Some dull site trivia for you: the early incarnations of FFG didn’t have a dedicated sport section. Although we’d resolved to make sure we found space for a review of Puma World Football, it was buried rather incongruously among either the action or simulation titles. This was down to me more than anything else, and I distinctly remember my colleague asking if there were any other old football games worth adding. Not really, I replied, most of them haven’t aged that well and aren’t worth revisiting.

Ha! Well clearly I changed my tune on that at some point, or the second bit of it at least, given that we now have a reasonable selection of reviews spanning the 90s and 00s. And, given that football is a never-ending competition to find out not only who is the best but also to rank all of those others who are not the best, it seems appropriate to do the same with these games. So today we unveil the FFG Football League: our attempt to put all the football games we’ve reviewed into some kind of order.

Isn’t this just a thinly-disguised listicle, I hear you ask? Well, no, actually, and I’ll thank you not to be so bloody rude. Instead of working from the bottom up, spreading the list across multiple posts in order to dangle the carrot of the best games for as long as possible in an attempt to build to some kind of climax, we’re presenting a league table, starting at number 1. Just as with real football, it’s immediately obvious who will be at the top, followed by one or two surprises a bit lower down, and then a large mass of entries of roughly similar quality scrapping it out for the honour of being slightly less bad than those around them – and a meaningless final position.

So here’s how it works: football is a game of stats, and the table doesn’t lie, Gary, so rankings will in the first instance be determined by the score awarded in the original review. After that, games that achieved the same score will be ranked according to the subjective whims of FFG’s chief sports reporter, responsible for coverage of all of these games, albeit in a random and haphazard fashion, over the years. Extracts from, and links to, these dusty screeds will of course be provided.

All of the games covered thus far will be included, and this of course means two divisions, Geoff. This will also be updated as we increase our coverage, so the table is subject to change, including the possibility of relegation for those few lurking at the bottom. [Ooh – exciting! – FFG reader].

And finally, controversy and endlessly futile debate are all part of the fun of the beautiful game, Clive, so in the event that you’re one of this site’s seven readers who actually likes football, feel free to make use of our own version of a phone-in line by leaving a comment below.

Ok, let’s go. Here’s a midi version of Life of Riley*:

 

Premier League

 

1. Pro Evolution Soccer 4 (2004)

Year reviewed: 2010
Score: 9
Our report: “Pro Evolution Soccer 4 remains an awesome game. If you have even a passing interest in football, or sports games in general, and there’s any chance that you’ve never experienced this series, I implore you to rectify the situation immediately.”

It didn’t last forever, but the peak of mid-00s Pro Evo was a glorious time. With big-spending rival FIFA languishing a long way behind in terms of gameplay, Pro Evo’s occasional off-field idiosyncrasies were easily forgiven. Whether engaged in a titanic struggle for multiplayer supremacy, or embarking once again on a new Master League, many a player lost hours to the various incarnations of PES in the PS2 era.

After an extended barren period making do with FIFA because, well, it was pretty much the only option, PC gamers were finally rewarded with an admittedly fairly barebones port of Pro Evolution Soccer 3 in 2003. Few can agree on which of games number 3-6 is the best, with FFG choosing PES 4 for coverage because, as we acknowledged in our review, “this was the one the second-hand shop had on the shelf”.

 

2. Championship Manager 00-01 (2000)

Year reviewed: 2005
Score: 9
Our report: “The main reason for CM’s success is that it contains exactly the right amount of detail, or to be more precise, detail in the areas that matter most – namely the matches, the transfer market, and your relationships with the media, players, fans and the board. There have been countless other games which have offered players the opportunity to fiddle around with the stadium, manage the club shop and generally get involved in the commercial side of football – which is all very nice if any of that stuff was even mildly interesting to the average football fan, but it isn’t.”

The time-sucking qualities of Championship Manager had been well established since the earliest versions released in the early 90s, but the third instalment arguably hit the sweet spot between authenticity and fun, once the bugs of the initial release had been ironed out by subsequent seasonal updates.

A small but vocal hardcore still proclaim to this day that the final version of CM3, Season 01-02, remains the definitive Championship Manager experience, and they could well be right. True to form, your correspondent has never played that particular edition, but spent considerable time with its immediate predecessor, taking Swindon Town into Europe before defecting to Newcastle in search of further trophies.

While the earliest versions of CM allowed you to take pretty much any lower division team to glory, by this point the series was acknowledging some of the details and financial realities of the modern game, without necessarily getting overburdened by them.

 

3. Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 (2007)

Year reviewed: 2013
Score: 9
Our report: “Despite its flaws, it’s a hell of a game, and boasts possibly the most enjoyable single-player mode of the whole series. For me, PES 2008 isn’t where it all started to go wrong, it’s more of a closing of a chapter – the last hurrah for the PES of old.”

A high score for this largely-despised instalment of Pro Evo brings the first moderate controversy for the inaugural FFG Premier League. By the time of PES 2008’s release, the football arms race had become more competitive, especially on consoles, with EA’s FIFA adding on-pitch quality to its flashy presentation and Pro Evo’s shortcomings being increasingly brought into focus. Aside from perceived presentational sloppiness, the lack of progress from previous generation was also the target of some criticism.

Although it doesn’t deserve to depose its older siblings from the top spot, I’d still stand up for PES 2008, particularly in single player. Although grinding out results against stubborn AI opponents was all part of the fun of PES 3-6, in some respects, 2008’s nippier pace and more open matches came as blessed relief.

And let’s not forget the awesome/awful selection of original music that continues to delight and amaze visitors to the famous gaming site A Force for Good to this day!

 

4. Football Manager 2006 (2005)

Year reviewed: 2015
Score: 9
Our report: “Talk of “the best” version of a long-running sports game is pretty futile, even if you had played each and every one, with the answer usually being “whichever one I played the most”. I’m not in a position to advise, but can say that, for me, mid-00s FM still has all of the magic of earlier iterations.”

When a dispute between developer and publisher saw Championship Manager become Football Manager, fans followed the game rather than remain loyal to the brand (a decision backed by contemporary reviews), and the behemoth continues to this day, albeit amid grumbles that it’s now arguably too detailed for its own good, with players previously used to blasting through entire seasons over a weekend now constrained by the demands of a more realistic management sim.

Championship Manager 4 had finally added the opportunity to watch matches play out, instead of relying on the text descriptions of old, and by the time we got to the 2006 incarnation of FM, additional elements of player and media interaction had been added.

FM 2006 wasn’t selected for any particular reason, aside from the fact it had been sitting on your correspondent’s shelf for a number of years. While it was certainly enjoyable, the demands of successive relegation battles that followed initial promotion success were a contrast to the inevitable march towards the Premier League that I’d been used to. And for this, and other (arguably nostalgic) reasons, it stays below CM 00-01 in the FFG League table.

 

5. New Star Soccer 5 (2011)

Year reviewed: 2017
Score: 8
Our report: “Overall, it’s the most fun I’ve had with a football game since the halcyon days of mid-00s PES. It provides hours of fun, an original twist and an independent spirit that genuinely evokes memories of a more innocent era of sports games.”

A plucky underdog with a limited budget, NSS 5 masked its lack of licenses well to delivers a solid game of top-down 2D footy. The twist was that you play as an individual rather than as the whole team, in the manner of 80s 8-bit title Footballer of the Year and, as in that game, you must balance your off-field interests (sponsorship, social life, property portfolio etc) with the need to deliver on the pitch.

Speaking of which, it delivered on its ambitious promise surprisingly effectively, with early career success difficult to come by, before your inevitable ascent to mighty goalscoring superstar. Our only criticism was the speed with which you managed to become a great player meant retirement in your early 20s, rather than a long career, was the more likely outcome, but by that point you’d still have had hours of fun from the game. Great feet for a big lad!

 

6. Puma World Football 98 (1997)

Year reviewed: 2001
Score: 6
Our report: “At the end of the day you’re left with a game that isn’t far off the mark which owes its limited lifespan, if anything, to the player’s interest level remaining consistently high. With a host of leagues and cups on offer, plus the chance to create your own, and a decent multi-player option, Puma has no small degree of depth…[and] it remains a solid and playable effort that was sadly overlooked at the time of its release.”

A side-on 2D football sim released in an era when 3D was quickly becoming mandatory, Puma World Football ’98 (also known by other names including Sean Dundee’s World Club Football) was largely ignored on release by the gaming press and public, but became a cult classic in the minds of a small hardcore of computer nerds in late-90s Yorkshire. Even my friend and colleague, otherwise conspicuous by his absence in FFG’s sports listing, has been known to play it.

Boasting a decent selection of teams, which bored teenagers could customise at will, the fast and furious action was characterised by the heroic performances of the cat-like goalkeepers, although they could be fooled by slow loopy shots, as one memorable example showed.

Inexplicably, Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler was enticed to the project in his pre-FIFA days, although he had to share duties with someone who may or may not have been called John. Unbelievable!

 

7. Total Soccer (1998)

Year reviewed: 2007
Score: 6
Our report: “I enjoyed the odd game of Kick Off 2 as a young gamer, and I’d be lying if I said that the few hours I spent playing Total Soccer didn’t bring some happy memories flooding back. Though it may be considered sacrilege to admit it here, I have to say that the nostalgia trip was made more palatable by the crisper graphics and sound present here, and not once did I pine for any of the original top-down games to which Total Soccer clearly owes a huge debt.”

A top-down affair, inspired by the likes of Kick Off and Sensible Soccer, but with crisper graphics, Total Soccer arguably did a better job of updating their 16-bit template than the official 3D follow-ups to those beloved franchises.

Replays were available in 3D, although they revealed the limitations of Total Soccer’s cheap and cheerful approach to presentation, which also meant that other features such as match commentary were conspicuous by their absence.

Although still faithful to the fast and furious template established by earlier titles, the upgrade to a two button control system provided a little more nuance, and your correspondent perhaps enjoyed it more than the games that inspired it.

 

8. Goal! (1993)

Year reviewed: 2012
Score: 6
Our report: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.”

In another example of developer and publisher (and therefore iconic brand) going their separate ways, Kick Off co-creator Dino Dini left Anco to produce Goal! for Virgin Interactive. By this point, critical opinion was firmly in favour of Sensible Soccer as the 16-bit champion, and though Goal! received grudgingly positive reviews, it never came close to challenging.

Combining the fast-paced action of Kick Off with the real teams and player names of Sensible Soccer, Goal! hardly made for considered passing football, but at this point arguably none of its rivals did either. Despite its faults, pulling off a skilful bit of dribbling, an overhead kick, or simply running onto a long ball over the top and slamming a curling low shot into the corner still elicited that crucial fist-pump *yes* reaction essential to all good football games.

 

9. Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 (2009)

Year reviewed: 2018
Score: 6
Our report: “Moments of satisfaction threaten to convince you that the series has still got it, and with time and practice, the old magic will come back. But it never does. It’s a patchy and sporadically entertaining football game, the type that people like me bought in the mid-late 90s when they were bored of that year’s FIFA, but that’s a long fall from an essential annual purchase, which heralded the start of a year-long obsession with getting better and better.”

With FIFA firmly in the ascendancy by this point, Pro Evolution Soccer floundered in its wake. A once-great champion now floundering in mid-table, the 2010 edition mixed sluggish and frustrating action with occasional glimpses of class and inspiration.

Off the pitch at least, some progress was being made, with official UEFA Champions League and Europa League licences, while the cheerfully eccentric original music was abandoned in favour of licensed chart hits.

 

10. Manchester United: The Double (1994)

Year reviewed: 2017
Score: 6
Our report: “At various points I was vacillating between two positions: one, that this was actually a pretty decent effort that I just needed to get better at; and two, that it was just another dated and flawed footy game from the 90s that only someone with a borderline deranged obsession with them would possibly give hours of their life to. Ultimately, though, I came down on the side that says, as football games in the early-to-mid 90s go, The Double is pretty good.”

Despite bring a product that revelled in the success of mid-90s Manchester United (a borderline unforgiveable sin), your correspondent found this isometric affair to be more enjoyable than some of the other big names of the era.

A crucial saving grace for everyone other than fans of United was that you didn’t actually have to play as them, and so could undertake a league season as any of their rivals, tinkering with tactics and dabbling in the transfer market along the way.

The on-pitch action wasn’t without occasional (and comical) idiosyncrasies, but it had otherwise aged quite gracefully in our opinion, and so secures a solid mid-table finish.

 

11. International Superstar Soccer 3 (2003)

Year reviewed: 2014
Score: 6
Our report: “ISS 3 is a different, but ultimately inferior, beast to the PES series. It’s pretty playable, and offers a different kind of challenge, but it’s not hard to see why Konami could no longer justify keeping both franchises going. For PC owners this is the only chance to experience a successful and long running footy franchise, too, and despite the technical issues and general sloppiness of the port, this one just about earns a recommendation.”

Konami’s International Superstar Soccer series suffered in comparison to Pro Evolution Soccer, and the fact that its debut on PC was also the series swansong tells its own story.

Essentially a 3D version of the ISS originals on SNES, the emphasis was on arcade action and cheerfully eccentric presentation. It also wasn’t the most thorough or comprehensive of ports, with graphics locked to 640 x 480. Fun while it lasted, which wasn’t long.

 

12. Striker (1993)

Year reviewed: 2016
Score: 6
Our report: “Attempting nuance and subtlety, while admirable, is not necessarily all that successful in the world of the one button joystick, and, like its most successful 90s counterparts, Striker’s simplicity has helped it age relatively gracefully. Adopting the attack-attack-attack mentality required of you is rather liberating, and a reasonable amount of variety in your play is possible.”

Another fast-paced effort from the early 90s, Striker‘s main unique feature, and flaw, was its viewpoint, which is fine when you’re attacking one end and less good when you’re, er, not.

There was good fun to be had when it came to scoring goals, but defending in Striker was more of a chore, and clearing the ball under pressure proved far too difficult against better teams. Still, we found that Striker had aged relatively well overall, securing it a place above more celebrated rivals, both modern and contemporary.

 

13. Championship Manager 2006 (2006)

Year reviewed: 2016
Score: 6
Our report: “It’s certainly not bad, but FM is significantly better. If you want a game that’s more like the old CM, going back to the one you liked/remember best will probably still represent a more coherent experience than this, which is probably one only for those (like me) curious about the slow fizzling-out of a once-great series.”

Another product of the mid-00s dispute between the team behind the Championship Manager games and publisher Eidos, the CM series continued after 2004 under the stewardship of developers Beautiful Game Studios, who were charged with building a new title worthy of the Championship Manager name.

Understandably, they didn’t quite manage it, given that they were starting from scratch, but after the disastrous and much-delayed released of Championship Manager 5, this 2006 edition was a more reasonable effort, mimicking most of the major features of its rival with some success, without ever coming close to matching it.

 

14. FIFA 07 (2006)

Year reviewed: 2012
Score: 5
Our report: “Your players don’t seem to have any attributes that make them stand out – or, they do, but it isn’t apparent when you play – and instead the impression is that you’re in charge of a team of robots who can more or less be changed about at random as long as their basic overall rating is good enough…It’s a competent enough game, but the absence of that basic compulsion to just play a few matches more is a fairly fundamental one.”

After a significant period in the doldrums, FIFA started to get its act together towards the end of the 00s. FIFA 07’s marketing propaganda declared “This Is The Season”, but in reality it was little more than a competent, if largely personality free, title, and still lagged behind Pro Evolution Soccer.

Solid enough to steer clear of relegation, but never in any danger of finishing higher up the table.

 

15. Sensible Soccer (1993)

Year reviewed: 2016
Score: 5
Our report: “Overall, I enjoyed it more than I remembered, with those memories perhaps coloured by the experience of the significantly harder follow-up…I admit that this original holds up fairly well in comparison.”

Another controversial placing, this time for the beloved Sensible Soccer, which many pundits would have placed much higher up the league. Originally a hit on Amiga and Atari ST, the DOS port was handled by a company called Audio Visual Magic, and for purists this probably isn’t the strongest version.

Your correspondent has never been much of a fan, due to the ping-pong nature of the action, but after avoiding the series for a long time, found it to be reasonably good fun. Off the pitch, credit must be given for the importance placed upon accurate squads, kits and player hair colour/race, crucial details which were frequently ignored back in the day.

 

16. FIFA ’96 (1995)

Year reviewed: 2012
Score: 5
Our report: “There are elements of clumsiness, both in the gameplay and in the presentation but, all-in-all, it remains a solid effort.”

FIFA’s entrance into the next generation of football titles had a false start on the 3DO before it reappeared on the PC and other more successful consoles as FIFA ’96. EA made a big fuss over so-called Virtual Stadium technology, which was actually just a 3D stadium, and contemporary reviews compared it unfavourably with British rival Actua Soccer.

Respectfully, though, they were wrong: although FIFA ‘96 wasn’t perfect and play could be rather cumbersome, there was a half-decent game of football there, with a decent atmosphere inside the Virtual Stadium thanks to decent sound effects including commentary from the BBC’s John Motson.

 

17. FIFA 2000 (1999)

Year reviewed: 2019
Score: 5
Our report: “It’s certainly not a strong entry in the series. Having said that, it has stuck in the memory after all these years: I do like those distinctive visuals, odd as they seem in the context of the series, and though the action is largely ridiculous, it would be wrong to say the experience was entirely without charm.”

FIFA did threaten to be genuinely quite good at various points in the late 90s, but it wasn’t to be, and the 2000 edition was a curious blend of stylised graphics, trick-heavy gameplay and celebrity endorsement from a pop star.

The series went into steady decline during the 00s, benefiting from a brief period when it was the only option on PC before floundering against the challenge of Pro Evolution Soccer.

 

18. European Champions (1994)

Year reviewed: 2013
Score: 5
Our report: “For a low-profile, long-forgotten football game from the 90s, it certainly isn’t terrible, and seems to have aged better than some of its more celebrated contemporaries.”

Searching the barren wastelands of 90s football gaming for a previously unheralded gem is a largely fruitless task, but one which occasionally throws up a title that you’d be happy to describe as ‘not bad’.

Although European Champions’ graphics and – especially – sound were rather basic, the major details, including kits and squads, were reasonably accurate, while the control system attempted (with some success) creative ways around the limitations of one button joysticks that were prevalent on 16-bit formats.

You could also switch between side-on and top-down cameras, which was a bit of a selling point at the time, although in your correspondent’s opinion, the side-on view was the way the game was meant to be played.

 

19. Sky Sports Football Quiz (2001)

Year reviewed: 2015
Score: 5
Our report: “‘So, you’re going to play by yourself?’ said the voice of Kirsty. Yes, Kirsty, I am, and long after you, or anyone else, including the developers, thought anyone would be doing so.”

If the prospect of Kirsty Gallagher and some 90s/00s football trivia floated your boat, then you were in luck here. Despite a reasonable attempt to inject some variety into proceedings with a number of different game modes, it’s basically pretty much multiple choice questions about football all the way here.

Pictures and occasional sound clips feature – with regular half-hearted encouragement/mockery from the Sky Sports presenter – but, despite the licence, blurry video clips of actual Premier League action were conspicuous by their absence.

 

20. Action Soccer (1995)

Year reviewed: 2017
Score: 4
Our report: “If you ever wanted to control a side called The Fecund Beetles, you’re in luck, and though I’m not against creative solutions to a lack of official licensing, this is certainly a bit out there. There’s a zaniness that permeates the menu screens too, and at half time you’re presented with the image of a goalkeeper reclining in a hammock while eating a baguette.”

One of the more eccentric entries in the league, Action Soccer was actually the basis for the more highly-rated Puma World Football ’98, although it took much longer for FFG, as self-declared champions of that game, to make the link than it should have done.

As you might surmise from the cartoon presentation and animal-based team names (and also the game’s actual name), the emphasis was on accessible arcade action, with commentary from the always-excitable Jonathan Pearce adding to the general sense of chaos. But despite the cheery presentation and occasionally entertaining gameplay, it ultimately fell some way short of decent.

 

FFG Championship

 

Just like the English League, the FFG Premier League only has 20 teams in the top division, so we go now to the second tier. In theory, promotion and relegation should both be possible but, given the second tier is currently short of teams, only relegation awaits those at the bottom, and none of this lot teams will ever go up. The Championship is indeed a tough division to get out of.

 

1. FIFA Soccer Manager (1997)

Year reviewed: 2007
Score: 4
Our report: “The feeling that persists while you watch each match unfold is that you have absolutely no idea whether any of your tactical choices are making any difference to what’s going on. You can give the team a general instruction to ‘attack’ or ‘defend’ as well as issuing individual orders to players, but it’s pretty hard to tell if they’re actually behaving any differently.”

If you wanted an example of what so many football management games in the 90s got wrong, FIFA Soccer Manager would fit the bill nicely. Chock full of tedious micro-management away from the pitch, your correspondent got the sack (autosaved by the game) for accidentally ordering a massively expensive stadium expansion which plunged the club into debt.

Add to that some needless attempts to experiment with humour (players injured due to dodgy kebabs) and a requirement to constantly check on the state of your team’s playing surface and you get the general picture.

The game was sold on the basis that a mini version of FIFA would play out in front of you, so you could watch the action instead of reading text descriptions of it, but the highlights were dull and uninformative, and susceptible to daft manipulation. On reflection, a score of 4 might have been generous.

 

2. Sensible Soccer: European Club Edition (1999)

Year reviewed: 2014
Score: 4
Our report: “Like many remakes and modern updates, Sensible ECE came with the promise of blending modern features and presentation with the classic gameplay that fans know and love, but, true to form, after briefly convincing press and public, it was later dismissed as a shit cash-in that no-one really liked.”

The first 3D Sensible Soccer update known as Sensible Soccer 2000 was never released under that name, ultimately being re-branded as Sensible Soccer ’98 to tie in with the World Cup of the same year, before being swiftly followed by this European Club Edition mere months later. History has largely considered both games to be misguided in their execution and unworthy of the Sensible name, and it was true that any positive coverage didn’t stand the test of time.

As someone without strong ties to the original, this reviewer found it to be merely mildly rubbish as opposed to the desecration of a classic, but despite being intermittently playable it was undermined by some fatal flaws, including being far too easy.

 

3. Sensible World of Soccer (1995)

Year reviewed: 2005
Score: 3
Our report: “There are some people who believe that Sensible World of Soccer is one of the greatest games of all time. However, I am not one of them.”

Ok, so this is the big one. Look, if you like Sensible World of Soccer, good for you. I’m happy for you, I really am.

Troubled by the smug smartarsery of this site’s original review, your correspondent went back to SWOS some years later in the hope of finding a more enjoyable experience and fashioning a more positive verdict. Sadly, although the language used was slightly more measured, the conclusion was the same: I really did not enjoy this game.

For fans of Sensible Soccer, of course, Sensible World of Soccer was the ultimate version (although arguably best enjoyed on Amiga rather than PC), with endless and painstakingly researched club teams, a career/management mode, and detailed customisable tactics.

 

4. FIFA International Soccer (1994)

Year reviewed: 2012
Score: 3
Our report: “FIFA retains few of the subtleties and pleasures that might interest fans of the real-life game. Passing the ball about and retaining possession, before crafting an opening and finishing a chance…well, you’re not going to find any of that here. Instead, it’s a case of getting to the edge of your opponent’s area however you can, punting a shot goalwards, and hoping it goes in.”

Another big name struggling at the bottom, the original version of FIFA was always more about looks than gameplay, and the intervening years since release haven’t treated it kindly. In fact, when revisiting the game for FFG, your correspondent was struck by just how much it failed to resemble anything like real football.

The graphics and sound still hold up fairly well, and the PC version was the first in the series to include commentary (from the BBC’s Tony Gubba), but that’s where any sense of authenticity ends. It didn’t even have real player names, for goodness’ sake.

 

5. Championship Manager Quiz (2001)

Year reviewed: 2015
Score: 3
Our report: “Even for those who enjoy remembering the name of the Derby County striker who was forced to return to Argentina following work permit problems, as I do (Esteban Fuertes, incidentally), CMQ is a dull, unengaging affair. The best thing that can be said for it is that it might remind you that Championship Manager was brilliant and make you want to play it again.”

Released opposite Sky Sports Football Quiz, the CM tie-in finished a distant second in the face-off, an embarrassingly barebones effort filled with too many obscure questions about lower league also-rans. (Perhaps you’re probably not meant to play it for the first time some 15 years after release, but still…)

Attempts to make the action feel somehow like a management game were largely unsuccessful, as was a dreadful magazine advert featuring (for some reason) members of the England squad in full kit pretending to hit questions with their head or feet.

 

6. Football Glory (1995)

Year reviewed: 2016
Score: 3
Our report: “For someone who never had much fondness for [Sensible Soccer], it’s interesting for a while, but not especially entertaining: a bit like listening to a not very good cover of a song you didn’t like in the first place.”

It might have been reductive to call Football Glory a second-rate Sensible Soccer clone, but it was a description that proved largely accurate by our reckoning. Unlike the squads, formations and kits, which were subject to some strange anomalies.

Comedy interruptions raised a faint smirk, but it was otherwise a glitchy and inconsistent game better best forgotten.

 

7. Manchester United Europe (1991)

Year reviewed: 2015
Score: 3
Our report: “Manchester United Europe is fairly terrible to play now, but one can understand why it was appealing at the time. Presentation – at least visually – is still pretty good, from the authentic-ish looking 90s era Sharp/Adidas strip, complete with shirt numbers, real names, and stadium graphics, down to the little touches here and there that are quite impressive, such as seeing subs warm up on the touchline, and substituted players putting on a jacket before returning to the bench.”

Good things about Manchester United Europe: lovely presentation, including menus and music, and it was associated with the pre-smug United era of the early 90s when you actually didn’t mind them winning something (too much).

Bad things about Manchester United Europe: it’s wasn’t a very good game, and you were still forced to play as Manchester United.

 

8. International Soccer Challenge (1990)

Year reviewed: 2017
Score: 3
Our report: “There’s a certain otherworldly, post-nuclear feel to proceedings, as if during the blasts elite football teams were hidden underground before emerging later to conduct international competition among what was left of the major towns and cities.”

An obscure title from the unglamorous early-90s era, International Soccer Challenge was rubbish, but relatively cheerful with it. Matches take place in cavernous empty stadia, with animated smiley or sad faces on the electronic scoreboard the only real signs of life away from the on-pitch action.

Using the same camera angle as Striker, ISC avoided one of the major drawbacks by ensuring your team was always attacking away from the screen. Unfortunately, the gameplay was a sluggish and uninspiring affair, with punted lobs from the halfway line the most effective attacking strategy.

 

9. Striker ’95 (1995)

Year reviewed: 2016
Score: 3
Our report: “The best thing that can be said for Striker ’95 is that I did find it rather funny in places. That’s not funny as in a hilarious ‘so bad it’s good’ kind of way, but more that vaguely daft things keep happening throughout the course of match and, no matter how determined you might be to take it seriously, it’s impossible to do so.”

Dreadful follow up to Striker, which replaced its cheerful cartoon stylings with sludgy CD-ROM-era presentation to no great effect.

Most of what was good about the original disappeared, with new additions including ‘amusing’ misspelled player names and unenthusiastic and non-specific commentary from the since-discredited Andy Gray.

 

10. Viva Football (1998)

Year reviewed: 2007
Score: 2
Our report: “If you do manage to fashion an opening, shooting is fairly random, and your player will usually do one of three things: 1) smash the ball into the stratosphere, several miles high/wide of the goal; 2) smash the ball towards the goal, only for the goalkeeper to make an improbable save, catching the ball cleanly as if he had applied superglue to his gloves; or 3) unleash a pitiful attempt on goal which floats harmlessly into the ‘keeper’s waiting hands.”

Viva Football was a great idea: right historical footballing wrongs by recreating World Cup tournaments of the past, or even pit different teams of different generations against each other. There were even signs of a game attempting something ambitious on the pitch, with a varied and complex control scheme, which in theory provided the player with more options on the ball.

Unfortunately, though, the game was absolute muck, afflicted by fiddly gameplay, unimpressive presentation, and a variety of bugs and glitches.

 

11. Kick Off 2 (1990)

Year reviewed: 2012
Score: 2
Our report: “I used to love Kick Off 2. And its charms, though limited, still remain today – but sadly not in the version covered here.”

Not everyone is a fan of Kick Off, with a majority of gamers considering it to have been superseded by the original Sensible Soccer. However, your correspondent was very fond of Kick Off 2 on the Atari ST and hoped the PC version wouldn’t differ too much.

To see the state of this DOS port was genuinely troubling. It gives me no pleasure to put Kick Off 2 in such a lowly position, and a long way below its 16-bit rival, but unfortunately there’s little justification for doing otherwise, given that this isn’t really a functional game.

 

12. Actua Soccer (1995)

Year reviewed: 2014
Score: 2
Our report: “The nightmare scenario involves being stuck in your own half, struggling to clear the ball with opposition attackers swarming around you just waiting to grab possession and launch a shot goalwards. Or – worse – they’ll execute their favoured scoring strategy that involves dribbling to the edge of the six yard box and curling in an unlikely finish. If they miss, it doesn’t really matter, because all of the ‘keepers in the game are morons.”

In many ways, Actua Soccer doesn’t deserve to be so low down in the league: it was a pioneer in terms of motion-captured graphics and full 3D players and stadia, and was well-received upon release. Clearly, it should not be considered alongside the scrappy low-tech dregs of the DOS era.

And yet, few football games have made your correspondent feel quite as unhappy as Actua, to the extent that during each and every heavy defeat at the hands of the AI, the intermediate stage of pantomime tantrum-throwing was bypassed in favour of numb acceptance, with the horrible controls and erratic camera conspiring to remove even a base sense of involvement from the experience. So here it stays.

 

13. UEFA Champions League (1995)

Year reviewed: 2017
Score: 1
Our report: “If creating chances and scoring goals relied on playing coherent, flowing football, then you’d be totally screwed, but fortunately, a combination of overpowered shooting and extremely thick goalkeepers allows you to punt the ball in from just over the halfway line with consummate ease. If it wasn’t for some unnaturally narrow goals and the solid midriffs of opposition defenders, easy (and heavy) victories could be achieved more readily.”

There’s a grim irony in the fact that the first game dedicated to “Die Besten”, as the official theme music would have it, turned out to be Die Würsten. [The sausages? – FFG reader]. Based upon the familiar 90s strategy of taking an existing game, fannying around with it a bit, and then releasing it under a different name, UEFA Champions League sullied otherwise positive memories of Manchester United: The Double.

Aside from brief comedy value derived from observing idiotic goalkeeping performances, or seeing the referee rummage in his shorts for red and yellow cards, it’s a largely entertainment-free experience, to be avoided at all costs.

So there you have it. If and when we add more football game reviews to the site, we’ll update the table accordingly.

*Music pilfered from https://midiarchive.co.uk