But where is the opening ceremony?

Italy 1990 logo

BY THE time you read this the World Cup 1990 will have been played, won and lost. You will know who the new world champions are. At the time of writing I don't, in fact there's still another week to go to the opening game in Italy. Me, I'm getting excited about wall to wall football - you on the other hand have already experienced the event and are probably sick to the teeth.

However, should you not be repulsed by the thought of football games you may be interested to know how good US Gold's attempt at Italia 90 was compared to the rest.
Unlike many of the so called world cup games, notably the pathetic effort from Virgin, ITALY 1990 scores in the first minute by both giving you the correct world cup competition format and all the teams that have qualified for the competition, along with realistic squads as well. Well done US Gold is what I say, as most other companies obviously couldn't give a toss whether their game was Italia 90 or Cruddy Arcade Game Conversion 90.

Each player is rated on five factors, including skill and speed, which are the most important. If your team runs like tortoises you're never going to catch anyone up, and if they have poor skill ratings then they don't stand much chance of tackling and claiming the ball when they do catch up.

Every team in the competition has its players rated this way to give overall scores. This means that you can play Brazil or Italy or the Argies and stand a good change of winning the competition, or you can play Cameroon or Egypt (hur, hur, hard luck Scotland) and have a real fight.

That's if you are playing the one player game. If you want to play a friend you can either pick equally skilled teams for a close game, or mismatched teams if one of you happens to be better than other.

In the actual competition you can also decide which formation to play, including the rather bizarre 2-3-5 which I would really like to see someone play. Five strikers and only two defenders - blimey, its like Wimbledon on acid.

Down on the pitch you get full sized figures running up and down a vertically scrolling pitch. The scrolling itself is awful, there's no two ways about it. It's seriously jerky. At least the pitch has some detail.

The players kick the ball along the floor for small to medium strength kicks (it all depends on how long you hold down the fire button and in the air for big wellies.
My fave trick is to really whack the ball on a diagonal before the goalkeeper comes into view. The pitch scrolls up and up and the goalie suddenly finds his shot rocketing towards him. Get the angle right and you should score.

The football gameplay is only average, and it looks distinctly anaemic compared to Kick Off, but then you can introduce that variety from the different capabilities from the different teams.

If you want a fabby footy games then get Kick Off 2, if you want a really classy world cup game that gives you th real competition format and enjoyable and playable game, then US Gold's ITALY 1990 is a winner.

Italy 1990 logo

US GOLD £24.99 * Joystick

If things carry on as they have been with everyone and his cat releasing World Cup games, then no one will be able to get away from their machines long enough to watch the actual event! The latest game to arrive is from US Gold (do not mention World Cup Carnival!) and comes in the usual 'view from almost above' mode of play.

You can choose to play any of the teams taking part in the competition, with all teams adhering to a seeding system. The difficulty of the game depends on how strong your selected team is. For example, selecting a team such as Italy or Brazil will make your job of reaching the final and claiming the cup pretty easy, whereas picking someone like Egypt makes things a little tougher! Once you have a team to represent, the playing formation and team list is set up, then it is off to the game!

The form of the competition closely follows the World Cup itself. That is, three qualifying matches have to be played, with the top two teams from each group going through to the second round. From then on the game is played as a straight knockout.


Italy 1990 is very well presented. The intro screens are colourful and nicely drawn, and there are some nifty touches such as the TV presenter outlining the forthcoming action. The graphics in the game itself are of a similarly high standard. The sprites move effectively around the smooth scrolling pitch, and extras such as the animated scoreboard and touchline-view goal-kicks add to the atmosphere. The music is jolly enough, but the in-game effects do not consist of much more than a few thuds and whistles. Where is the joyous Italian crowd? Gone home, it seems.


Romping through the competition to take the cup is rather easy if you play as one of the top seed teams, but just try taking the United Arab Emirates into the final and you will find that it is a totally different ball game! The other teams will not hesitate to stomp all over you. This kind of challenge will have you plugging away until at least the World Cup final has been televised.


Anyone who remembers US Gold's last 'official' World Cup release may be a little dubious about Italy 1990. However this hesitation is unfounded, since US Gold have put their footy trouble behind them and have come up trumps with an amusing, well presented and superbly playable footy game. The wealth of teams and players gives the game a healthy amount of variety to keep players interested, and even if you do get bored, you can always keep yourself occupied with the World Cup Trivia book included in the package until the next game is on telly!

Italy 1990 logo

PRICE: £24.99

Four weeks of football and films, with plenty of the Arsenal lads in action, a six pack of San Miguel and a fanzine by my side. Yes, the world cup is here again! Lock up the disbelievers and chain yourself to the TV. Or perhaps try a pre-tournament warm up with one of the many World Cup games currently assaulting the shops.

US Gold's last sorte in this field was World Cup Carnival. A pretty hideous attempt at a football game, but it did have nice packaging. Italy 1990 on the other hand contains only the necessary instructions and Cup trivia booklet, but the game itself is a darn good crack at a footy sim.

All the participating teams have been included, as have all the players. Each side is rated statistically according to the average ability of the players in the squad. Kicking out Bobby, I eased myself into the manager's hot seat for England's opening match against Ireland.

Setting the traditional England's 4-4-2-perhaps-we-might-get-near-the-goal formation I did my best to cram anyone connected with Arsenal into the squad, while ditching anybody who has ever been near White Hart Lane. This was not due to any personal bias, you understand, just skilful management. Eventually I got together a team to field in the big match.

As with most footie sims, the view is from above the pitch, and the game scrolls up and down. For the player control the programmers have gone back to basics. Point your player in the right direction, and the length of time you press the fire button determines the strength of the kick. This time this control method works really well. It is easy to cross and passes can be kicked with pinpoint accuracy.

Initially the opposing teams are not too tough. As with the real World Cup in England's group there is Egypt, Ireland and Holland - all (relative) push overs. The only real thing that spoils the football section is the scrolling. It is jerky and so are the players' actions, although after a bit, it is not really noticeable.

Corners and goal kicks are shown from behind the player in control of the ball. This does not effect the play at all, but it breaks the routine of a normal football game. Penalties are also shown from this angle too, although it is really difficult gauging your shot from this position. There are other neat touches, such as the Bruce Willis look-alike commentator and some quiet useful information screens.

Inevitably somebody will compare this to Kick Off. That is a tad unfair, because that game is a classic of its genre. Instead I am going to recommend Italy 1990 as the perfect warm up to the World Cup, although I cannot imagine lasting any longer than that.

Italy 1990 logo Zero Hero

When we told Paul Lakin and David Wilson to look at Italy 90 they reached straight for the sun tan oil and British Bulldog Boxer Shorts - then we locked them in the games room.

There can't be many combinations of the worlds World Cup, Italy and 1990 that haven't appeared on computer games packaging in the last six months. US Gold has managed to slip two out of the three buzz words into its new footie sim. It also slips in a rather detailed manual giving a short biography of great players past and present. There's information on all 24 nations in the contest and the possible squads they'll be sending. There's even a World Cup Trivia Quiz, at which the ZERO team scored a miserable 30 points (Rating: Sunday League Player).

Having humiliated or impressed yourself with the quiz, it's time to get into the game proper. Your first problem is which national team to pick. Each squad is rated out of five for skill, speed, aggression and strength as well as having an overall rating. The lower your team's rating the harder you will have to work if you want to progress to the next round. Should you be patriotic and risk waving bye bye to the World Cup? Or should you choose one of the more skillful teams and boast your chance of success? Decisions, decisions, decisions. (Obviously Italian or Brazilian players will not be faced by such a dilemma).

Individual players, like the squads, are rated for speed, aggression etc, though they don't get an overall score. The various skills are reflected in performance on the pitch. The advantages of speed are obvious but strong players are equally useful since they can shake off tackles and plough through weak defences, scattering bodies all round them.

The length of a game can be varied from two to forty five minutes and after each match you can check up on how the other competitors are doing. The stages of the World Cup are all present and correct from the initial group system all the way through to the final, assuming of course that you get that far.

Atari ST reviewPaul: This game has a lot to answer for. Two nights running I missed my train home because I'd hung on at the office in a desperate attempt to guide England through to the final. The effort of winning the cup for Italy left me with such a swollen finger I had to give up tiddlywinks for a week. Much more of this and I'm putting in for a free Bryan Robson first aid kit.

It doesn't take more than a few pico seconds to get the hang of Italy 1990 gameplay which puts the emphasis on control. Running with the ball, the old one/two and sliding past tackles, there's nothing these boys can't do (except perhaps recite the complete works of Shakespeare in Serbo Croat). The lack of an on-screen radar (such as in Kick Off) does slightly cramp your style since you don't know where any of your players are unless they're in the immediate vicinity of the ball. This cuts out the possibility of long range passing and means you don't know where your opponent's defenders are until you run into them. Rather a pity because when you can see other players it's possible to put together some Hoddlesque passing sequences.

Where the game is a real winner is in its closeness to the real competition. Not only do you get all the squads, you even get each team's second colours. So when Scotland play Italy, it doesn't look like a Young Conservatives meeting. Being able to select genuine players adds to the feel of the game. It's very effective when you know who's on the ball, though it would be nice if the GOAL screen also gave you the name of the scorer.

The individuality of the teams and players in effect gives the game a variety of levels of difficulty. Playing England against Egypt presents no great problems; against West Germany you've barely noticed you've got the ball before you're tackled from about four directions at once. Play as Italy and your players will leave most opponents flat-footed on the wing. If you fancy yourself as the new Sir Alf then pick Cameroon and see how far you get.

The game is let down a little by a poor soundtrack: the ball sounds like a soggy paper bag and surprisingly there's no crowd noise. Anyone buying this game in Glasgow may be embarrassed to hear the music track. It's not a million miles removed from the anthem of a certain Ally's Army. "We're on the march..."

However, despite the wobbly sound, Italy 1990 shows signs that a lot of care and attention has been spent on it. The manual is informative and well put together; so is the game. This is easily the best World Cup game to appear in this year's 16-bit market.

Amiga reviewDavid: There's something special about a World Cup, isn't there? I mean, perfectly normal people who may not in normal circumstances give a jot about football can be totally swept along by nationalist fervour and sit glued to the telly weeks on end! Take me for example, I mean much to the chagrin of Paul 'Walking Football Almanac' Lakin, I couldn't tell a Lineker from a Lou Beale. Still, along comes the World Cup and I'm bitten by the bug. I collected all the Esso World Cup Squad coins - I'm talking the 1970 squad(!), I even collected the whole set of 1970 World Cup stickers. Nothing else has ever inspired such religious enthusiasm in me, with the exception of Johnny Morris - I also collected the Johnny Morris' safari sticker collection (but that's another story).

Anyway, taking the multitude of Italia '90 games into account, (including Virgin's officially licensed one, hem hem) this has to be the most realistic representation of the World Cup machinations. All the teams, the squad members, the actual performance of individual players(!) even down to the manual which is a colourful and informative booklet on World Cup facts, teams, venues and fixtures are all beautifully presented here. So it's the best World Cup game so far (all the more commendable in the light of US Gold's previous footie fiasco - World Cup Carnival), but how does it fare as a football game?

Well, it plays very well. Perhaps in a head to head, I'd buy Kick Off first but it would be a very close thing indeed. The graphics re much better of course and the ability to pass to team mates (on screen) works well, but it falls down for me in a couple of areas. Firstly, it doesn't offer one of those radar type pitch insets that relates the ball's position to the pitch and all your off screen players. Secondly, it lets you control the goalie, which is nice in theory, but in reality he frequently switched as I was moving a defender off to the right i.e. exactly at the wrong time, goalie vacates net and moves off to the right! Okay, so this is my opinion, but what of the differences in the Amiga version? Well, there are very few basically, my sole remark would be that I prefer the ST sound.

These gripes apart, Italy 1990 is a smooth, accomplished football game, and the best of the games pertaining to simulate the World Cup. (Thus far.) Stop

Italy 1990 logo

US Gold, C64 £12.99 cassette, £17.99 disk; Amiga £24.99

Although Virgin have the official World Cup licence, US Gold can claim a share of the action due to obscure rights hanging over from their dire 1986 effort, World Cup Carnival. Software veterans will remember that as being an ancient Artic game resurrected for the purpose and hidden inside lots of fancy packaging. Thankfully US Gold have got a new game this time, although there's still plenty of bumf. An attractive 64-page booklet covers all the teams, provides biographies of legendary players, past and potential, plus a short trivia quiz.

But what of the game itself? Well you can choose either to participate in the tournament, choosing a team out of the accurate list of qualifiers, or play a one or two-player friendly. In tournament mode you can choose your team from a full squad, and select formations.

The actual game is presented from an overhead view (slightly slanted on the Amiga) with multi-directional scrolling. Once a player has the ball it stays pretty much stuck to him, unless it is kicked by him or from him by another player. Holding down fire affects the strength of a kick, together with that player's strength. (Players names are displayed on screen with the Amiga).

Tackles are made either by getting as close as possible to another player and relying on your player's skill, or using a sliding tackle which can be misinterpreted as a foul!

For Amiga owners there's animated screens showing a side-on view of corners and goal kicks, which thankfully requires no disk accessing. And once the kick is made the game switches to the normal to show the kick again! There's also a behind-the-shooter view of penalties.

Phil King This ain't no Kick Off but it does have some simple playability all the same. And most importantly it incorporates all the official World Cup teams and fixtures (unlike the official Virgin licence!). You even get to pick your players from a full squad to suit your style of play and the opposition. What lets the game down a bit is the match action. Without a Kick Off-style radar, accurate passing is difficult. And with the ball stuck to your foot you can do Maradona-type dribbling without needing much real skill. This makes tackling very difficult, so matches often have unrealistically high scorelines. I also found it a bit too easy to win the Cup. Having said that, this is still an infinitely better World Cup game than the official effort.
Scorelord Both games are fairly good, the animated scenes in the Amiga game are quite nice to look at and don't slow the game down.
On the debit side dribbling is completely unrealistic with the ball being stuck to your foot. Given a fairly fast player you can evade practically all opposition, which is extremely irritating for the opposing player. Practice can counter this problem, but while this game is fun for a while it can't compare with Kick Off.
The C64 game benefits from being slower as tackles are therefore much easier, giving the game a more realistic feel. Again dribbling is unrealistic, but while it's nowhere near as much fun as MicroProse Soccer, it's not too far behind for playability and the World Cup fixtures are accurate. Pity about the price though.