Retro Review – Nintendo World Cup
The year was 1991, I was as big a football fan as I’d ever been after watching Ireland make their way to the Quarter Finals of Italia ’90, and the NES ruled my gaming world. I had already discovered the football game on the Amstrad CPC 464, it was Match Day II and it was good, but not great. It lacked a certain something, that fun factor that made the virtual version seem like the real thing. Nintendo World Cup had no such problems. Sitting on an uncomfortable wooden chair in my kitchen, staring at a 14 inch screen I took on the footballing powerhouses of the world, starting with Cameroon of course, all the way to World Cup glory. This was a frantic, fast paced version of football, where the tackles were hard and the shots physically impossible. Where players wore sunglasses before Edgar Davids became a household name in such classic (ahem) games as ‘The Mission’ (based on a Nike TV ad).
They were heady days of cheese triangles dipped in sugar (oh yes) and the resulting high leading to a 17 goal thrashing of the U.S.A. Never had a sports game captured what made the sport great like this one. Sure it was rare that shots would swing backwards before firing at an absurd pace towards goal, and maybe it was a tad unrealistic that players would simply collapse onto the ground after one too many tackles, never to get back up, but I was playing football. I was passing and moving, shooting from distance, heading, lobbing in crosses, tackling, calling for passes and fulfilling all my childhood fantasies. This was the beautiful game, and never had it looked, and felt, so good.
Nintendo World Cup was a strange beast, released in 1990 by Technos, a Japanese developer better known for side scrolling beat-em-ups, such as Double Dragon, than sports games. This comes across quite clearly in the bone-crunching tackle animations which send opposition players hurtling to the ground with their eyes bulging from their sockets. This is of course, an 8-bit title, so this is far more comical than violent. In fact, there is quite a comic charm to NWC. The game doesn’t have the most impressive graphics considering the length of time the NES has been available, but it does have character. Players are chunky and while each team is essential the same group wearing a different colour, within that group each player stands out. It becomes second nature to try get ‘Baldy’ to make a last ditch tackle, or call for a cross from ‘Shades’.
Commanding teammates is an important element of gameplay. NBA Jam would later perfect this system, where the player controls one member of the team and can set up tactics before the match. Computer controlled players can be ordered to always pass or shoot, dribble or instantly pass and even the goalie can be made join the action. When the game is in progress, the shoot and pass buttons also control teammates actions when the ball is closer to them, and getting them to pass the ball to your player while he is in the perfect spot for a shot soon becomes a constant strategy.
Herein lies the game’s biggest flaw. Pressing the two buttons while the ball is in the air above the player unleashes a super shot, which varies depending on the team. This is, until later stages, unstoppable, and leads to completely absurd score lines. It also makes the game completely one-dimensional as the super shot from the right position becomes far too easy to score, and negates any reason to attempt anything else. There are a limited number of these shots available, but it is high enough that it rarely becomes an issue. Even later on it quickly becomes obvious that the shot just needs to be taken from slightly nearer the goal. Picking Argentina makes things even easier, as their super shot slants into the goal at an angle, making it a sure goal at almost any point in the game.
This simplicity was acceptable at the time the game was released, but now it seems archaic to be able to march through each match so easily. When playing against another person though, the game comes into its own. With both players able to employ the same tactics, the game quickly becomes a frantic race to stop the other players super shot being taken. It’s quite exciting to charge after a computer controlled player and chop him down just before he can loft the ball to your opponent’s player, who leaps, only to kick thin air and waste a chance to score. There is also the option of co-op multiplayer, in which two players can team up and try to win the cup together. This has far more appeal than the single player experience. The game becomes a battle to see who can score the most goals and more importantly, how many of the other teams players can be put out of commission.
Nintendo World Cup may have dated in terms of its core mechanics, but as a multiplayer experience it is simple and fun. The game has a strange charm and a heap of character, which help it stand out amongst retro sports titles. The large, blocky sprites are full of personality, which is more than can be said for the super-detailed player models of the latest FIFA and Pro Evo. If you really want a quality arcade-style football experience, International Superstar Soccer Deluxe on the SNES is a better game, but for a little slice of retro footy fun, it’s actually hard to look past NWC, which is a lot of fun despite its simplicity. Just make sure you play it with a friend.