Super Soccer (Super Nintendo)

SHOULDER BARGE! ARGHH! SHOULDER BARGE! ARRRRGH!!!!

Box art for Super Soccer on the Super Nintendo. The box art for the European and North American releases are similar in design but differ in colour.
Super Soccer screenshot showing Colombia vs Brazil.

Developed by Human Entertainment, Super Soccer was first released to the Japanese market in December 1991. European and USA releases followed in 1992, with the game now being published by Nintendo themselves, rather than Human Entertainment as was the case with the Japanese release.

Super Soccer was followed by several Japanese only sequels under the Super Formation Soccer name. In recent years, the European and North American box art has risen in infamy due to the depicted goalkeeper’s likeness being very similar to a certain ex US President.

Now, I will admit, this review may be a little biased. I may be wearing my rose tinted glasses for this one. But please…hear me out. As a passionate football fan, and a lover of football games, I had a lot of football games as a kid. In an era before FIFA and PES dominated, nearly every publisher and developer were trying their hand at bringing the beautiful game to home and handheld consoles. Super Soccer was a launch title for the Super Nintendo in Europe. I received the game with my Super Nintendo (Street Fighter 2 bundle version!) on the first Christmas following release (1992). It was a game I had read about in magazines and seen demonstrated in store displays. Review scores hadn’t been overwhelmingly positive at the time, but even so I needed this game. As the first football game on Nintendo’s shiny new 16 bit system, it was light years ahead of the games I had been playing on the NES (such as the comically awful yet weirdly enjoyable Nintendo World Cup).

At the time, the graphics were stunning. Mode 7 effects are used to create a scaling view of the pitch with a vertical orientation. I suppose you could say the view is somewhat similar to the Sensible Soccer or Kick Off series of games. But unlike those games, Super Soccer was more zoomed in…it had large detailed sprites that really made you feel  a part of the action.

Sound is equally impressive with the sound effects of the pitch, some synthesised speech and a catchy musical score – all combining to create a positive audio experience. Now, I can’t talk about sound without mentioning the ‘arggggghhhh’ – because you will be hearing that a lot, it has become synonymous with the game. But more on that later.

Controls are simple and easy to remember, yet they do offer a few more options than we were used to at the time. In 1992 and before, most football games had 3 basic controls…Shoot, Pass & Move Player. Super Soccer granted more. The DPAD moves the player, B is a shot or long pass, A is a low pass or low shot, Y is pass the ball to receiver. L, R or Start changes the pass receiver. Select pauses the game. So you see, it’s not just pass, shoot and move. Being able to select a different pass receiver was definitely something new at the time. For many people, moving Pause to the Select Button might be strange, but when actually playing the game, you see why they did it – it’s just easier to reach with your right hand, and you don’t have to take your thumb away from the dpad. There is no sprint button, which modern football gamers often find jarring – but then, we didn’t really have ‘sprint’ button in football games until the likes of International Superstar Soccer was released over 2 years later. When defending, B & A slide tackle and Y performs the infamous shoulder barge…yes, this is the ‘arrrrgh’. It’s probably not something allowed in the modern game, but in 1992’s Super Soccer…we’ll roll with it (hey, it was a different time). The shoulder barges in this game are brutal. Absolutely brutal! It will be your main form of tackle in the game, with the slide tackle being harder to achieve and more likely to result in a free kick. Literally the entire game will just be a litany of assaults, sorry, I mean perfectly legal shoulder barges – all will be accompanied by that iconic ‘arrrrghhh’ sound. It really is quite funny.

Gameplay was actually one of the main criticisms of Super Soccer. It was often cited as being slow when compared to other football games. And yes, it is slow – but I like to think its more ‘tactical’. More time to pick a pass, more time to line up a shot, more time to aim that shoulder barge. It is a fair criticism though. However, get over the actual speed of the game and you’ll find the controls to be responsive, the shooting and passing to be fun and somewhat skill based, and the main gameplay mode to be challenging and addictive. Gameplay modes are somewhat bare bones – there’s a 2 player mode which can be an exhibition or penalty shoot out, and there’s a Tournament mode. Although the 2 player mode can be extremely fun, as a handheld player…you’ll probably want to head straight to the Tournament mode. Tournament mode consists of the player picking a team (from 16 international countries) and trying to win the World Cup (or the World Championship as the unlicensed game calls it). Tournament mode can also be played co-operatively with a friend as well. Tournament mode consists of playing other teams in 10 minute long matches (yes, 10 minutes – fine for a game of modern FIFA, but 10 minutes per match for Super Soccer seems excessively long – and no, you can’t change it). Upon beating all teams you unlock the secret ending, and then upon completing the secret ending and finally winning the cup, a further ‘expert mode’ is unlocked which really ramps up the difficulty.


Does the game hold up today?

Yes and no. Super Soccer was never meant to be a simulation. It’s an arcade style game. Even back in the day, its qualifications as a representation of football were dubious. We have obviously had much better football games since – both in the arcade and simulation categories. So in that sense, no, of course it doesn’t hold up. But treat this as a fun, arcade style time capsule of a game, and you will definitely find enjoyment. There are a plethora of nostalgic touches that will fill your retro heart with glee. The ad boards around the pitch are covered with the iconic Nintendo and Game Boy logos, as well as adverts for Sim City on the Super Nintendo! The game is littered with 16bit pixel art – from the intro, to scoring a goal, to getting sent off…you’ll get some kind of pixel art representing what just happened. Some are comical, some are charming. When the players depart or enter the pitch for half time, you will see an animation of them running…press a button and they will all jump in unison. The game is full of nice little touches like that, but I’ll leave some for you to discover yourself. But it is this kind of attention to detail and love of the material that does make Super Soccer still worth playing today.

Does it play well on a Handheld?

Yes, and incredibly so. As I mentioned, I love football games. What you will find with a lot of games in the 8, 16 and even 32bit era…is that the cameras is zoomed out making the players are small and ball is even smaller. It can be really hard to see on a small handheld screen. You will also find that many football games are too fast for smaller screens. They may be running at exactly the same speed as they would on a TV, but the smaller screen makes it seem like a game of ping pong rather than a game of football. It is something developers of handheld football games have struggled with for years. PES for example, on the PSP, made the ball much larger and the gameplay slower to compensate for the handheld experience. But Super Soccer? Don’t worry. It works perfectly. The slow pace, the zoomed in camera, the orientation of the pitch – it works, and it works well. In fact, it is one of my favourite football games to play on a handheld. I just wish the tournament mode games weren’t 10 minutes so I could pick up and put down more easily.

Well, that’s the end of the review. Super Soccer is a cheap game to buy physically, even fully boxed with manual. It is also available for handheld play on the Nintendo Switch via their online service. Or of course, there’s the best way…on your own handheld device.

RetroPM RATING – 90%

…but wait, they think it’s all over….but it isn’t…there are spoilers….for a football game….yes! Curious, read on. Or don’t if you want to experience the secret ending for yourself. But I tell you, it’s absolutely shocking.

Spoilers

So you beat everyone in Tournament mode and finally claim the World Cup. Well done. That took ages and was quite difficult. Nope, that’s not the end. That short tubby little man in black, with the big nose and the bald head that has been handing you red card after red card…he has other ideas. Yes, I’m talking about the referee….he was dirty all along! THE SHOCK!!! THE HORROR! The referee promptly steals the World Cup that you just won. He states that if you want the World Cup back, you have to beat his team (who aptly wear a full black kit, just like him). But who are his team? It’s none other than…TEAM NINTENDO!!! If you want to reclaim the World Cup, you have to beat Nintendo itself. Amazing! Probably the best ending to any football game ever. EA Sports eat your heart out!