If looks were anything to go by, you'd be forgiven for writing this football game off before you'd ever got around to kicking a ball - surely a game with characters this small can't be any good. Wrong! Kick Off is probably the most playable soccer simulation in binary history, incorporating fast action, smooth eight-way scrolling and, for better or worse, most of the atmosphere of the real thing.
Those looking for reams of statistics and individually named teams and players will have to look elsewhere, as all that's on offer here is a pair of teams - Red and Blue - competing on a plain pitch for anything between 10 and 90 minutes.
Like a good TV presentation, the game display follows the ball, with a small scanner screen in the top left hand corner showing the rest of the pitch in miniature. A further navigational aid is provided by a small dot which shows the direction of the goalposts.
There are five skill levels (from Sunday League through to International level), four team formations to choose from and the option to compete in a single game (either one or two player) or an eight team league. The League option includes a Save/Load feature.
The options available may be little more than you'd expect and the display at best functional, but what makes Kick Off special are its playability and atmosphere - especially when there are a couple of rabid footie supporters competing.
But while there may be a place for a little Wimbledon-style aggression, a touch of South American finesse usually wins out - which can mean only one thing... practice. Gaining full control of your on-screen charges may seem awkward at first, but the method used is 'instinctive' (a phrase borrowed from the unusually helpful instruction booklet).
The only fault I can find here, and indeed anywhere in the game, is the difficulty attached to manipulating the goalkeeper - but even this is no great problem, as left to himself he'll usually display the cat-like skills usually associated with Peter Shilton or indeed Billy The Fish.
Those who persevere should eventually find their outfield players dribbling dangerously, leaping great heights to head the ball, shooting and passing accurately, stopping the ball dead and performing every tackle in the book - and even a few that aren't! Which brings us nicely onto the subject of the man in black.
The usual rules of soccer apply, and there's a selection of twelve referees of varying skill to make sure that they're adhered to. Persistent law-breakers run the risk of being shown the yellow card... or even taking an early bath. Whatever the outcome, the player is kept informed by a terse text statement at the bottom of the screen and the time wasted is added at the end of the period.
Realism is the name of the game here, right down to clever and practical methods employed in the game's two 'set-piece' manoeuvres: Penalties and Corners. The techniques behind both can be practised before a match.
Well Brian, football's a funny old game but at the end of the day it's all about winning. The Anco lads gave 110 per cent, played their hearts out and, after 90 minutes, they've got a result - the lads done marvellous.
Probably the best ST footie game yet, especially if you're more interested in gameplay than graphic thrills. Highly recommended.
The only difference between this and the Atari version are cosmetic. A brilliant football game.