Worldwide Soccer: International Victory Goal (1995, Sega for Sega Saturn)
Worldwide Soccer was a launch title for Sega Saturn in the Summer of 1995, and it very quickly became one of my favorites. I enjoyed it nearly as much as Panzer Dragoon, which is really saying something. Here was a true showcase for the new system’s powers, with bright, colorful graphics, smooth polygon and pre-rendered graphics, fast arcade action, and some classic 1980s guitar rock that sounded like it was escaped from the last Van Halen tour.
For reasons I’ve never understood, this game was almost completely ignored by the videogame magazines of the day (Next Generation gave it a paltry three out of five stars). They wouldn’t give it the time of day. Much of that, I think, was due to the fact that most prozines hated having to deal with sports videogames, and reviews were usually dumped onto lowly freelancers or shoved away into the corner somewhere.
Saturn had already established a poor reputation, and yet here was a game that clearly refuted that, and pointed to a more promising future. Why wasn’t Worldwide Soccer held up with pride? Why wasn’t it hailed as a triumph? Even the fans seemed to fall silent, and the game faded quickly into obscurity.
That’s really too bad, because this is an excellent arcade sports title that plays a very lean and mean game of soccer. You are given multiple tournament and season modes, including a penalty shootout mode that always worked at parties (it worked very well as a drinking game). There are a dozen worldwide teams that seem to play more or less the same, a number of play formations, the ability to substitute players, and a choice of multiple camera angles, including rotation and height. All of the action takes place at a single stadium, and the weather can either be sunny or cloudy. And, of course, you have your choice in classic “Sega Rock” tracks that are guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
The controls are very nimble and responsive. You can pass and lob the ball fairly easily, and can kick the ball forward with a simple double-tap. The moves and attacks are very much a part of the 16-bit era, which would soon be surpassed by the legendary soccer games of the 32/64-bit era. It may seem a bit simple, but that simplicity has a purity that I enjoy. Worldwide Soccer does everything that it needs to do, it gets straight to the action and never gives you a moment to catch your breath.
Computer controlled players can put up a good fight, especially when the defense tightens up close to the net. The goalies are also fairly tough to stop, although you can abuse the head shots if you shoot at just the right angle. Choosing the right offensive or defensive formation is key, and there are times when it seems like I can score at will, while other times leave me gasping for air. And it goes without saying that matches are exponentially better with human opponents and teammates.
The graphics in Worldwide Soccer are extremely confident, packed with color, featuring pre-rendered players that look a touch pixelated on HDTV but really shine on a good CRT. We see here the strategy that Saturn programmers will use very effectively, with the VDP2 plane used for the ground, and polygons used to render the stands. As the players themselves are sprites and not polygons, the action remains an extremely fast and fluid 60 frames-per-second.
Mind you, when Sega unleashed Worldwide Soccer 97 the following year, we were well and truly blown away. It’s easy to dismiss the first soccer game when its sequels are so much better, something that has no doubt added to the obscurity factor. On the other hand, the difference is visuals and gameplay means that you can collect the original and enjoy a game or two without things becoming redundant. Prices are also dirt-cheap, which is a great blessing for Sega Saturn fans who are expected to shell out ridiculous sums of money for videogames.
Really, the only thing I never liked about this game was the Westernized name, generic as always. “Victory Goal” always sounded better to my ears. Oh, well. This is pure Sega goodness that celebrates the company’s arcade spirit. It’s a cheerful box of sunshine that always lifts your spirits.