If satellite TV has deprived you of your usual diet of footy, why not get our own back and set up a few games yourself? Andy Lowe puts on his Accrington Stanley shirt and creates his own one team Super League...
ST footy games aren't exactly in short supply. There are around fifteen different variations of the game that you can sample in pixel form, with Anco's Kick Off 2 being widely accepted as the ultimate benchmark. So why on earth do we need one more? Wasn't it John Paul Getty who said, "a saturated market is a dead market"? Or Richard Branson, or Pete Beale - someone like that, anyway.
Hopelessly addicted to Kick Off 2, the chaps at Sensible Soccer came to the conclusion that, although the overall format of the game was excellent, it could do with a spot of enhancing and tinkering with. And lo, it came to pass that Sensible Soccer was born.
It's that overhead view again, with the players passing, booting and battling for possession over the length and breadth of a scrolling pitch. The skeleton of the program offers a hectic game of footy with, of course, the winners being lauded and the losers being ridiculed. Get the ball into the back of your opponent's net, don't inadvertently cave in anyone's shins, don't get too abusive with the referee and, er, that's about it. Except it isn't.
You have, at your fingertips, such an awesome array of options and customisable features that - once you've finished messing with them - it's wonder you're left with a game that resembles football at all. Team members, kit colours, forations, crowd chanting and cheering, game lengths, replays and saveable highlights, music and even the weather can be altered and redefined beyond recognition. You can call up original national teams, club sides and your own custom teams - the program comes with a disk to show you the general idea. The custom teams can be composed of whatever you like - famous idiots, dead people, favourite movie stars - which means you have the joy of watching Bogart dribbling his way around Ronald Reagan or Jim Morrison before putting one away in the 38th minute. And that's not all... if you happen to have one or two friends, you can set up Leagues, Super Leagues, European Cups, Egg Cups and Chicken Leagues... honest.
So, if because of some unlikely and manic whim, you fancy representing our illustrious national side with your own joystick's manoeuvring abilities, in a test of skill and judgment against your chums' choices of teams, you can. Alternatively, if your buddies are washing their hair or down the pub, you can just choose two teams and enjoy a plain and simple friendly match with nothing at stake but your ego. Even if you have no friends whatsoever - which is extremely unlikely, isn't it? - you can still play through all of the leagues, cups and friendlies with your ever-reliable chum, your ST.
Joystick control is weird and wonderful. Passing the ball to team colleagues requires pointing yourself in roughly the right direction and tapping the Fire button. For those more complex moves, the game offers several ways in which you can kick - you do this by firmly pressing Fire and moving the joystick accordingly. Possible manoeuvres include swerving kicks, "up and unders" and lobs. Many of these more sophisticated moves can be devastatingly effective when you use them in the right situation.
Let's slice through the garbage - is Sensible Soccer any good? How does it improve on Kick Off 2? During a particularly intense session of sky-staring, Alfred Lord Tennyson said "...God fulfils himself in many ways..." Indeed, God is most definitely in charge here. Sensible Soccer is achingly wonderful and its name is set to become firmly implanted in the minds of football enthusiasts as the ultimate in ST sports simulations.
As with Lemmings, the incredible and immediate appeal of the game lies in its simplicity. The method of joystick control is, at first, difficult to master but soon feels natural and instinctive. If you are unimpressed with the initial dwarfish look of the graphics, take a tip from Robert The Bruce and persevere. You're not going to throw away a brilliant book because you don't like the typeface, are you? The game's graphics are actually pretty effective and expressive in spite of their small size.
When you're playing with friends, the pace and challenge of the game evokes a brilliant and very real sense of excitement. You're going to be amazed at the feeling of involvement and fun Sensible Soccer creates - effortlessly amplifying and elevating the experience of messing around with ST games. Kick Off 2's influence is obvious, but Sensible Soccer never ventures into lazy, rip-off territory. If you subscribe to the "you can never have too much of a good thing" philosophy, then the only time you're doing to be able to drag yourself away is to get something to eat and drink.
Sensible Soccer is wonderful stuff - a veritable black hole of depth with acres and acres of playability thrown in. If you like football, this is your promised land. If you don't, it's a superb game anyway.
By far the best and most effective footy game around - Sensible Soccer looks wonderful, plays beautifully and has an incredibly user-friendly set of customising options - the most fun you can have indoors without taking your team scarf off.
- You should have bent that shot a bit more.
- No, you're playing down the field.
- That would have been a brilliant goal... if it had gone in.
- You should have shot then.
- Brilliant bit of passing. Is he one of yours?
- What a cynical foul!
- Oh, it's really difficult to tell the colours apart.
- It's a bit like Kick Off 2, isn't it?
- 'Ere, give us a go!
- You know Gazza? That's your mum, that is.
- Have you always been crap at football?