Hmm it seems like only fours years ago that England was doing really rather badly in the World Cup. Now it's here again which means suffering all the usual build-up, endless repeats of the '66 Final, Bryan Robson injured and more footie games than you can shake a jolly large stick at. Virgin is the company with the actual World Cup title, though their game is in fact a conversion of an arcade game called World Trophy Soccer. It was converted onto 16-bit by a Hungarian software house. Football's a funny old game.
At the beginning of World Cup Soccer '90 you select your team's nationality from the not terribly inspiring choice of Italy, Spain, Belgium and, surprise, surprise, England. (Clearly Virgin aren't intending to do great business to Glasgow or Dublin). Whichever team you choose, it's your skill that's going to be relied upon to get them to the final so picking Italy is no greater guarantee of success than pickingly lowly old England.
Having selected your team, you have to get through the preliminary rounds against the likes of Japan and the USA.
Once you've managed to get past this little lot, it's time to take on the big boys. Just when you thought you'd mastered the game, you find your defence left standing by pin-point passes from the West German forwards.
Apparently the programmers wanted Hungary to be the team you confronted in the final. The Virgin bods were less keen, especially when it looked as if the Hungarian team had about as much chance of being in Italy in June as Charlton Athletic has of staying in the first division. Realism held the day and it's Brazil that you'll be facing on the big day.
As well as attempting to battle your way thorugh to the final itself, there's also a high score table which records wins, losses and ties. Any victory by more than two goals gets you extra points so it's a good idea to give the USA a sound trashing (and then beat the soccer team).
Enough about the competition, what about the matches themselves? These are viewed from a sort of sideways-and-a-bit-above viewpoint. Player control is fairly standard, by pressing the fire button you take control fo the player nearest the ball. The fire button also controls shooting and tackling. However once the ball gets into the penalty area the game gets all distinctive looking. If you are defending then the screen is filled with a behind-the-goal view showing your keeper and the guy with the ball. The goalkeeper is then under your control. Equally when you are attacking, your view suddenly changes to a close-up of the opposition goal.
The programmers have obviously been influenced by the injury record of Bryan Robson et al. Infrequent fouls send players crashing to the ground with stars spinning round their heads if a player gets a real Nobby Stiles then stretcher bearers come rushing onto the pitch to carry him off.
Such brutal tactics are likely to draw a red card from the ref whose head and shoulders take up a corner of the screen. He also blows his whistle and shouts out various instructions such as "Free Kick", "Throw In", "Scrap The Poll Tax" etc.
The ref is a busy man 'cos World Trophy Soccer '90 is fast, furious and, when Lakin's on the ball, very dirty.
Paul: Hmm well I think we used up all the good football quotes in the last issue. (Perhaps good isn't the word I'm looking for). So let's see if I can get to the end of this without saying "Over the moon" or "The lad done well".
World Cup Soccer '90 is one of this year's best additions to what is becoming a very crowded market. In appearance it's not a million miles removed from two of the other really rather good games that have kicked off this year, namely Man Utd and Emlyn Hughes Soccer.
As well as the nicely animated players, there are also some neat graphic touches such as the cameramen, policemen and dogs standing by the touchline. The animated referee's head is a good touch and actually sounds like a real ref rather than a speak your weight machine.
In view of this, it's surprising that the sound of the crowd is so weak, bearing an alarming similarity to a cat stuck up a tree. What makes more noise than a cat stuck up a tree? Two World Cup Soccer '90s stuck up a tree, that's what.
Like most good footie games the gameplay takes a bit of getting used to. My first game ended in a humiliating 10-nil thrashing at the hands of the Yanks. However, once I'd come to grips with the controls I was a happier and more successful player. There is loads of potential for skillful dribbling and well timed tackles. (Which probably explains why you lost 10-nil. Ed.)
Tackling is tricky but realistic. Instead of being obliged to launch yourself into a sliding tackle to get the ball, it's more a matter of sticking your leg out at the right moment and really hassling the man on the ball. Opposing players don't give the ball up easily though and it can be quite a tussle so you might just kick your opponent's legs out from under him.
With all the footie games around this year, good gameplay is just not enough - novelties are the order of the day if a game is to get noticed. World Cup Soccer '90 has its fair share of novelties some of which, like the stretcher bearers, are fun but a gimmicky. However, the goal sequence is fun and very effective. The sudden change in perspective can be a bit confusing but once the change is complete it adds a new dimension to the game. It works best if you are in goal. The keeper is agile and the whole sequence is really smoothly animated. If you're doing the shooting then things are a bit more tricky and I found it a lot easier to score if I shot from outside the area before the sequence had started.,
In the two player option the change of perspective is slightly less satisfying. Since in World Cup Soccer '90 football is a game of one half, there is no changing ends, so one player always views his own keeper head on and has to shoot while watching from behind the goal.
Real football enthusiasts looking for a realistic World Cup simulation might be a little disappointed by the format of the competition which is more like a knock-out than the mini leagues of the real thing.
As with the lack of half-times and the less than useful high score table, this is presumably a hang over from the game's arcade days. However, though it may not be the most realistic simulation of the actual competition, most gripes are likely to be swiftly forgotten once the players have run out onto the pitch. If you only buy one footie game this year then you'll not be far wrong if you buy World Cup Soccer '90.