Written by: Rik

Date posted: February 26, 2012

Generally, if you attempt a slide tackle in the penalty area, this is the result.

Goal! is the unofficial follow-up to Kick Off 2, the result of a split between publisher Anco and the creator of the Kick Off series, Dino Dini. While that name may not ring too many bells these days, it was well-known enough at the time to be worth plastering on the box without having to add ‘the creator of Kick Off’ underneath. Indeed, for those of a certain generation, Dini once possessed creator-genius status equivalent to the likes of Braben, Molyneux and Meier, and back in the days before football games arrived on a predictable annual cycle, the development of his latest offering was surrounded by considerable hype and eager anticipation.

Despite attracting considerable critical acclaim, though, Goal! never quite garnered the same following as Kick Off, with many fans having already switched allegiance to Sensible Soccer and the next generation of gamers being seduced by the visual charms of the first FIFA game. In general, the feeling was that things had moved on, and Goal! was really for those Kick Off 2 devotees bewildered by the success and popularity of rival titles (particularly Sensible Soccer) who wanted more of the same.

As one of these (normal and right-thinking) people, it would be fair to say that Goal! delivers in this regard. It plays very much like Kick Off 2 but with an added layer of polish, which is reflected in both the presentation and the gameplay. Let’s deal with the latter first: Goal! retains its predecessor’s top-down view and madcap pace, but attempts to add increased control and finesse in all areas, with varying degrees of success. Players no longer go from a standing start to running at full pelt and gradually accelerate to top speed, which means that, with some nifty joypad work, you can be slightly more tricksy when you’re dribbling with the ball. Free-kicks and corners, a weak-point of Kick Off 2, are also improved, giving you full control over the height and direction of the ball (although free-kicks are still impossible to score from). One final addition is the inclusion of the ‘super-shot’ – much less gimmicky than it sounds (the name implies some kind of flaming-ball unstoppable special-move), it applies a finish from short range with a mere tap of the button, an acknowledgement that shooting from further out had traditionally been an easier method of scoring in earlier games.

Ah, humbled by the mighty Norw.

As we mentioned, the game is still fast and frantic, with opportunities for composure and poise relatively rare. You can stop the ball and pick a pass, and occasionally pull off a particularly adept bit of dribbling, which is nice, but your best efforts will generally appear rather clumsy and rustic in comparison with your AI opponents, who appear able to play a rather more attractive game, knocking short passes around with ease and maintaining impressive close-control. Thankfully, long-ball tactics are also effective, and you can generally counter your show-off opponents’ efforts by lumping it forward for your striker to run onto and thrash a curving shot into the corner of the net (which is all we Kick Off fans can ask for, really).

Appropriately, given the game’s title, cagey defensive affairs are not part of what Goal! has to offer, with the trickiness of slide-tackling and the complete absence of the offside rule stacking the odds heavily in favour of the attacker. And while you can play matches lasting longer than three minutes per half, to do so would surely bring about scorelines never before seen in the real-life game. Even on the minimum game length, goals are fired in from all angles throughout, and anything less than a three-goal lead is rarely safe. Okay, so it’s not exactly the most realistic and refined of games, but it’s still recognisable as a version of football – whether it’s desperately hacking the ball away during an opponent’s attack, dribbling past two or three players, or finding the right pass. Most crucially, though, putting the ball in the back of the net feels good – not always a given – and any game that can prompt involuntary celebratory swearing and the occasional fist-pump must be doing something right.

Your players like to perform extravagant somersaults after scoring.

Presentation is an improvement over Kick Off 2. Whatever you think of Sensible Soccer‘s moves on the pitch, the presence of real-life teams and squads, as well as the ability to customise your own teams and tournaments, raised everyone’s expectations in this regard, and fortunately Goal! doesn’t disappoint, offering a comprehensive selection of teams, with real-life kits and players largely present and correct. Obviously, they’re all extremely out of date now, but there’s something quite fun about cursing a player you’d completely forgotten had ever existed (God damn you, Peter Ndlovu!) or unearthing previous bad-feeling you thought had dissipated long ago (my largely-neutral present day opinions of Mark Hughes were swept aside as I castigated him as a “curly-permed f*ck” for scoring against me). The leagues and cups on offer obviously don’t match up to the season-after-season manager modes offered by more modern titles, but there should be enough to sustain your interest.

Graphics are on the blocky side, and the sound a little sparse, but although I’m sure it’s not as shiny as the smarmy and arrogant Amiga version, it’s altogether a fairly decent port, with a glance at the game’s opening credits revealing that it was converted by none other than Chris Sawyer, of Transport and Rollercoaster Tycoon fame (incidentally, I definitely recommend not skipping the opening titles as to do so would cause you to miss out on some awesome intro music, which represents roughly 95% of the game’s total sound content). I still think that if you’re going to surround the pitch with advertising hoardings and stadium graphics, the ball shouldn’t pass through them like they’re not there, but Goal! isn’t the only game to commit this crime, and it’s a fairly minor point, so I guess I can let it go.

You can change the camera angle to play side-to-side, or have it zoomed out so you can barely see what’s going on. Exactly why you’d want to do either, I don’t know, but it’s nice to have the option, I guess.

Summing up time, then, and I guess I need to clarify some previous comments regarding old footie titles. Some years ago, I reviewed a game called Total Soccer. In the process of doing so I snootily dismissed the merits of ageing football games as negligible and claimed that the sharper graphics of that title, allied to a decent recreation of the old-school top-down approach, effectively rendered its more original but blockier predecessors completely redundant.

Though it felt reasonable enough at the time, it seems to me now that to make this argument is to miss a fairly fundamental point quite spectacularly: we don’t always want to play something like the old games we used to play – we want to play those exact games, no matter how disappointed by the results we may be. Goal!, though, isn’t a disappointment, and whatever it might lack in comparison with Total Soccer is made up for by the fact that it actually is the actual game from 1993 that I actually used to play (actually). Any old-school Kick Off fans and Sensi-cynics who might have missed it first time around are strongly encouraged to check it out.