Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Chapter XI: Sensible Soccer

The internet is filled with opinions about video games. One of the most prevalent ways to express those opinions is in the form or rankings, like Top 10 lists. Usually the games sitting on top of said “best-of” rankings are typical mainstream fodder like Mario, Sonic, Zelda, Halo, or even “press X simulators” like Final Fantasy VII. Whenever I read lists like those I wonder if I was born in a parallel universe, because for me the most important game of all time has always been Sensible Soccer.

It’s difficult to express the importance of this game, but I’m sure every man born in the late seventies or early eighties knows what I’m talking about. Before Sensible Soccer came out Kick Off 2 was the default competitive football game. Don’t get me wrong, I love Kick Off 2, but the game has a very steep learning curve and a completely bonkers control system. The fact that such an idiosyncratic game like Kick Off 2 managed to have success meant that there weren’t many other choices and there was still much room for improvement.

The revelation came with an Amiga Power cover disk. It was in May ‘92, issue 13, according to the research I did just now. Me, my cousin Walter the Baptist and his friends played that cover disk like if there was no tomorrow. If I remember correctly, it was only possible to play half a game, and always with the same teams, but we loved it either way. The game was fast, smooth and had an incredible intuitive control scheme. The graphics while small, were a clear improvement over its predecessors. “It looks just like real football”, I remember my uncle saying while he watched us playing. I’m not making this up.

At the time all of us started checking almost daily the local stores to see if the game had already arrived. Well, when it did, it was like if no other game existed.

Tournaments started spreading everywhere. The local shop near Walter’s house organized an huge tournament, and it wasn’t a regular knock off tournament that could be completed in a day. No, it was a proper league, with two rounds. With around 40 players competing, the league went on for months. Unfortunately I couldn’t compete on it, as I lived some miles away from Walter and his group of friends and there was no way to be there every weekend. When the tournament was over Walter the Baptist managed to finish in 2nd place, winning a proper, real cup in the process. The first place went to his neighbour, Mikey Ribs. Funny thing that Mikey didn’t even had a computer, and all his playing was done at Walter’s house.

Back at home, the skill level of Sensible Soccer players was way lower. I always managed to defeat any of my friends without breaking a sweat, while not being a match for Walter or Mikey.

One day, my friend Louie CF said to me that he spent lots of time training and he could probably beat me. I welcomed this news with open arms, as I was eager for competition. When me and Louie played against each other, the mood was serious and I was anxious to see how much Louie had improved. I remember so well the whole ambience of the event. The light was dim, and we didn’t uttered a single sound through the whole match. We felt like grown up men on a poker match.

This picture is more nineties than Jason Priestly singing Corona while dressed as a Ninja Turtle
So how good did Louie CF played? Not very well I’m afraid. Eventually I won just 1-0 because I didn’t want to demoralize him, since I needed so much a competitive scene of Sensible Soccer in my hometown. But it was no use, as eventually we started playing football games that my mates could have a chance at beating me, like Goal! and Lothar Mathäus. I may write about those someday.

I know that the original Sensible Soccer was made obsolete by Sensible World of Soccer and its yearly iterations, but I’m going to revisit the original, since last time I played it was probably in 94 or something.

I had completely forgotten there was an intro, which is understandable since it’s so unremarkable; Just a picture of a football fan cheering standing on the shoulders of another while looking completely early nineties. Cannon Fodder this isn’t. The main menu tune, on the other hand, makes me travel back in time to 92’. It’s so deeply ingrained in my subconscious that I could hum it right way after it kicked.

Corner kicks were almost penalties in this version of the game
I played through the world cup championship qualifiers as Portugal, since I remember very well how it went back then. The so-called “Golden Generation” of our football, after being under-21 world champions twice, in 89’ and 91’ managed a decade of underachievements. The best part of that qualifier was a 5-0 thrashing of Scotland with a memorable performance by former player/part-time comedian Futre.

This time I was committed to make things right and take this team to the United States World Cup.

First game didn’t go as well as I hoped, but that was probably because I was getting used to play with a gamepad. I ended up losing at Scotland by 3-2, which is undoubtedly worse than the 0-0 that happened on 14th October 1992. If I wanted to fix history I definitely started with the wrong foot.

Leal, Oceano, Peixe, Cadete... Yes, we'll be at the World Cup for sure
Since I started this blog it’s common with most of the games that I have much more fun writing about them than actually playing, but good old Sensi is a timeless classic and I had lots of fun revisiting it. The simple and intuitive control method coupled with the fast paced gameplay makes playing this game something comparable to riding a bike, since it becomes second nature and it’s impossible to forget how to do it. Well, unless that bike is a gamepad, of course.

Estonia apparently employ female strippers as strikers
Still, during my road to World Cup 94, it became evident one of the main problems of the game. The big difference between the best and the weakest teams makes many of the matches way too easy and after the game has been mastered there isn’t much to do besides two player gaming. Even after not playing one bit of any iteration Sensible Soccer for more than ten years, I trashed Malta by 8-0 on both games, even while looking over the shoulder to watch Masterchef Australia on the TV without taking a pause.

The group standings at the end of the qualifiers weren't that different of what happened twenty years ago, but this time I got the edge over Switzerland with a 3-0, which means that the world cup would have been slightly less boring. Still, I can’t really still be that pissed of what happened so long ago, since what could a team sporting such “fantastic” players as Cadete and Oceano in the starting line-up do better?

As for Sensible Soccer, it’s still great.


  1. That's a nice read, mate. Although I'm not much for football or football games in general, I agree with you completely on that Sensible Soccer and SWOS are the best football games around. Even now with all the Pro Evolution Soccers and whatnot.

    1. Sensible soccer transcends football. I knew many great Sensi players, Walter The Baptist included, that never cared one bit about the real sport.

      And yes, that fast and intuitive control system has never been bettered or even replicated.