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Great Soccer Review

Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 1987 Also On: None

Finally, for the love of god, finally. As I said in an earlier review of one of the great titles, this series is like a roller coaster ride and fortunately it seems we’re hitting the high points with the last two. It’s almost as though Sega got better with these games as they got further along the alphabet. At any rate, Great Soccer is not the best of this series of games for the Master System, but it nearly grabs it if it weren’t for a few details that should have been programmed to make it spectacular. Had these features, which I’ll get to, been added, it would have been an incredible game and one of the best soccer titles I’ve ever come across, perhaps even rivaling something like Nintendo World Cup for the NES. Still, it’s not really bad at all, and if you’re looking for the earliest soccer game on the Master System, you’re in luck, because it’s actually good overall though it almost drops itself lower than it should have been. I need to note at the outset that I’m currently reviewing only the NTSC version of this game, which was actually released as World Soccer in Europe. The PAL version of Great Soccer was a completely different game, but I’ll be reviewing that in the future.

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Graphically, Great Soccer has a fair amount of detail and color. The title screen immediately appears and I wish they had some cinematics with it, but they still managed to use a wide range of colors and the characters on the screen actually look like human beings, unlike the monstrous beasts seen in Great Ice Hockey. It looks great overall, just lacking that extra oomph. The country flags look fine, and then we get to the game proper. Thankfully, unlike some of the other great titles, you actually get different jerseys depending on the team you select. The field itself is shown almost from this quasi-three-dimensional position from the stands, though almost above at the same time. The players move smoothly and the crowd for once looks like a crowd, which is rare in the greats because generally they all feature a graphical mess for this little detail. There isn’t much variety in the actual play, and I don’t expect there to be, but some cut shots when you attempt to make a goal or something at the end of the half would have been nice because they do this for the penalty kick/sudden death round. These segments look great and they tie it all together with a pretty decent winning screen with the victor shaking hands with the loser. Overall, very good job, just missing some little extras.

In spite of these minor details, Great Soccer has excellent sound. The music is wonderful, I love the opening title track, the country anthems were programmed very well and the in-game music is perfect. It fits the action and has to be one of the longest 8-Bit tracks I’ve ever heard. Lots of variety and intensity, great job. The sound effects also work well, I can’t think of a single one that sounded awkward or out of place. You’ve got your kicks, dribbles, passes, the crowd, whatever you expect is there and programmed as it should be. There’s nothing else to say, this is one of Great Soccer’s strongest points, and it’s another example of how much sound could be milked out of the SMS if the programmers really tried.

The one weak area, unfortunately, is the gameplay. Now, before you think to yourself “I knew it, there’s hardly anything good about this series,” let me state right now that the general way this game is played is very good, incredibly intuitive. It’s the details that are lacking, which I’ll get to. The basic rules of soccer apply, other than fouls because it seems the programmers learned after earlier mistakes with sports titles that’s it’s very difficulut to program this in without making the game too sensitive. So you jump right in, passing, kicking, stealing the ball from your opponent, slide-tackling and blocking. If you get to the penalty kicks or what is also the sudden death round during a tie, you have to get more goals than your opponent and block when it’s your turn. Whoever has the highest score, obviously, wins. However, there are a few problems.

First, this game is probably the easiest sports title, soccer or otherwise, I’ve ever played. You can essentially grab the controller, turn it on and start mashing buttons to get everything working. That’s the problem, a great portion of this game, though really entertaining, involves more button smashing than it does strategy. The action is generally so fast-paced that you can’t really pay much attention to strategy and end up kicking the ball as often as you can so it flies into the opponent’s territory so you have a good chance of getting a goal. Goal kicking actually does involve some strategy, so thankfully that’s here, but the main part of play is nothing more than a tard mashing freak fest for the most part. This doesn’t lower the score that much for me, but I wish it involved more thinking because it tends to rely on luck sometimes. It’s so easy to steal the ball that you simply have to press buttons like crazy and your player slows down significantly when you dribble, which makes kicking it around the only real option to progress.

Second, going along with this, it tends to be a little too easy. There are no real differences between the teams you pick, other than jersey color, anthems and names, otherwise they’re all the same. Plus there’s no difficulty setting or anything to choose to make gameplay more intense for experienced players. With no options to tweak such as how long each game runs, stats, choosing between players and so forth, it’s disappointing. Great Soccer completely lacks an option feature other than the four types of modes you choose to play. You play one player against the computer, two players, or either of these in a free shot showdown. That’s it.

And that’s the biggest problem, aside from the above and the fact that this is still a really fun game, it completely lacks a tournament mode for play. You play against one team, which again never seems to be any more difficult than any of the others, win/lose and that’s it. With a game like this you absolutely must have some sort of tournament mode, otherwise it has little replay value. It’s fun with a friend or alone, but there’s not enough here to catch your attention. You can switch to Sports Pad mode since they programmed this title to work with it, so that’s nice, but I’m sure anyone with a Master System knows that damn thing never works, so don’t even bother trying to use it. At least the title screen changes when you plug it in, that’s kind of cool. Overall, though, Great Soccer is a lot of fun, it just lacks those features which would have made it an excellent title. There’s just not enough here to draw everything together.

For its time, I suppose Great Soccer was fairly creative. It took the basic look used by Nintendo when they released Soccer for the NES, but since I’m uncertain which came first, I’m not going to take off any points for that issue. Besides, just being innovative in terms of the field-of-view really isn’t enough in the first place and that’s really the only similarity between then. Other than this, Sega pretty much did what you’d expect. You have the same rules, the basic idea of selecting teams from across the world, basic kicks and that’s about it. They really didn’t try to do much to build on the basic game mechanics, it’s all fairly run-of-the-mill. If they threw in some more features like a tournament mode, it would have been way ahead of its time, but it’s kind of like they went far and said yeah that’s enough release it. The one thing they did do though, which I believe may have been the first appearance of it, was the penalty kick/sudden death segment. Of course, it’s not like this gives the game a high score in this category, but I’ll bet this bit influenced programmers because I know that a ton of titles after this one used the same feature and I can’t find any prior to this.

As for replay value, I have to unfortunately say that I doubt I’ll really come back to this in the future. You can only play one game and I’ll bet most gamers will win the first time around with no problems. Thus, since there’s no way or reason to build on your skills, there’s not really any reason to play it again unless a friend decides to join you. Other than the ease of play, had they thrown in a tournament feature like they did in so many other titles, it would have had a great deal of replay value. But there’s just nothing here to want to come back to. The game length is good I suppose, but there’s no way to adjust it, and again, you’re only playing one game, which seems way too short to me for a soccer game. You just have to have a tournament mode, password/save feature or not.

In conclusion, I think it’s obvious why Great Soccer is an enjoyable game, but also why it does not deserve the first place position in the great series. It’s lacking too many features that the best great game of all has, which is coming up next, and without these it is placed into second, but I should say it’s a close second with Great Golf, the only reason it really takes a place above the other is that it has incredible sound and is very easy to play, otherwise it would be a generally sub-par title, as shown below in the score. I do have to say it’s something to own and much better than the PAL version, but I doubt you’ll play it more than once so don’t spend too much on it.

Graphics: 7
Sound: 9
Gameplay: 5.5
Creativity: 3.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 2
Final: 5.3
Written by Stan Review Guide