyway, you both sort of move left and right in a crab-like fashion, then the striker shoots and the goalie (sometimes) dives (usually the wrong way). But don't dawdle too long though or you switch back to overhead view as a defender deftly whips the ball out from under your feet!
The pitch is green (of course) and the two opposing teams are blue and black. Sound is confined to a simple whistle for free kicks, and a salvo of whistles for full time. Still, despite the limitations of Speccy graphics, the gameplay is smooth and addictive. The 16-bit difficulty levels have gone unfortunately and, contrary to popular belief, Soccer - in World Cup Italia 90 - is a game of one half. Win the four minute match and you're onto the next qualifier etc etc. Nothing ground-shattering here, but smooth gameplay and plenty of addiction. Perhaps not the est of the World Cup batch (largely because apart from the title and the instruction booklet it has very little to do with the machinations of the World Cup!) but a close contender as a pretty good footie game.
The Speccy is a machine that's pretty well-served with footy games (Match Day 1 and 2, Emlyn Hughes, Kick Off 2, etc etc), but that didn't stop another truckload of them being released a couple of years ago when the World Cup came round again. This game was the bearer of the official licence, which makes it all the more strange when you consider that out of every Speccy football game there's ever been, this one bears the least resemblance to any World Cup tournament ever seen. For a start you only get to play one of four teams, either England, Spain, Belgium or Italy. An inspiring selection and no mistake. As a scotsman I pondered for seconds and seconds over which one I'd be, but after a few games playing for England and deliberately getting thrashed, I decided it was time to get a grip on myself and play the game properly. Big mistake. The first impression you get when the teams lumber out onto the pitch is 'Ugh. what repulsively crude and blobby graphics!' Still, unlike some other footy efforts where the players merge into one big impenetrable mass of colour clash, Italia '90 is nicely animated and reasonably clear. So I'll forgive the tacky look. What's harder to forgive is the gameplay. Sophisticated tactics go right out of the window here, the name of the game is 'Get the ball and weave your way up the pitch until you get into your opponent's penalty area, then when the view switches to a behind-the-player one with your striker against the goalkeeper, move from side to side for a while until there's a space in front of you and punt the ball straight into the net. Easy.'
Well, that WAS the name of the game, but Tronix decided that Italia '90 was a bit snappier. Anyway, after a few minutes of this you're likely to get completely bored and start exploring the game's other innovative features instead. Unfortunately, it doesn't have any, so that won't take you very long. Italia '90 is so basic that it doesn't even have halves, for goodness sake! Each game lasts four units of unspecified time, during which there are no breaks. The teams shoot one way all the time, and if the game is drawn at the end they simply continue playing until one of them scores. The winner moves into the next round (a sudden-death World Cup tournament?) against someone like The People's Republic Of China (well-known force in world football), and so on until you either win the Cup or lose a game. It's about as much like a World Cup - or football at all, for that matter - as Dannii Minogue is like a steam-powered ocean liner. Complete tosh.
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