It was a fairly safe bet (you could have bet your knackers) that there were going to be a million and one football simulators released this year. World Cup Fever reached a frenzy and the Amiga game which was on the receiving end of that frenzy was Kick Off II. It would seem, therefore, to be this side of commercial suicide to release yet another footy game, especially after we all overdosed on Gazza and the boys.
Microprose have decided that there's room for "just one more upstairs" and have proffered their offering at the door of the Amiga Format offices. So what is it that makes this game any different to the zillion other footy simulators already on the market?
As soon as you load the game it becomes obvious that where Soccer Challenge tries to be different is in the graphics department.
Whose the Geezer in the Black?
The game starts with a flying camera view, gliding over the back of the stadium and down on to the pitch. It then pans right and we watch the players jog out of the tunnel and onto the pitch to assume their positions. This is where the animation first hits you. The jogging of the players is spot on and these are no matchstick sized, three pixels high pinpricks.
The game is viewed from about head height, from behind the players. However, just how much of the pitch you see depends on whether you've chosen to play in position or as the whole team. If you choose the in-position mode things can get very frustrating, because half the time you're completely out of shot. This is, however, a more realistic viewpoint than most football games offer.
Considering the realistic graphics, it's a shame that the scrolling is so bad. When there's more than three players in shot they start moon-walking all over the place and the scrolling slows down considerably. As a result it's hard to concentrate on getting the ball off another player. Another annoying feature is the fact that you can run straight through the other players. I know the Italians try this trick all the time, but in a footy simulator we could do without it!
Taking The Soft Option
From the options menu you can either play a World Cup game or a Superleague. The World Cup option enables you to play for one of the 24 sides that made it to Italy this year. The Superleague option consists of all the best teams from around the world - most of whom didn't make it to Italy.
You can also enter your team in place of one of the other sides. Game length times and the standard of the computer-controlled team can be adjusted and you can even enter your own striker's name.
Practice That'll Make You Go Blind
The practise section of Soccer Challenge is awful. IT enables you to spend a few happy minutes trying hopelessly to kick the ball to another player. It's a completely hopeless task, requiring pinpoint accuracy and exactly the right strength. If you can manage after less than half-an-hour you deserve to be capped. You'll get far better by simply playing the game a couple of times.
Perhaps the most serious failing of the game is the lack of a two player option. It could be argued that very few people actually engage in a head-to-head with a friend, but at least the option is there if you do need it. The game offers no lasting interest and is almost entirely unaddictive.