All Together Then: They Called Us the Soccer Kids
He shoots! High scores!
An English nerdlinger like me is loath to admit it, but The Football rolls through every saveloy-clogged ventricle of my ailing heart.
The same is assuredly true of game developers, because there are an inordinate number of games about little lads kicking footballs about. Not just in classic sims like Sensible Soccer or the immortal FIFA, but in side-scrolling platformers as well! In these, the football itself becomes an instrument of death! Four such games spring to mind, and in a somewhat broad change of format for All Together Then, we're going to have a squint at them.
Amiga classic Soccer Kid should really be called Football Kid. Of course, on its American release (for SNES) it was known as The Adventures of Kid Kleets, which is a) stupid and b) stupid. But I digress. This 1993 platform adventure from Krisalis (also behind the brilliant and barely-known Arabian Nights) is a bit of a treat. It kicks off (pun resolutely intended) in an English suburb, pitting our heroic wee striker against a succession of tradesmen and avian life. As in the rest of the games covered, your football itself is your weapon. It’s a little finicky to use, having you tap the fire button once to set up your shot, aiming with the joystick, then tapping again to shoot. If you miss, you can either run over to the ball yourself or tap fire again to have it magically return to your feet after a few seconds. It’s a well-designed, intricate and clever game. Lots to explore, a good level of challenge and excellent graphics and sound. Soccer Kid is effectively the blueprint for the football-based platformer.
Marko's Magic Football
This Mega Drive title, however, is a big rip-off, and I am not happy about it. It’s a fundamentally identical game to Soccer Kid in almost every way. The graphics are a lot more “cartoony”, not dissimilar to something out of a children’s comic - no surprise, then, that Marko showed up in the UK’s wonderful Sonic the Comic as a backup strip. There’s visual ambition here but it’s just over-animated, with movements feeling sluggish and imprecise. Marko’s moves near-exactly mirror those of Soccer Kid and quite frankly it’s outrageous. It may have the expressive visuals of Boogerman, but shares none of its excellent gameplay.
Based on the ’93-’97 cartoon series, SNES/Mega Drive’s Hurricanes is a lot less busy than Soccer Kid and especially Marko, calling to mind the Mega Drive licensed Jungle Book game in its sprawling stages and fairly titchy sprites. Ball control is the smoothest we’ve seen thus far in this desperately niche subgenre, with much tighter and more efficient play as a consequence of the zoomed-out view making things a lot fairer – a football is a ranged weapon and it’s nice to see where it’s actually going. Sadly it falls down on the level design front; the locales are pleasant enough but lack action, exploration or really much in the way of ball-kickery. Tell you what though, the Hurricanes theme song is amazing. You should listen to it while you read this last bit.
Go! Go! Beckham! Adventure on Soccer Island
Whooooaaa!! Jumping forward to 2002, Scots developers Denki (of the excellent Denki Blocks!) decided to revive the genre on Game Boy Advance with Go! Go! Beckham! starring – FOR IT IS HE – David Beckham in a lovely little mash-up of Amiga sensibilities and Super Mario World steel drum aesthetics. In this little gem, you use your football to collect, erm, little gems. Far more useful than just an instrument of spherical smackdown, your football here is the only way to gather items. It’s satisfying to kick the ball in a perfect arc through a sine wave of coins, which you’ll need to do if you want to gather every item for a 100% clear. While a short game, it’s easily the most friendly of the batch, with fairly traditional console sensibilities leading to easy-to-play, hard-to-master mechanics. On the downside, it’s Europe-only, but prices don’t seem to be ridiculously high.
So, there it is. An sub-subgenre in its entirety. A demigenre, if you will. If I have missed any side-scrolling soccer games, please feel free to let me know.