J-League Go Go Goal! (1997, Tecmo)

J-League Go Go Goal is a sports videogame released by Tecmo for the Sega Saturn in Japan in 1997. This was the developer’s second title for the system, soon to be followed by the legendary Dead or Alive. This title arrived during a golden age for soccer games, and in its best moments can rival the genre’s best efforts.

Sega Saturn has an almost limitless supply of hidden gems. I don’t think anybody knows that this videogame even exists, which is crazy. Here lies a spectacular visual showcase for the system that surely boasts some of the finest graphics of the 32-bit era. Everything is presented in 704 x 480 “high resolution” mode, with a rock-solid 60 frames-per-second, large wonderfully animated polygon characters, and an overdose of 1980s “Sega Rock” that is both cheesy and awesome. The presentation is extremely polished, from team logos to the menus to the stadiums, without a hint of slowdown or polygon glitching anywhere to be seen.

There are 17 soccer teams from Japan’s J-League, complete with logos and team colors. You have substitutions, a host of strategies and formations, and a variety of kicks and maneuvers. You can play in four different stadiums that look more or less the same (less variety than Worldwide Soccer 97/98). There are exhibition and season modes, options for four players, and the Saturn 3D controller is used very nicely.

Gameplay is extremely solid. This is very much an “arcade” style soccer game, with endless air kicks and tackles and shots that always hit the goal pipe and then bounce back. The computer is a ruthless opponent, and you will quickly learn that few penalties are handed out, so you can play rough. The gameplay lacks the strategy and subtlety of Worldwide Soccer 97/98, which to my mind stands as the gold standard of Saturn sports games. Tecmo doesn’t quite reach those heights, but they come close, and if you play a couple matches with friends over pints of beer, well, this could become your new favorite. Anything is possible.

Essentially, Go Go Goal plays like a Saturn version of Virtua Striker, Sega’s arcade soccer hit whose sequel later arrived on the Dreamcast. Heck, this game looks better than some Dreamcast games. I have no idea how Tecmo pulled off these graphics. How could they render a full field of polygon players without any glitching or slowdown? What’s the trick? Are those arena stands in the background really polygons or VDP2 planes? If these are 2D backgrounds, then it’s the best 3D fakery in the system’s library, surpassing even Dead or Alive and Last Bronx. It looks like 3D polygons to my eyes, but I keep searching intensely to find the man behind the curtain. Saturn fans who insist that the console still had layers of untapped power will champion this title as proof they were right all along.

Go Go Goal goes for peanuts these days, less than a price of a good Saturday lunch or trip to the movies. Sports videogames tend to maintain low prices over time, while so many other genre classics become frightfully expensive. Gamers are easily tricked into believing the “new” sports game is inherently better because, well, shut up, that’s why. You should take advantage of this opportunity before those gamers, and eBay sellers, get wise and start jacking the prices.

P.S. My apologies for the blurriness in these gallery photos. I shot these photos of the game in action (cpu vs cpu) with my iPad and tried my best to capture some good shots as cleanly as possible. Ideally, I should be using a camera with a faster shutter speed, but as Homer Simpson would like to say, grownups have this thing called money. What mattered most to me was capturing how these videogames look in a real-world setting, with actual hardware and television sets instead of PC emulators, which dramatically over-sharpen the image, resulting in something that is far more pixelated than what you find in a real-world setting.

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