Wildcard Wednesday: Sensible World of Soccer
Posted by Ken Barnes
Goal-scoring superstar hero.
Wildcard Wednesday is where we open up the floor to one of our writers to talk about any game that they have fond memories of, on any platform. From Pole Position on the Atari 2600, through to Journey on the PS3, no game is off the table. This week, Ken talks about a game that dominated his teenage years.
Back in the day, digital soccer was played from three perspectives. The directly overhead view (Kick Off, Microprose Soccer, World Cup Italia ’90) was on the wane, being replaced by the side-on angle seen in the likes of Match Day II, Emlyn Hughes International Soccer, and European Club Soccer. Some companies tried a “behind the player” view – Super Soccer and Striker are good examples – which looked pretty cool, but favoured the team shooting away from the camera, as they could see everything in front of them. The player shooting toward the camera often had to hump the ball downfield in the hope that one of their team’s players was in position to receive the pass. The legendary FIFA International Soccer and the less well-remembered Manchester United: The Double came along and introduced us to the isometric camera, which generally worked well, but had its issues.
One game tweaked the now-unpopular overhead camera just a little, pulling the view down a touch and zooming it out to allow players to see much more of the pitch. That game was Sensible Soccer. Released in 1992 for the 16-bit Amiga and Atari ST systems, the game was a revolution. Speed and accuracy were the order of the day, and the control system – bearing in mind that we were still using joysticks with a single fire button most of the time – was a joy to behold. Anyone could pick the game up and become a relatively competent player within the space of just a few matches, but mastering the game took months of hard work and dedication.
For me, the initial version of the game – impressive as it was – felt a little lacking. There was no crowd surrounding the pitch, for example, and players couldn’t be booked or sent off for foul play. The true masterpiece in my eyes, was when developers Sensible Software decided to expand things somewhat. Sensible World of Soccer hit the shelves in 1994, featuring more than 1,500 real world teams and the best part of 27,000 players, the game was the first to truly introduce players to the world of soccer as a whole. Single matches, custom competitions and a data editor were all on offer, but the main draw for me was the player-manager mode. Taking over pretty much any team you could think of, you had to buy and sell players, organise tactics, and then take to the field to compete in full league seasons, complete with cup and continental competitions. If you did poorly, you could be fired by the board. Do well, and other clubs would offer you the chance to manage them. There was no greater challenge than taking over a tiny club from a foreign land and building them up to the point where the board members of other clubs would take notice and offer you your dream job. As you were limited to 20 seasons of play in this mode, time was of the essence. At the end of each season, you’d have to wait for all of the other leagues to have their seasons simulated, with each division’s table being shown on screen as it had been completed. Given that this could take up to half an hour, you’d imagine that it would be somewhat dull. Far from it. As a young football-addicted lad, I found it incredibly entertaining to find out that Grasshoppers had won the Swiss league, or that Hearts of Oak had taken the Ghanaian Premier League title.
Plus, the break would give your hands a little bit of time off, which was most welcome after playing a long season of what was one of the toughest sports gaming challenges of all time. There were those players that played the game as a management simulation, who got the CPU to play out matches, and there were real players like myself, who took control for every single game. Seasons would take hours, even days to play in this manner, but it was totally worth it.
Sensible World of Soccer was the first game that took high-quality gameplay, and married it with the ability to manage your team. Other games gave you limited tactical control, but none of them had you quibbling over the odd £100 when making a transfer deal, or resting your more injury-prone players for the big cup match in the following week. Games where you played as a football team and games where you managed a football team were two very different things, and Sensible World of Soccer tied the two entirely separate genres together beautifully, with a massive database of players to trade, and that pixel-perfect gameplay that had everybody absolutely enthralled. I think I played Sensible World of Soccer more than any other game as a teenager, and after all that, I never did get my beloved Exeter City up to the top of the English league.
For most people, the lasting memory of Sensible World of Soccer will be the introduction tune. A catchy song by the name of “Goal-scoring Superstar Hero” written by developer Jon Hare and the late Richard Joseph, and sung by Jackie Reed, once you’ve heard it, you’ll never forget it. Check it out below.
An upgraded version of Sensible World of Soccer is available to download from the Xbox Live Marketplace, and is well worth a spin.