Soccer (1985)

  • DEVELOPER: Iwasaki Electronics (Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Japan)
  • PUBLISHER: Nintendo
  • PLATFORM: Nintendo Entertainment System
  • RELEASE DATE: October 18th, 1985 (April 9th, 1985 in Japan)
  • PLAYED ON: Nintendo Switch (Nintendo Entertainment System – Nintendo Switch Online)

I feel like beyond the novelty and nostalgia of Nintendo’s box art house style, people don’t give the actual games themselves the credit they’re due. I’m not saying they’re all verifiable classics (although some definitely are), but when you look at them as a product of their time it’s pretty easy to see that they were “next generation” by comparison to stuff on the Atari 2600 or Intellivision. Taken as a whole they were a pretty great launch lineup, giving most people something to be interested in.

With that in mind, even I was pretty quick to slag on the sports games back in the day. Through the years I never chalked it up to any kind of experience with them but rather the assumption that they were obsolete because there have been so many evolutionary leaps that they looked rudimentary by comparison. Having now given them all a fair shake, they have something that I pine for over the latest simulations that are out these days don’t – simplicity.

They are indeed as primitive as I had surmised, but there’s definitely a charm to that. They are still unbelievably clunky, but also imminently playable.

Out of all the games in Nintendo’s Sports Series, Soccer is the easiest to get into. In general Tennis is obviously the easiest to understand, but it lacks a true competitive mode and gains an absurdly touchy control scheme and a difficulty selection that goes from mean to impossibly cruel. Although your team moves mechanically (or chonky, if you will), their lack of finesse is made up for by the fact that you feel more in control of the ball. Another nice touch is that said ball has a rising and falling sound effect that actually helps out greatly in letting you know when the ball is going to land, which goes a long way towards making it not feel loose and squishy like other soccer games. It’s by no means ideal, but it’s also not as terrible as you’d think.

While the concepts of passing and shooting are done well in Soccer, the elephant on the pitch is that most of the mistakes that are made (besides off-sides, which I always forget about) are because the game doesn’t give you control of who you control. I couldn’t figure out how the A.I. decided when an appropriate time to switch was, which is the nice way of saying I couldn’t play as the guy next to the ball so I could, you know, steal it or something and instead was doing nothing as the midfielder. The only exception to that rule is the goalie, who’s in your hands at all times, which can be a bane if the player you’re currently using isn’t in synch and you end up in a pickle. This is obviously a complaint made with plenty of hindsight; I don’t know what Soccer’s contemporaries played like, so maybe this was better than nothing.

Regardless, I won’t be taking Soccer for granted anymore. It’s still a good time, maybe more so because you can’t help but laugh at silly situations caused by random player switching and dumb goalie positioning. I say that not with the viewpoint of an amateur historian but as someone who still plays games today, which is pretty good praise if I do say so. There might be a slight bias in that the now defunct West Germany (the country I was born in) is playable, but that doesn’t detract from its inherent playability. It’s football in its most basic form and it’s all the better for it. Even when it dings me for being off-sides.