Overall Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
In 1990, Nintendo released the soccer simulation World Cup, developed by Technos Japan, who worked on other titles such as River City Ransom, Double Dragon, and Super Dodge Ball. This would be one of the select few football cartridges released on the Nintendo EntertainmentSystem, and still stands as among the most beloved soccer sims of all times.
This is actually among the few simultaneous four-player games available on the 8-bit NES console, with a versus mode that allows up to a foursome to play on two teams against each other. Otherwise, there is a tournament mode for one or two players, which consists of a soccer tournament in which the controlled team must beat a series of opponents. Throughout any play option, the teams consists of representative countries.
What follows is a very basic simulation of soccer, with the object of scoring more goals than the opponent in a set amount of time by kicking the ball into the goal past the goal keeper and able to pass between teammate while avoiding tackles. This is not a complete simulation, in that while it has the basis for out-of-bounds ruling, there are no penalty kicks, no yellow or red cards, and all manner of slide and arm tackles are constantly thrown without consequence.
The A button passes, the B button kicks for a goal, and the player can tell teammates what to do as well, with icons in the lower-left corner indicating whether the teammate can or cannot obey. Whether using careful positioning and strategy, or relying on power shots at an angle (in similar style to the exaggerated moves available in Super Spike V’Ball and Super Dodge Ball, though not quite as explosive), this is a soccer video game with an emphasis on fun over formality. The enjoyment is derived on constant fighting for the ball, the goofy looks on players’ faces as they are tackled or have the ball kicked into them, and the very satisfying feel of seeing the net distended by a hard-kicked goal after the ball knocks the goalkeeper into the sky, perhaps after a well-executed header or even a difficult bicycle kick.
One other noteworthy function of the game is the ability to, both before the game begins and at the half, make some selections as to how the computer teammates will behave. Will they try to go for tackles, or guard the opposing positions diligently to gain ground? Will they dribble or pass more? Will they shoot often or emphasize ball movement? How involved should the goal keeper be? These decisions, made by the player, result in feeling more control over even the machine-driven character, and even lend an aspect of coaching to the tourney.
Technos Japan never seemed to have visuals as one of their strongest priorities. Rather than showcase well-defined, detailed character sprites and animations, they instead often relied on a cartoon-like, almost anime-looking style that seemed cutesy, whimsical, and even comical. Additionally, many of the nitty-gritty parts of World Cup, like the menu screens and scoring screen, lack flourish and seem to be depicted as plainly as possible. Furthermore, as similarly shown in other titles Technos was involved with, flickering problems abound, as though they did not care to polish the product and instead were willing to push the capabilities of the system in favor of producing a more action-packed experienced, without concern for graphical consequence. One highlight, though, is the use of an indicator on the bottom of the screen that shows where the controlled character is on the field even when off-screen.
The background music of the matches and interstitial screens is decent, with a couple layers of synth notes going on. Despite a lack of compositional complexity, what is there is certainly serviceable, and appropriately accommodates the on-screen gameplay with pleasant tones and differing tracks across different countries.
At first glance, World Cup may seem like a watered-down version of the game of football that the world knows and holds a heartfelt fondness for. At a closer look, World Cup reveals a subtle sort of intricacy borne of the patterns that its deceptive simplicity conveys, a depth revealed most clearly with multiple human players. Even in one-player mode, though, there comes a certain satisfaction when he or she finally pulls off a bicycle kick, or realizes that the teammates can be told to immediately shoot with an oncoming pass, sometimes resulting in a spectacular headbutt. There are a few other notable quirks, like the silly little character representing each opposing country at half-time, but overall World Cup is just an enjoyable soccer game. It is not for everyone, but others believe it is among the best cartridges the NES has to offer, and surely worthy of three and a half stars out of five, with perhaps the most significant detraction being the eventual ease of the computer opponent, and its most brilliant feature being the theme music for Russia matching a certain legendary Russian puzzle video game.
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