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Revisiting Retro Football Games: FIFA: Road to World Cup 98

Wednesday 16th August 2017
With all the hype surrounding FIFA 18, the new FUT legendary players, the added detail of Cristiano Ronaldo's beads of sweat and of course the updated transfers – who wouldn't part with £50 for this? In anticipation, I'm re-visiting some hallmark football games from yesteryear. This time, I got my hands on FIFA: Road to World Cup 98 for the SNES.

I managed to get my hands on a copy of this ambitious little title from EA Sports. Released in 1997, this game was supposed to encapsulate the excitement of a world cup qualifying campaign. (How times change, these days WCQs are seen as tremendously dull).

Dusting off my old Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) including the cutting edge (at the time at least) controller, I started to really re-live some old memories. The colours and sounds throwing me back to last millennium and the heady days of 16-bit amusements from yesteryear. Immediately the electronic music and its limitations are apparent, but try to get a groove going.
The SNES, a console from yesteryear which gave me hours of amusement.

The initial menu is very self-explanatory, there's a story mode of sorts – allowing you to recreate the qualification campaigns of any chosen national side. At this point, you look at a number of teams available and it's actually staggering. As one of FIFA's first games which focused on international football, it's evident they wanted a lot of the teams for the title. UAE, Latvia and Algeria?! For 1998, this game's database must have been revolutionary. Further research suggests that all 172  FIFA-registered teams at the time of release were included in the game! This expansive and ambitious choice of teams wasn't replicated until the 2010 World Cup game. In addition, there's also a whole host of league teams as well!
I loaded up the game and my pixelated dreams had materialised. Although sadly the whole experience soured after kick off. Whilst in its day, the game definitely felt one step away from the pitch – by today's standards I couldn't play it for long. I opted to play as the USA's national side against Germany. The first issue was how hard to determine which player you were in control of, I, of course, wanted to be at the top with Brian McBride, who was a bit of golden boy for goals back in the 90s and 00s for the US side. The game came across off as slightly clumsy and very hard to control with little precision to any move.
A pass looks like a shot and a shot looks like a pass. Goodness knows what seven-button combination you have to press to launch a low-weighted cross. By which time the CPU has probably taken the ball off you can put it in the back of the net. I just couldn't get back on board with the game in my sitting with. I felt paralysed within the game, unable to mount anything together and what I could materialise – didn't feel very rewarding.

Much like the US in the 1998 World Cup, I was bound for defeat as Germany put a few past me in quick succession. I tried to mount a comeback but could only manage the one goal, which I believe Brian McBride scored, but the players all looked very similar so it's hard to tell. In the end, it finished 3-1 to Germany.

It is worth at this point saying that my experience of re-visiting the game was solely on the SNES, it was however released on other platforms including the original PlayStation. Post-playing research indicates that the experience of that console, as well as the PC version, are very different. They included in-game match commentary (whether as the SNES just said: Goal, every time someone scored) from John Motson and Andy Gray. Those versions are reported to even have a little soundtrack to them which included Blur's Song 2, which was a very big hit for the Britpop band in the same year the game was released.

Whilst at the time, this game was certainly a classic. It's been a victim of time and sadly this version just doesn't stand up to the expectations of a 2017 football gamer. It'll continue to sit on the shelf before one day being listed on eBay.
Warren Smith

Yokohama F•Marinos supporter. Seen it all in the J.League, relegation fights and being crowned champions. Play five-a-side, pretty good too. Once scored an overhead kick.

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