25 years of NES Part 12: World Cup Soccer
World Cup Soccer made by Technos and published in the USA by Nintendo, is the best sports game on the NES. Better than Tecmo Bowl, RBI Baseball and Double Dribble, plus it is actually a sports game, unlike Punch Out!! and WCS’s brother Super Dodge ball. Both World Cup Soccer and Super Dodge ball are spin-offs of the NES’s crown jewel, River City Ransom, as is Crash and the Boys Street Challenge. One thing the excellent series of games have in common is that they emphasize fun over realism.
For the single player mode, the player chooses from 16 (I think) countries’ teams and play through the tournament. Each team has its own strengths and weaknesses, as well as a team specific special shot, except for the American team, who has a different shot for each player. Most of the shots are good, but some actually require some skill to use and others are brokenly good. Like Argentina’s, which only misses if the player is too close to the opposing goal. The player only gets about 5 special shots a half, so after those are exhausted you must either play normally, albeit without any calls for tripping and the like, or you can stand in the opponents goal and call for a pass from your teammates then bicycle kick it in. There is no offside, apparently the only calls the refs make is out of bounds and goals.
Much of the fun of the game is in the simple but effective controls. The player controls one player and cannot switch during play. If you have the ball the A button passes (I think, I may have the buttons reversed) and the B button shoots. If one of the A.I. controlled teammates has the ball, he will follow your directions. If you push A, he will try to pass you the ball, or if you push B he will try to shoot. When the opponent you has the ball your only goal is to tackle the ball away from him. The players have chunky little sprites that show humorous amounts of emotion, especially when they get tackled. Tackling is actually a great strategy with no penalties being called. Eventually if you tackle you opponents, enough they will be knocked out and lay apparently dead on the field. With some of the weaker teams, like Cameroon, you can easily get 2/3s of the team on the ground. There is also the bicycle kick, done by pressing A and B at the same time. This is how you do your special shots and how you kick the ball in over the goalkeepers head as you stand in the goal.
While the single player is fun, there are also numerous multiplayer modes. There is co-op, which is just like the single player with a 2nd player controlled teammate. Nothing spectacular, but it is still tons of fun, especially with 2 players giving the rest of the teammates orders. (On a side note: the resurgence of co-op gaming in the last few years is a Godsend. As a guy who grew up on Double Dragon, Contra and River City Ransom, I could not welcome it more.) There is the versus, with both 2 and 4 player options. The 2 player is great. You get to choose from numerous field types, like ice or rocky, and it gets fiercely competitive. For all I know the 4 player is game is great, but I’ve never played it. Nobody has, because it required the NES Four Score or NES Satellite and nobody actually owned them. The only reason I believe they exist is an issue on Nintendo Power that featured 4-player games. So 4-player is an interesting option but a purely theoretically one.
World Cup Soccer is not a terribly complex game, but it is a truly fun one. It is a sports game made not necessarily for fans of the sport, but for fans of fun games. It does not, though, abstract the game to the point where it is unrecognizable, not that most American kids would have know the difference anyway.