I haven’t written for a while. This can be attributed to the fact that I’ve been watching the European Football Championships. For non UK readers it’s like the soccer World Cup or Copa America, but in Europe. Tonight though, there’s a break, so I’ve been thinking about football games and just how many I have played over the years. So heres a brief history of the football game…
Football games in the early days of gaming were tricky to pull off. You can perhaps put this down to the lack of buttons needed to effectively make a football game feel real, or the general lack of power and content of older consoles, but there were one or two who did at least manage to be fun.
Amongst the earliest footie games (certainly in the UK anyway) were Match Day and Kick Off, both of which had versions produced for the Spectrum. With little else to compare to them with back in the 80′s, they were little technical triumphs. But even the most hard nosed retro-phile would be hard pressed to praise them now.
The 8-bit consoles also didn’t have much to chant about. The most notable entry in the NES catalogue as far as football games went was Konami’s Hyper Soccer, which gave a teasing glimpse into a game which would later become a massive franchise.
The move to the 16-bit consoles saw developers being able to play with faster processors, brighter colours and more buttons on control pads. These elements combined to make some excellent football games. Early attempts such as the Mega Drive’s World Cup Italia 90 and the SNES’s not so Super Soccer didn’t get the ball rolling too well, but when Striker by Rage Software turned up on the SNES, the game changed. Fast-paced arcade fun – Striker was a hit. At this point home computers were also being treated to the rather excellent Sensible Soccer and its follow up, Sensible World of Soccer. And for a while, Sensible were the champions of the football game.
However, its reign at the top was short-lived. In 1993, EA gained the rights to FIFA, and created the first in the monster FIFA Football franchise. Originally a Mega Drive exclusive, FIFA International Football had everything: a dynamic view point, speed, excellent presentation and that license. EA were able and are still able, to use and replicate the likeness and name of every entity held under the FIFA banner, effectively giving gamers the chance to recreate real life football with a game pad. Its fair to say EA held the crown in the 16 bit era, but Konami had a decent crack at the genre when it revived its Hyper Soccer game as International Superstar Soccer, which became the football game of choice for SNES owners.
ISS maintained its form when moving onto the N64 and PSOne. FIFA on the other hand struggled, and EA produced some pretty horrible and clunky FIFA games during this time. With EA flagging, other dev’s attempted to muscle in and games such as Libero Grande, Actua Soccer and This Is Football were developed but failed to gain any momentum against the improving franchise which Konami was developing.
The move to the PS2 saw ISS evolve into Pro Evolution Soccer, or Pro Evo as it was known. Pro Evo was a PS2 exclusive for a long time, and its yearly re-incarnations were refined and improved with each passing season. Its form however dipped after Pro Evo 6. Its possible that that was the point where the game could not be bettered, but there was a chance that it was then that gamers felt the franchise had become stale, to the point of it being a bit boring. It also lacked that official license which EA stubbornly held onto. It became so much of a football simulation that it actually lost its sense of fun. And unfortunately for Konami, it also coincided with regeneration of its long term rival.
EA had been milking its EA franchise to the max, releasing a FIFA game every year and even twice a year sometimes with spin offs such as World Cup and Road to World Cup games. When the move to the current gen arrived, FIFA suddenly upped its game. Pro Evo had been left behind and EA began producing fun football games again. The HD power of the PS3 and 360 meant it could use the FIFA license to its full potential and its football games now are now incredibly faithful to the look, feel and sound of real life football. EA has also learnt from Konami’s and its own previous mistakes, by not resting on its laurels when releasing its yearly update.
Every year FIFA improves on its previous years game engine, but it also includes more and more options to keep gamers interested. Ideas such as Ultimate Team and Be A Pro are ideas taken from gamers and implemented to keep the game more than just a football sim.
Konami have been quietly keeping the Pro Evo brand ticking over, quietly watching from the sidelines just as EA did at one point, and there are whispers that this years Pro Evo could be the one to finally give FIFA a run for its money. Whether it will or not remains to be seen, but its a certainty that football games will move into the next gen and continue to sell in high numbers.