Sociable Soccer: Can a sensible look at football rule again?

Being sensible is the best way to be.

Next week, I will be making my way up north to the Manchester Play Expo, one of the biggest retro events of the UK calendar. There'll be hundreds of arcade machines, consoles, computers, people selling their wares and all that other goodness...and of course, some of the old masters of the scene will be there -- one in particular will be Jon Hare, who will be conducting a full Q&A on his next game, Sociable Soccer -- due out on Steam Early Access on October 12th, mere days before the event is due to take place. This is something that's certainly rather exciting.

For those who don't know, Jon Hare was one of the main people behind the legendary UK studio Sensible Software back in the late '80s and early '90s -- famed for games such as Mega-Lo-Mania, Cannon Fodder, and their biggest hit of all, the Sensible Soccer series. Even for those who don't like football, Sensi is truly something -- a bullet-speed game with the most simple controls you can imagine, and an addictive nature that few games hope to match. It's a game that delivered something for everyone, and has much more in common with old board games like Subbuteo than it does with a simulation of what football's supposed to be, meaning that anyone can enjoy it. It remains one of the best football games around, 25 years since the arrival of the first entry.

With Sociable Soccer, Jon Hare is attempting to catch the Sensi magic again. There have been a few other attempts to do this since the glory days of the series, some of which have produced decent results (such as the underrated if somewhat buggy Sensible Soccer 2006 on the Xbox/PS2), but Sociable Soccer is perhaps the strongest looking attempt to date -- when one sees it in motion, they can't help but be transported back to what the original game used to be capable of. The same fluid movement, the simple one button controls that open up a world of possibilities through aftertouch, and the satisfaction of pinging the ball up and down the field and into goal. The hope is for a big success, maybe even something that could split the football market on, say, mobile phones wide open.

Of course, the world of football games is different now -- there's just 2 big games in town, and they're monolithic. The most recent FIFA, out as of a week ago, is still one of the biggest games there is, capable of steamrolling anything in its path. It may well be a challenge for something like Sociable Soccer to get noticed, with its arcade-style play, made up player names and old-school sensibilities. And yet, it may well be a boon for those of us who've been waiting nearly 20 years for the Sensible approach to football to truly shine again -- and if Jon Hare and company can pull that off? He might just be able to do some bits. Expect a full review on Retronauts once the game hits Early Access on October 12th.