It's a good job that being a bard has died off as an acceptable profession. This article is going to contain some words about bards, and I wouldn't want to offend anyone. If you are a bard, descended from a long line of bards, the family lute passed down from father to son, then I hope you're at least the sensible kind of bard who sits in the corner of a tavern instead of poking dragons with a long stick. Yes, that's something that happens in today's game: Data East's 1992 arcade we-couldn't-afford-the-rights-to-Dungeons-and-Dragons-em-up Wizard Fire, also known as Dark Seal II!

I like what they've done with that serpentine letter W, even if it doesn't match the rest of the typeface. I think any issues with typographical consistency can be overlooked if it means one of your letters looks like a dragon, though.
Wizard Fire is a sequel to a 1990 arcade game called Gate of Doom or Dark Seal, depending on where you're from, and I actually wrote about that game a couple of year ago. You can read all about it here, but it's not vital to understanding the intricacies of Wizard Fire's plot. The two games are very similar, although any lovers of ancient Japanese assassination arts will be disappointed to learn that while the original Dark Seal featured a playable ninja, this game does not. He never really fit in, and now he'd been cast aside in favour of more Tolkien-inspired warriors. We'll meet those guys soon, but first here's some plot.

After their defeat in the first game, the dark wizard Volov and his generically-named and thoroughly evil business partner the Black Knight have once again returned to plague the land. This time they need to kill one hundred and one innocent people in order to raise an army of the undead. Actually, that just says innocent lives, so maybe they could get away with killing defenceless bunny rabbits or something. That sort of slaughter is much easier to do under the radar, assuming you travel between a widely-enough spaced set of pet shops.

There's also some waffle - I mean wisdom - of the sage that builds our heroes up as mighty warriors who will triumph over the most unlikely of odds. It seems like the villagers have a fair point to me, though.
"The bad guys have millions of troops and we have, what, four and a half warriors? I think we're screwed."
"Firstly, I don't appreciate your racist slur against the heroic dwarf. Secondly, the light of truth is stronger than any army. So sayeth the sage!"
"Yeah, but we could at least form a militia, round up some..."
"So sayeth the sage!"
"What part of 'so sayeth the sage' did you not understand?"

Here are the legendary heroes of truth, your playable characters for the adventure that awaits. The number has increased from four to five, with the ninja not getting so much as a mention as his place on the team is taken by an elf and a dwarf. I don't think the elf has any hands. I can't think of any other reason why she's not touching her face like everyone else.

The first of our warriors is the knight. His name is Carl. Carl the Knight. Nope, it just doesn't sound right. He's a virtuous sort, blessed with brawn, compassion and eyebrows you could hollow out and use as sleeping bags. You know the sort, in the modern day he'd probably be a park ranger who dedicates his life to helping animals or something. He attacks with a lance, but not just any lance: it's got a ball and chain on the end so it can extend and spin around. I hear the Belmont family are looking to developing similar technology.

Magic is taken care of by Freya the wizard, although everyone has access to magic spells so she's not as special as she thinks she is. I think the title Wizard Fire might be describing her, because she's a wizard who attacks by shooting fire out of her hands. She also looks like she's from ancient Egypt, because why not.

Also returning from the first game is Riger the bard. His talents include wassailing, singing paeans to the chivalrous days of yore and maintaining a green fringe of hair that looks like a fern trapped under his hat. You will notice that "fighting against evil wizards" is not on that list. That's because he's a bard. It's like putting Chris Martin from Coldplay in the ring with Floyd Mayweather, except not nearly as funny. For those reasons, plus the fact his weapon is called an "elastic spetum" and that sounds disgusting, Riger won't be seeing much use.

On to the new faces, and this one's a dwarf. Yup. Good old trusty dwarf, cast in the exact mould as every dwarf in every fantasy setting ever. I saw that his name is Jade and he's wearing his hair in pigtails, and for a second I wondered if this was a rarely-spotted female dwarf, but the description clearly refers to Jade as a he so I guess not. It could have made a nice change, but it was not to be. My disappointment is tempered somewhat by Jade's attacks, because he throws flaming battle-axes. It's hard not to warm to that.

Lastly we have Eminna the elf. Amazingly, she's an elf who doesn't attack with a bow and arrow but instead uses a sword. I mean, she's still fast and graceful and all that, so the standard Dungeons & Dragons classifications are firmly in place, but Eminna not using a bow and arrow was still a surprise. I read her description, it says "renowned for her swordsmanship" and everything and I was still surprised when I selected her and she didn't use a bow. I think I'm prejudiced against elves, but not so prejudiced that I won't admit Eminna is probably the best (or at least my favourite) character.

Hey, cutscenes! Neat, now I can learn all about these brave warriors and the bard that hangs around with them. While investigating a ruined village, our heroes find Jade the dwarf who tells them that Volov may still be nearby.

Ha ha ha, beautiful. It looks like the fate of the world is in safe hands. How the hell did that dragon manage to sneak up behind them? Maybe the ninja is still in the party, but he's so stealthy that everyone thinks he has actually vanished. If a dragon can get the drop on them, they'll never be able to keep track of a ninja.
Rather than killing all the warriors while they're all bunched up together in a nice bite-sized clump, Volov flies away over the destroyed village, our heroes give chase and I finally get around to talking about the gameplay.

That won't take long, because there's not all the much gameplay to talk about. Wizard Fire is a basic top-down run-n-gun game where you point your character in one of the eight available directions and press fire to make them attack. If I was feeling charitable I could compare it to Zombies Ate My Neighbors, but the fantasy setting and lack of cheerleaders to rescue means it feels more like Gauntlet. The combat does have a few added complications: for example, if you wait for a few moments between attacking, your weapon charges up and the next blow is more powerful, adding a slight element of patient strategising that thankfully doesn't sink into the "uncharged attacks have the stopping power of a wet flannel" trap that befell The Astynax.
All the characters also have a magic gauge, the rainbow-coloured bar at the bottom of the screen that's filled as you defeat enemies. The pages of the magic book slowly cycle through your available spells, and once your bar is full you can unleash your knowledge of the sorcerous arts and cast the spell that's currently highlighted. Like in the first game, these spells aren't simply more powerful attacks but instead full-body transformations that temporarily grant your character a new form with new attacks.

Here I have transformed the Knight into a treasure chest. I'm sure Volov is quaking in his dragon-stirrups.
The chest does actually have a purpose: while you can't defend yourself due to being, you know, a box, chest-knight bounces around the screen for a while spewing out power-ups that you can then collect. They're mostly points bonuses, but there are items that serve a purpose - things like gauntlets that increase your attack power, armour for absorbing some damage and speed-increasing boots, which are almost mandatory for success if your playing as the knight because without them he moves around the screen at a speed you couldn't call a snail's pace because it makes snails look like Usain Bolt.

The first stage is teeny-tiny in terms of its physical area - all the stages in Wizard Fire are - but it's so jam-packed with enemies that it feels much larger. Despite appearing at first glance to be a fast-paced thrillride of constant action, Wizard Fire actually demands that you take it at a much slower pace than you'd expect. Running headlong into the enemy will get you killed as you're swamped by their sheer numbers, so wiping them out carefully a wave at a time is the only way to progress without spending a hundreds of credits. This has the effect of making the small stages seem larger than they really are, and it's a good job because if they halved the amount of bad guys in your path you could knock through the whole game in ten minutes.
Speaking of enemies, almost all the things you're bashing in this stage are either zombies or skeletons. Did our heroes arrive late and Volov has already managed to summon his undead army, or does he just want to have two undead armies under his command? Because that seems a little greedy. I know what the sage sayeth, but there are only five of us. Two armies seems a bit much.

The first boss soon appears, and it's Volov riding his dragon. He didn't get far before we caught up with him, huh? He was waiting just beyond the village, and that village only had a population of about six people so it was hardly a sprawling metropolis. I'm just surprised we even noticed the huge dragon and didn't just walk straight past him to the exit.
Yes, the dragon is big and he may look menacing, but all his size means it that he's a bigger target. This is especially usful shen you consider that the Knight's lance attack spins in a fairly large circle so you don't even have to aim that closely at the dragon in order to hit it. Wait for it to land, land a few hits and get ready to move when it takes to the air, because it flies towards you breathing fire and that's the only time it poses any real danger. It may be a dragon, but it's still only the first boss and you shouldn't have any problems defeating it. Volov, in grand arch-villain style, manages to teleport away before you can stove his head in with your lance-mace apparatus. I'm sure we'll see him again soon enough.

Stage two starts off much as stage one did, with our hero making his way through a zombie-infested town. The screenshot above really captures how useful the spinning mace is - those black silhouettes were all zombies that I managed to kill in a single attack.

Also handy: the ability to turn into a hovering cloud that can fire out lightning like laser beams. The phrase "they won't know what hit them" seems more appropriate than usual. No-one expects deadly electric clouds. Not at ankle height, anyway.

After bumping into an evil priest who threw some standard RPG slime monsters at me and then ran away, I decided to switch to the wizard in preparation for the time when I caught up with the priest. Knowing Wizard Fire, it will not take long.
The second half of the stage takes place high in the mountains, where the jellyfish live and a mighty river of Ribena flows amongst the rocky crags. The river is painful to the touch, which is unfortunate because the boundary between "deadly mauve stream of liquid agony" and "safe rocks" is vague at best and it's easy to take damage even when you'd swear you were at a safe distance. They should put up a little fence or something.

I apprehended the evil priest, but he decided that he wasn't going to come quietly and instead turned into a big spooky tree. I pondered making a joke about how that means his name should be Father Russell, but I was being bombarded by exploding seeds at the time so I didn't have a chance to really hash the joke out. Instead I'll just point out that turning into an immobile wooden monster was probably not the smartest move when your opponent can shoot fire out of her hands. Stage three it is, then!

No, Sir Knight. That's not how water works.

Things are shaken up a little for this stage, and where before you were confined to one linear route, this castle has several different paths you can explore. There's only one path that leads to to the exit, but the other routes generally lead to treasure and helpful power-ups so if you're feeling confident in your skeleton-stabbing abilities then you can take these detours and grab the magical trinkets hidden within.
Personally I'm not feeling confident, because now I'm playing as the bard. According to the character select screen his gimmick is that he's resistant to poison. Presumably he has built up a tolerance to poison over many years of tavern owners trying to kill him by lacing his drinks with strychnine before he can start singing in their bars.

Maybe I'm being too hard on the bard. He moves fairly fast, his elastic spetum-spear-trident thing has a good reach and if you keep tapping the attack button the bard will perform a multi-stab attack that can be very useful against large throngs of enemies like the ones pictured above. Man, that's a lot of Beholders, or whatever Data East are calling these monsters so they don't get sued by the Dungeons and Dragons people. They're still quite clearly Beholders, mind you, and not especially threatening ones at that. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but you know what else is in the eye of the Beholder? My bard's spetum. Oh god that really does sound disgusting.

In time-honoured videogame tradition, there's a midboss fight against an evil clone of your character. Turns out I was wrong to praise the bard, because he was too rubbish to even kill a bard. Instead I switched to the dwarf, who fared much better thanks to his ability to throw massive axes around the place. Projectile attacks are definitely the way to go here, because they allow you to attack and then get out of the way.

Stage three is roughly the mid-point of the game, as often seems to be the case with arcade titles it's the best bit. The difficulty level is high enough to provide a good challenge without becoming to bogged down by enemies too numerous to deal with and bosses that have health bars longer than the Golden Gate Bridge, and the game has yet to run out of new ideas. Not all the new idea are great - there's a platforming section that's made more difficult by the fact you can't jump - but it's better than nothing.

The big boss of the stage sees the return of Volov's dragon, only now it's undead. He really doesn't seem to have a problem recruiting the undead, does he? All this "opening the ancient doorway" stuff seems a tad redundant. Anyway, the dragon is a much tougher prospect now he's not weighed down by things like skin or an immortal soul, with a wide range of breath attacks and a tendency to collapse into a heap of bones that you can't damage. A lot of his attacks also cause paralaysis, requiring you to waggle to joystick in order to be able to move again. I hope you're using a sturdy controller if you decide to play Wizard Fire, because getting paralysed is extremely common from here on out.
Once the dragon is dead for good, our heroes can see Volov's castle ahead of them. Sadly it's floating a thousand feet in the air, which is going to make laying seige to it harder than with your usual ground-based fortress. However are we going to get up there?

A good plan. Everyone here can change their form using magic, so I'm sure there must be a spell that gives you wings. Hell, there's already one that turns you into a tornado, that'd probably get the job done.

Hey, don't you patronise me, wizard. What's your big plan, then?
As it turns out, the wizard does have a plan. It involves wandering across a desert to find the grave of an ancient hero. The grave has a magical teleporter in it. Time to hit the desert, then. I think I'll switch to the elf for this one. Elves are known for living in the dry and barren desert, right?

This stage has a gimmick, and that gimmick is that it's really annoying. To progress you must find two medallions hidden in the sand, but the desert is a big, featureless void that is prone to sudden sandstorms - if you reach the edge of the screen, a wave of sand will appear and teleport you somewhere else. I think that's what's happening, anway: it's hard to tell when there are no landmarks aside from a couple of severed horses' heads.

The Mafia: not a fan of deserts.
While this section is hardly thrilling, it's perhaps not as infuriating as I might have made it sound, thanks mostly to the actual area of the desert being (surprise surprise) fairly small. Still, I don't fancy spending any more time amongst the dunes than is absolutely necessary, so let's head into the grave.

This is one heck of a tomb, and waiting for you in the lobby is a vampire lady and her two pet gargoyles. The vampire lady herself if protected by a forcefield that looks like the ghost of an orange, so it's the gargoyles that will be taking the beating. Like the bard, the elf also has a multi-hit attack triggered by repeatedly tapping the attack button, and while it may look as though she's just waving her sword around like an overexcited kid with a Bonfire Night sparkler she's totally kicking ass and whatnot.
Once the gargoyles are dead, the vampire lady scarpers. That seems to be a running - pun intended - theme in this game. "Discretion is the better part of valour" must be Volov's family motto.

Inside the tomb it's mostly mummies, the least threatening of all the undead. They're just zombies who are even more flammable than usual, although they at least have a legitimate reason for craving brains as theirs were pulled out through their nose using a metal hook. They attack by whipping their wrapping at you, which somehow makes them even more disappointing. I was towel-whipped plenty of times as a kid and it never resulted in any major damage, and I wasn't even a mighty warrior with the sacred task of protecting a kingdom.
Forget about the mummies, though. Take a look at the carving in the background, the one with the fire-breathing dargon on it. Doesn't that text look very... English-y? Let's see what happens when you flip it upside down.

Huh. That quite clearly says "The Care Bears", backwards S aside. I did not expect to see The Care Bears referenced in a Japanese arcade game built mostly around ripping off Dungeons and Dragons. Are we to assume that the Care Bears are revered in this land as creator-gods who formed the very world itself from the raw power of love and friendship? I hope not, I've spent the whole game stabbing things.

There are a few more of them scatter throughout the stage, too - a misspelled "welcome" message near the door, the words "map" and "brothers," and nonsense phrase "The Bij"... except I looked a little closer and realised that's not a J, it's a T, and the whole thing is a reference to British videogame developers The Bitmap Brothers. There's even a message that says "Speed Ball 2," one of their most famous games. There's also some that I couldn't get a decent screenshot of, such as one that says "Shadow of the Beast" and another that says "Loriciel" so someone at Data East must have been showing their appreciation for the home computer game scene of the era. What a lovely thing to find.

Well, that's easily the most interesting thing about Wizard Fire, so from here on out we're limping towards the dull conclusion, starting with a boss fight against two rock golem things. This really is dull, as they've got pointlessly long health bars that smack of desperate padding, plus it's impossible to tell whether you're going to hurt them or not when you attack, Sometimes you'll do no damage, other times you'll be rewarded with a pleasing cyan palette shift as their health bar moves a nanometer towards their death, and there seems to be no way of telling which is which. I think it might have something to do with how often you hit them, so it's a good job I'm using the elf and her rapid-fire sword attack. Yes, I suppose you could do the same thing with the bard, if you were really that desperate to handicap yourself.

Once you've beaten Rocky and Cliff the Frustrating Boulder Brothers, the gang use the magical elevator thing to reach the final stage - Volov's castle itself. Here you can see what I meant about rushing on ahead being a really bad idea in Wizard Fire. I transformed myself into a tornado and pressed onwards under the assumption that I'd kill any enemies in my path, but my magical cyclone turned out to be more of a gentle breeze and I ran out of magic, stranded in the midst of a fiendish horde so ferocious that my character's sprite has disappeared out of sheer terror.

Standing in your path is a giant fire-breathing spider with the face of a woman. This fight is making me want to play Dark Souls. To be honest, everything makes me want to play Dark Souls. I once stumbled over a fallen tree branch and wondered whether I could make a Dark Souls character who runs around in a loincloth and fights with two giant clubs. The answer is yes, but not a particularly viable one.

Back to this much less interesting game, and after a brief section where a dragon tries to kill you by nudging you off a staircase instead of immolating you with its fire-breath or kicking you into orbit with its powerful hind legs, our heroes reach the door behind which their nemesis is lurking. I've been calling him Volov all this time, but I think Volov is actually a seperate wizard, the one who rides the dragon. I blame Data East for not fleshing out the antagonists of this game to my liking.
Check out those runes on the door. The set on the left says "Dark Seal", right? It has to. I don't think I'm looking too hard for hidden text in this one, not after the upside-down Care Bears stuff. The problem is I can't find a runic alphabet that includes all the runes used here, so if you think you can crack the code then let me know what you think it says. It's probably a haiku about Sensible Software.

Here's the final encounter, then. The Dark Wizard Whateverhisnameis floats around his majestic sky-patio, attacking you with every attack from every boss you've already faced. Paralysis spells, armies of summoned skeletons, explosions, all that fun stuff plus a move where he creates a hole under your feet that takes a big chunk of health off if you don't get out of the way. He spends most of the battle hovering right at the top of the screen while the Black Knight stands nearby doing precisely nothing.

He's clearly not invested in this whole "raise an undead army" scheme, and even when the Dark Wizard's health starts getting low he's not willing to lift a heavily-armoured finger to help. Evil villains of the world, this is why you should always treat your subordinates with respect and dignity. Otherwise they'll just stand by and roll their eyes while a woman dressed as an ancient Egyptian queen sets fire to your fancy robes with the power of her mind.
As final boss battles go, this is one of the more aggravating I've dealt with recently, mostly because the Dark Wizard's health bar is so collossal and I swear you do less damage to him the lower it is. It's a grind and nothing more, but with enough continues available you'll eventually save the day.

Everybody gets together and uses their power to destroy the Evil Wizard's floating castle, although let's be honest, the wizard is carrying the rest of them. I can't imagine the knight or the dwarf contributing much to this mystical spell of destruction.

With that, Wizard Fire is over and our heroes go their separate ways. The bard tags along with the elf. You can tell she's not happy about it.
Looking back on this article I think it comes across as a little too negative. Wizard Fire isn't bad, it's just unambitious and too short. The gameplay is so familiar you might find yourself drifting off to the land of Nod once you've been playing for a while, but the cutscenes add some much-needed character, I really like the graphics and the soundtrack is good too - some of the staff from my beloved Night Slashers also worked on this game, so it's no surprise that some of that quality crept in even if this is nowhere near as good as Data East's zombie-punching masterpiece.

As the credits reach their end, the Black Knight and the Evil Wizard appear in the desert, and a vague voiceover mumbles something about evil needing to be destroyed for good. Does this mean that there's a "true" ending to Wizard Fire? If there is I couldn't find it: I finished the game on the hardest difficulty and all that happened was that I got really angry about how long all the boss' health bars were. I hope it's not triggered by completing the game on one credit. Not when I've got a bard in my party. That's just not fair.



Today I'm going to be writing about a football game. I know, I know, many of you will be distinctly uninterested in this topic. Blocky representations of overpaid ball-chasers? Not everyone's tray of half-time oranges, and while I'll try my best to keep it interesting I don't blame you if you decide to skip this article. Sadly I seem to have little choice in the matter, because the ageing memory centres of my rapidly-crumbling brain have recently been flickering incessantly with nostalgic thoughts of the SNES's early days and one of the most-played games of my youth - Human's 1991 football title Super Soccer. Consider this article a kind of exorcism, then.

So much for my attempts at keeping this interesting: that's quite possibly the most boring title screen ever to be featured here at VGJunk. That's ironic, given that my abiding memory of Super Soccer is how impressive it was. Here in the EU, Super Soccer was one of the SNES' launch titles, (or near enough,) and while there was not a chance in hell of me getting a new console on release day a friend of mine did get one, and he got Super Soccer too. Up until then my only exposure to console gaming was the NES and the occasional go on a Master System, so it felt incredible when my friend clicked big switch into the "on" position and these huge, colourful sprites leapt onto the screen.

Much as they are now, when I was a kid my two passions were videogames and football, so seeing a giant German striker making a fool of an Argentinian defender and launching a spinning, Mode 7-assisted shot out of the screen felt like some grand cosmic alignment had focussed the energy of the entire universe into the unassuming grey block in front of the TV. Oh, and this little intro was accompanied by music, too:

Someone make me a hard-rock, wailing-guitars-and-pounding-drums version of that, please. I'll beg if I have to.
It's a good job I'd already had a taste of the SNES' power thanks to some exposure to Super Mario World before I saw this intro, otherwise I think I'd still be struggling to compose myself even now. The opening to Super Soccer convinced me that the SNES was something special, but that was just the intro: what about the actual game? Well, that's what the rest of the article is going to be about.

I'm sure even those of you who don't know much about football understand the basic concept: two teams compete against each other, trying to get the ball into the goal using their feet, heads and on one hilarious occasion, a beach ball. Super Soccer features sixteen completely unlicensed national teams, sorted from best to worst based roughly on their performance in the 1990 World Cup. At the time Germany were the world champions, so they're the best, with Belgium at the bottom. Super Soccer is really showing its age by having Belgium be the worst team in the game, because the Belgian squad these days is far superior to footballing minnows like the USA, Romania and England. Also, one of these countries doesn't exist any more. I'll let you figure out which one, it'll be a fun little game.
The main gameplay mode in Super Soccer is the Tournament, where you pick a country and play all the other teams in order, starting with the lowly Belgians and finishing with the final against Germany. That's not how football tournaments work, but I'll give Human a break. They're obviously just really proud of every team they made and they want you to have the pleasure of facing them all. I'll be playing as England, which will use up my patriotism quota for the next two years.

Before you start, you get the chance to fiddle around with your team and pick a formation. Human seem to think that choosing your formation is an extremely important part of this game, so much so that in Japan Super Soccer is called Super Formation Soccer. That's a pretty terrible name for football game, especially when there are games out there called things like Goal! and International Superstar Soccer. You might as well have called it Corner Flag Football or Rainy Tuesday Evening Johnstone's Paint Trophy Fixture Simulator.

Here's the kick-off, and there are three things to mention. One, you see that player with the big arrow hovering over his head? That's not the player I'm controlling. The arrow is for something else I'll mention in a minute. Two, England are not playing in their traditional white shirts but rather a light blue number which looks as though they were originally white but were accidentally washed along with the blue shorts and well, you know how colours can run. Also Belgium tend not to play in maroon shirts with grey stripes, but then again this was the Nineties and the football kits of the era were the foulest, most aesthetically-challenged garments in recorded human history. The Belgium shirt would fit in nicely amongst them.

Thirdly, and this is the big one: the game is played from a straight-on, vertical viewpoint, which is unusual to the point of possible uniqueness. I haven't played every single retro football game, but I've played a lot of them and they all use one of the more standard camera positions. Side-on, top-down and isometric are common, but Super Soccer has gone off and done its own thing thanks to the power of Mode 7 graphics. It takes a little getting used to.

The controls are simple, so simple that they don't even use all of the buttons on the SNES pad. When you've got the ball at your feet, you have access to three whole kinds of kick: pressing A kicks the ball low in the direction you're facing, pressing B does the same but in the air and Y is pass. Super Soccer's passing system is an interesting one, and it's the only part of the game that feels even close to a modern football title. Press Y, and the ball will be automatically passed towards whichever player has the giant arrow over their head. Pressing L or R switches the arrow from player to player so you can choose who the ball goes to. It's actually a fairly decent system, once you've realised that you have to manually wrangle the receiving player towards the ball every time in order to collect the pass, so it's a shame that passing the ball is not recommended if you want to win at Super Soccer.

What you will need to win is a commitment to physical violence, because when you don't have the ball, the best way to win it back is by pressing Y to perform a shoulder barge. There's a sliding tackle, too, and while it's less violent and therefore less likely to get your player sent off it doesn't grant you immediate possession of the ball like a successful shoulder barge does. Another plus to the shoulder barge is that every time a successful one is made, a voice sample plays. I always thought the sample was saying "shove off!" but now that I've listened to it with adult ears I'd concede that it also sounds like someone saying "yellow!". It's not a very clearly enunciated sample, is what I'm saying.

As I say, the drawback of the shoulder barge is that sometime you will be penalised for it - here I've managed to get England's star player, Brock the centre-forward, sent off. There's no rhyme or reason to which challenges will attract the referee's attention, and yellow and red cards are completely random so you might as well go all-out with the brutal body checks. Going down to ten men isn't much of a hindrance, especially not against Belgium.

Despite what this screen says, I haven't given away a penalty. Or a penarlty, for that matter. It just always says that when you get a red card. Look at Brock's gesticulation in that picture, he's got some Italian blood in him somewhere, but all the innocent shrugging in the world can't save him from an early bath. Not to worry, this game's already in the bag.

The first game is over, and England have won by the incredible scoreline of eleven goals to four. Amazing, right? I know, I can't believe I only managed to score eleven goals against Belgium. Don't worry, I'll up my tally in the next match.
As an aside, those arrows at the bottom of the screen aren't the joypad command for a Street Fighter II-style super move, sadly. They're just the password, which in Super Soccer is made of arrows instead of letters presumably because football is truly an international language that belongs to all of us regardless of the alphabet we use. Either that or it's because many footballers are too thick to read.

Ah, that's better. Nineteen goals past Uruguay and there's still ten percent of the match left. Two games into the tournament and Brock has scored twenty-two goals, more goals than Scotland have managed between the end of 2011 and now. If these ridiculous scorelines haven't made it obvious, Super Soccer bears almost no resemblance to an actual game of football, making it feel much more like an arcade game than one of the more serious simulation-type games that would follow.

Due to the limitations of the game engine and the controls, there just aren't that many parts of an actual football match that are recreated in Super Soccer. Fluid, passing football is out of the question because passing isn't accurate enough and the emphasis on slamming into people with your shoulder means you never have the time to measure your passing options anyway. Wing play is totally absent because crossing the ball just does not work - players will jump and they can head or volley the ball, but never with any power and in over twenty years of playing Super Soccer on and off I have never, ever seen someone score with a header. Free kicks are useless, as the player has no finesse over their shots at all, and corners are even worse because it's impossible to clear the first defender.

Thanks to all these limitations, Super Soccer ends up feeling more like a hybrid of football and rugby than anything else: the two groups of players slam into each other, shoulder barges are exchanged and harsh language spoken, until someone breaks free of the pack with the ball at their feet and runs down the other end to score. You can get some use out of the passing system, but mostly mazy runs are going to serve you much better than other tactics, especially in the second half of matches when passing becomes even more useless than before. Why is this?

Well, in the first half you're trying to score in the goal at the top of the screen. This means you can see the goal at all times, as well as any players in front of you. However, in the second half you're shooting towards the goal at the bottom of the screen. The goal that you can't see most of the time. Hmm. Running with the ball is by far the best way to attack in the second half, because not being able to see the defenders near the goal means it's easier to dribble out of the way than it is to pass the ball forward. It doesn't help that your forward players are almost always just off the bottom of the screen and the pass-to-this-guy arrow will not highlight them. In practise this means that in the second half you can only pass backwards. That's not a great situation for a game about football, and it's Super Soccer's single biggest flaw.

So it's a game that doesn't have as much in common with the sport it's trying to recreate as you'd expect, it has one glaring problem and a few smaller ones, but Super Soccer still somehow ends up being fun to play. Is that down to nostalgia on my part? To a degree it probably is, but the midfield battles are still enjoyable and jinking your way through a team's defence and slotting one in the bottom corner never gets old, everything moves at a good pace and there's enough charm in the presentation to carry the game through its weaker moments.

For example, at half time you get a quick animated scene of your players walking off the pitch. If you press B during this scene, your players jump into the air in unison. Why? I have no idea, Human just included it because they thought it was fun and it is, especially when you use it to annoy someone you're beating in a two-player game. It's even better if you're using a pad with a turbo-fire button, because then you can hold it down to make your players float into the dressing room like a team of mystical fakirs.

Part of the fun with any retro football game is figuring out the exploits that lead to easy goals, and Super Soccer is no different. Part of the reason I was racking up those ridiculous scores at the start of the game was because I remembered the two main ones as soon as I started playing, and boy are they helpful. One is that if you come in diagonally at the edge of the six-yard box and do a low shot, you'll score almost every time as the keeper jumps over the ball. Useful, but it can be difficult to get into the right position. The other method for easy goals is to line your player up so they're just slightly inside the post and then press B for a long kick. This confuses the keepers and, especially with the weaker teams, they can't save these shots at all. If you're using a player who can kick it fairly hard, you can score from just inside your own half with alarming regularity.

I know that sounds like it'll just ruin the game, and it does honestly make the early rounds of the tournament laughably easy, but it gets less and less useful as the game goes on - you gradually have to put it closer and closer to the post until it doesn't work at all, and before you get that far you'll play a team using the sweeper formation and this magic goal technique won't work against them because the spare defender will get to the ball every time. Also, you'll have to play against Ireland.

Ireland have an extremely average team, with one exception: their goalkeeper Riley is a nigh-unbeatable brick wall of a man, far and away the best goalkeeper in the game and a right pain in the arse. If you've blundered this far into the game relying on that one easily-exploited goal to see you through, Ireland are the team that force you to actually play the game properly in order to progress. Beyond that, it's nice that despite being interchangeable palette-swaps of each other in a visual sense, certain players have their own unique stats and emerge with almost a feeling of personality to go with those if you play the game long enough to encounter them multiple times.

Japan, for instance, have a truly abysmal set of players on the whole but lurking in their midfield is Jiro, who is probably the best player in the game and who can easily catch you unawares the first time you encounter him. Once you've figured out that he's the Ronaldo in a team of Lee Cattermoles, every subsequent match against Japan becomes a mission with one clear objective: batter Jiro into submission the moment he gets the ball.

None of the players are officially licensed or anything, so you won't see the names of world famous superstars, mostly because Super Soccer makes the odd decision to distinguish players by their first names - this feels particularly strange with England, as their subs bench have the names of 1950s factory workers - but some players are obviously based on real-life counterparts. Germany's midfield is dominated by Lotar, who is clearly Lothar Matthaus, the extremely good Diego in the Argentina side can only be overweight, cheating coke-fiend Diego Maradona and World Cup legend Roger Milla appears in the Cameroon side as, erm, Roger.

My favourite is definitely to be found in the Colombia squad, however. Their goalkeeper is called Loco, he's their best (and fastest) player by a long shot and is based on (in)famous Colombian goalkeeper René Higuita. Higuita's nickname was el Loco, and for good reason - he was a keeper who played like he thought he was a striker, he spent time in prison after getting involved with Pablo Escobar and he once did this in a professional international football match.

He is, in short, bonkers. Apparently he wants to get into politics. I can see how that would be a good fit.
Anyway, if you're playing as Colombia your best option is probably to give the ball to Loco and have him run up the other end of the pitch and score.

I personally find it extremely pleasing that Human bothered to use a different (or at least recoloured) sprite for a keeper's goal celebration. It's not just Loco that can put them away, although he's the best at it, and if you're feeling confident then sending your goalkeeper out on the attack can be surprisingly effective.

Granted, that's mostly because if you run the keeper up the pitch the game will only allow one opposition player to chase him - you can see in the screenshot above that all the other players are just standing still, waiting for a goal kick that's never coming. Even if you do get dispossessed during one of these seemingly suicidal runs, the computer AI isn't intelligent enough to hoof the ball into the open, unguarded net, so you'll have plenty of time to recover if your goalie manages to cock it up.

Something I should address: around the time I reached the match against Holland, my screenshots stopped working and I didn't notice until I'd completed the game. I needed those screenshots, but while I do really like Super Soccer I'm not a masochist and so I cheated my way through the game rather than go through those hard-fought victories again. That's why I have scored ninety goals against Italy. Sorry if you thought I was some kind of SNES football game genius.

After many long and arduous matches against the better teams, including a tense penalty shoot-out win over Argentina that you'll just have to take my word for, England met Germany in the final match of the tournament. Unlike in screenshot above, the first time I played it I didn't get a defender sent off within ten seconds of the match starting. No, instead I scrapped out a tough five-three victory, helped onward to glory by Brock scoring a hat-trick and taking his total for the tournament to around one hundred and fifty goals. Realism is not Super Soccer's thing, and if you hadn't figured that out by now then England beating Germany would have made sure you did.

Ah, sweet triumph. Good work, lads, you've done your Queen and Country proud. No-one will care that you accumulated around twenty red cards along the way. History is written by the victors, after all, and this shiny golden trophy makes us the most victorious victors of them all. Soak it all in, boys, you're on top of the world and there's nothing that can bring you down. Nothing!

Hold on, what's happening? I'll tell you what's happening: the greatest plot twist in 16-bit gaming! Okay, maybe that's going a bit far but the first time I completed Super Soccer only to have glory snatched from my grasp by the machinations of an evil referee I think it's fair to say my mind was blown.

I'm pretty sure that's exactly what it means, you smug prick.
Yes, in a moment of sudden drama so powerful that M. Night Shyamalan cries himself to sleep at night wishing he'd thought of it, the referee steals the trophy and challenges you to one final game against his elite team of footballing behemoths. Never has the chant "who's the bastard in the black?" been more appropriate.

To prove your mastery over the wondrous art of kicking a ball between two sticks, you have to conquer the all-powerful Nintendo team. I do mean all-powerful, too, with their maxed-out stats and their menacing all-black kits. I can only hope these Brave English Lions™ are up to the task.

Look, just because I'm up against the greatest football team ever assembled doesn't mean I'm going to deny England goalkeeper and proud mullet wearer Aaron his chance at glory.
Naturally, the Nintendo team are extremely difficult to beat, bordering on annoyingly cheap - they almost never miss a shot from any half-decent goalscoring opportunity and they're ridiculously quick - but I never got annoyed about having to play them. For one thing I was still too impressed by how cool their existence is to hate them, plus they feel more like a bonus round than true final opponent. I've already won the tournament, so beating the Nintendo team would just be a bonus.
It took me a few attempts, but in the end I emerged victorious through some staunch defending, a couple of the same low, angled shots I've been scoring with through the whole game and the ruthless shoulder-charging tactics of a herd of really pissed-off bulls.

Now England really are world champions, although I'm sure FIFA would have recognised us as champions even if we hadn't beat the Nintendo team. Nintendo isn't even a country, for starters. Also the referee was quite obviously on their side. The entire situation is farcical, and frankly they should have left me to continue with scoring hat-tricks using my goalkeeper and scoring ten fifty-yard goals right into the bottom corner every match. You know, like real football.

The fun doesn't stop there, either: once the credits have rolled, you're given a password to make the game more difficult. Nostalgia has played a big part in this article, nostalgia for being ten years old and spending countless hours trying to break Jiro's legs or playing the penalty shoot-out game against a friend and cheating by looking at their pad, but I never felt it more strongly than when I was copying those password arrows down. For those five seconds, I really did feel like a kid again.

That's just about it for Super Soccer, then. If you stuck with me through this article despite having no interest in the sport, then thank you very much. I hope I did manage to keep it interesting.
In summary, it's hard to recommend you play Super Soccer, particularly if you're looking for a more realistic version of the beautiful game - that's not to say that Super Soccer is bad, but simply that the SNES had more than it's fair share of quality football games like ISS Deluxe, World Cup Striker and Sensible Soccer that are technically better than this one. If you're after something arcade-like in style, simple, fast-paced and outright videogame-y, though, you could do a lot worse. It's got heart, it's got a sense of humour, it's got graphics that have held up fairly well and a soundtrack that I'd rate as one of the SNES' best if it wasn't for the brevity of the tracks. Check out Ireland's theme and tell me it doesn't sound like a lost Mega Man tune.

In the end, Super Soccer is a game that simply makes me happy. Happy to remember being a kid, happy that it's still fun to play two decades later, happy to think that I'm still playing football games with my friends even now. What more could I ask for? Well, the ability to narc on that bent referee before the final match would be nice. Let's see how smug he is when he's in referee prison.

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