Saturday, 7 April 2018

Quick Review: Champion Soccer

The truth is, a lot of shite was made for Sega's first foray into the console market, and here at the SG-1000 Junkyard, we intend to tell the complete story; the good, the bad and the downright ugly unplayable garbage. So with that said and one of my favourite titles now out of the way (Ninja princess), it's time to take a look at one of the not so great games attached to the SG-1000 name... and when I say "not so good", what mean to say is bloody awful. Let's take a look!

Champion Soccer was released on cartridge in 1984 as part of Sega's 'Champion' line of games. While some games bearing the "Champion" name turned out to be of fairly high quality, or at least tried to do something new and interesting (Yu Suzuki's 'Champion Boxing' comes to mind), a few seem to have been created with the sole purpose of bolstering variety in the console's library. As you may have already guessed, Champion Soccer deserves a place firmly in the latter group.
Quite possibly the best thing about the Champion Soccer, the box art.
Each team consists of five regular players plus a goal keeper. At any one time, the player simultaneously controls one player of the computer's choice as well as the goalie. Button 1 in combination with a direction performs a long pass, while button 2 can be used as a short pass or to shoot for the goal. To be fair, calling them "pass" and "shoot" is a bit of a stretch as they don't home in on any player or target in particular; you just have to point vaguely in the desired direction and hope for the best.
My biggest issue is in the way procession of the ball is handled, or rather lack of the concept altogether. The ball doesn't 'stick' to the players' feet, making dribbling a frustrating nightmare. Imagine you're dribbling up the screen towards your opponent's goal and you'd like to turn horizontally to avoid a defender: nope, I'm afraid you can't carry out such a simple fundamental strategy of soccer here. Instead, the player will leave the ball and instead go on a little jog by himself. Hell, even adjusting your path ever so slightly requires you to stop and make your way around the ball to take it in the direction you so desire from behind. As the 'Angry Video Game Nerd' would say, "What were they thinking?!?!"
Visually, the game does an adequate job of recreating the not so beautiful game. The pitch looks fine and the ball scales nicely as it's kicked into the air towards the camera. Unfortunately the same can't be said for the scrolling of the screen; the way it jerkily scrolls up and down is quite jarring. Player sprites are also a bit of a mixed bag. While movement is as good as can be expected for characters with no more than two frames of animation, and the sprites that represent the 'front' and 'back' of players look cute enough, the 'profile' sprites look more like bald middle aged men in drag wearing stilettos than they do soccer players.
What am I even looking at here?
All right, so perhaps I'm being a bit harsh on it, this was 1984 after all; the FIFA and ISS franchises were still almost a decade away, and Sensible Soccer was yet to be even a twinkle in Jon Hare's eye. Having said that, undeniably better examples of the sport did exist at the time, especially on the likes of the 8-bit computers in Europe, such as 'Match Day' for the ZX Spectrum or 'International Soccer' on the Commodore 64. It by no means gets a pass from me ("pass", get it? Hey! Hey!) by virtue of it being an old game.
Left: Match Day - ZX Spectrum. Right: International Soccer - Commodore 64.
There's one last thing I can't finish this review without addressing, the sound effect of the whistle is a screech capable of piercing a hole in anyone's ear drums. No doubt the game was the leading cause of tinnitus in Japan during the 80s. If never I hear that shrieking banshee like sound ever again, it'll be too soon.

I suppose there are three main criteria when it comes to judging a game from the past: 1) Would it have been fun to play at the time? 2) Is it still fun to play today? 3)Did it have any sort of impact on the genre to make it worthy of checking out from a historical perspective? Unfortunately, in the case of Champion Soccer, the answer to all three is a resounding "No!"

Score: 1/5

I'll finish the review with a quick play-through of the game. I won't spoil the excitement by telling you for score ahead of time. Needles to say, I didn't do so well... 

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