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A Brief History of Soccer Video Games

In 2015, women’s football received a big boost, not from anything physical or tangible, but from a video game franchise.

FIFA 2016, released in the autumn of 2015, was one of the first to feature female international teams as playable, with competitions available, too. Very soon, FIFA followed this up with the story of Kim Hunter, a protagonist in their three-part story ‘The Journey’. It was very empowering for female footballers to finally feature in the biggest football video game of all time.

FIFA wasn’t the first game to include female players. In fact, back in 2000, Michael Owen’s WLS 2000 was remade in North America as Mia Hamm Soccer 64, branded with the imagery of Mia Hamm, who had just won a World Cup with the US. Women’s football, at the time, was not getting widespread coverage, but the game sold well.

Whilst that is the extent of women’s football in video games, there have been plenty of titles featuring male players that female football fans have enjoyed, stretching right back to the early eighties. Those titles do not just include match action but take the gamer through management, being a club chairman and even tie loosely in with football to capitalise on the themes and imagery. Peter Shilton’s Handball Maradona was a simple goalkeeping simulator with no other input than making saves. You can find many football-themed games on mobile, not always based on match action or even different common genres. Leading gaming platform Gala Bingo has a football title, Top Trumps Football Stars, which draws from the game for inspiration, but applies it to an online slot. Another mobile title, Cristiano Ronaldo Kick’ n’ Run does the same, only it uses a famous icon within a runner-style game.

Those are the sorts of games we see now and are just two in amongst hundreds available to gamers, but none would be possible without these trendsetting games, all of which defined the genre.

NASL Soccer (1979)

The ‘pong’ style games had often claimed to be all about football, but the first proper title to land on any device came from North America, titled NASL Soccer for the Intellivision. It was the first dedicated interpretation of football on a home computer of any sort, and whilst it looks horrible now, it was a trendsetter, and groundbreaking at the time.

Emlyn Hughes International Soccer (1988)

There were other games on the 8-bit before this one, International Soccer was very similar indeed, but Emlyn Hughes lent his name to this version and set the trend for the future. Pele had already featured on an Atari game, but it was exciting to see Crazy Horse on the front of a video game for gamers in the UK. The action was not groundbreaking, but it was a widely distributed game that gave many UK football fans their first real video game experience and one with an actual animated crowd too.

Kick Off 2 (1990)

Kick Off 2 took football to a whole new level, with a unique top-down perspective and a radar showing you where your players were on the pitch. Using the power of the 16-bit machine, it also introduced a word that all gamers from the early nineties will remember: aftertouch. Being able to literally bend it like Beckham, before Beckham bent it at all, was a real thrill. Other touches, such as the kit design option, gave the game depth. Dino Dini followed it up with another title, Goal!, which was equally as good.

Sensible Soccer (1992)

Sensible Soccer took the top-down view from Kick Off 2, removed some of the supposed skills you needed for that game, and added a vital ingredient: speed. Sensible Soccer was quick, the action flashed about in front of you, and you could see all of the pitch as a bonus. Couple that with a massive roster of teams, easily customisable, along with the kits, and you have an absolute favourite of the era. Gaming Bible reports it could get a fresh influx of players in 2021, as there are hints it could be released as part of Codemasters Collection 1 for the Evercade.

ISS Pro (1997)

Finally, we come to ISS Pro or giving it its full European name, International Superstar Soccer Pro. It is the granddaddy of the PES games we see today and, in the eyes of many football purists, the better title available for consoles. ISS Pro had it all – an animated crowd, advertising hoardings, match commentary and even a few recognisable players, including the bald head of Bulgaria’s Letchkov. From here, all the components were in place for the current selection of games; they just needed the technology to refine them.

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