Sunday, 14 December 2014

Chapter XXII: Manchester United Europe

I wrote before about certain games that had to “disappear”, in order for me to maintain my friendships, but most of all, my sanity. Unfortunately, not always my schemes went according to plan and some games just refused to die. Meet Manchester United Europe.


Before Sensible Soccer came along there were many football games that divided our attention, even though the one that occupied most of our time was obviously Kick Off 2. Among the other ones that we played once in a while I recall Emlyn Hughes International Soccer and the subject of this text, Manchester United Europe.

This game was a favourite of my good friend Earl Piranha, and he would try at every opportunity to convince me to play it. Earl could be mistaken for the token fat kid that every group has, but he took shit from no one. Contrary to the popular cliché that the fat kid gets to always be the goalkeeper (when playing real football, I have to add), if anything Earl Piranha was never the goalkeeper, and he would play in one position only, striker.


As you can imagine, we wasn’t the most dynamic striker in the game, and he benefitted that there’s no offside rule when playing in the street. Still, surprisingly, he was very quick with his feet and had a powerful shot, which makes me wonder what a great player he could have been if he was thinner.

He loved football, and most of our time playing games was done with arcade variations of this genre or even manager games like Premier Manager or The Manager. Unfortunately he had quite an obsession with Manchester United Europe.


For some reason he always convinced me to play this game in co-op, and so we did it. Too many times, I might add. I always played as the goalkeeper, which is not only indicative that the cliché that I referred early didn’t worked on Earl Piranha, but also shows this game’s only redeeming feature. Sort of.

Not that playing as the keeper was that much of a thrilling experience, but at least it was a different one. I don’t recall any other game that did it, and it was kind of fun for a while, even though Earl took the game very seriously and would get really annoyed at the slight mistake I made. Sometimes I made them on purpose just to wind him up.


Someday I just had enough of it. The game had to get some sort of virus for me to let Earl near my Amiga ever again. It’s funny how they always believed the “virus” story.

In contrast to my relief, he was seriously pissed off that he had no means to play his favourite game anymore. And then I thought that the story was over, but remember when I said that Earl Piranha took shit from no one?

Well, he went off and got a copy for himself, and left it on my house for me to keep it.


This has got all the hallmarks of a traditional fable, with some sort twisted moral ending, but fortunately I wasn’t going to be the dumb animal that was outplayed by the cunning fox. Not that I had done anything about it, but Dino Dini’s Goal! was released a few years later, and Earl Piranha got a new, more tolerable obsession.

After I loaded this game, a menu came up asking me to put write-protect my floppy disk. I felt that was a bit patronizing, as if I couldn’t take care of them properly. After these weird circumstances, I was greeting with a cool tune, and I felt good to be back in Amiga land, even if it’s through the sterility of an emulator running on charmless Windows 8.

But before I could even start to play or messing with tactics, I had to choose one of the European cups my team was going to compete. I chose Cup Winner’s Cup, because I suppose this could be considered vintage or something hipster-related today, since it no longer exists, even if it was the shittiest back in the day.


I thought this game included the player’s photos, by I was probably mixing up with the first Manchester United game, released one year prior, in 1990. But still it was good meeting old friends like Lee Sharpe or Brian McClair. For me these guys were never real football players, just videogame characters, like Jim Powers or Bren McGuire. And player/vampire (possibly, considering his long career) Ryan Giggs was already in the fold, much like Alex Ferguson, which I didn’t changed his name out of respect for the man’s achievements.

I had the feeling that this was one of the best Kick Off 2 alternatives before Sensible Soccer came out. Well, it just shows how low the standards were back then. Well, I think I’m being way too harsh, considering that is very easy to just dismiss these kind of games without having any sense of perspective. And to be fair, I had some fun with this almost 25 years ago (until Earl Piranha started pushing too far), so there’s no point in being cruel.


The gameplay is very arcade-like, reminding me of lots of games that I used to see in local arcades. The perspective is the same as in those games, and the game is quite challenging, with the computer controlled team being particularly aggressive when the ball is in our possession. And like in an arcade sports game, there’s not much depth. The controls are close to Kick Off’s, since passes are triggered with a hard button press, and a shot with the soft press. Looking back now, I much prefer the reverse, more *ahem* sensible solution.

After not having much fun, and not managing to score one single goal, I tried to play as the goalkeeper, since this was one of the main gimmicks of the game. To my dismay, it’s not possible to play as the keeper in single player, so I had to play with an imaginary version of Earl Piranha. Well, at last I was going to get a bit more action at the back. The first depressing thing about this solution is that my mouse plays this game better all by itself than me. The opposing team was having some trouble stealing possession, but after they got some traction, I couldn’t stop one single shot. But still, it’s kind of fun, and I wish more games tried this.


It’s a shame that the market for football games matured the way it did, because it snuffed all the innovation that could have happened. I had a brief period, between PES 3 and PES 5, when I was back into playing football games, but I got burned out by the sameness of it and its competition, FIFA. It’s true that many of these old football games weren’t that good, but at least they tried different approaches to the sport. I wonder if this stagnation is also due to licencing reasons, since I suppose most people wouldn’t play a football game with mostly made up games. It’s a shame really, because the fake names were a huge part of the first few versions of Pro Evolution Soccer. Who in their right mind would prefer Nuno Gomes over Noon Goetz, or Frings over Frutes?

As for Manchester United, it’s still my favourite team in the Premier League, thanks to this, not so illustrious, series.

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