Having the prestigious place as the world’s most popular sport, association football itself can seem like a ball of contradictions. It’s a game of finesse and strength, strategies and inches. And then there’s the timeless question: Should a 2-0 victory be considered a blow-out or a nail-biter? As one of a score of soccer games for the SNES, Champions World Class Soccer (CWCS) exhibits all of these contradictions and more. But as for how it translates to a gaming experience, that’s another story altogether.
CWCS features the 24 national teams of the 1990 FIFA World Cup plus 8 extra, but because the game is unlicensed, the trophy sought after is simply referred to as “The Cup.” While exhibition matches can be played one man against another, or one man against the computer, Tournament mode is the main feature here. Just like in the real FIFA World Cup, teams are placed into groups of four where they play a round robin. Teams earn two points for a victory, one for a tie and none for a loss. The top 16 teams advance to the knock-out round on their way to earning The Cup.
Who to choose? Each team has a ranking out of ten in the categories of speed, offense and defense. Having won the FIFA World Cup in ’90, Germany is maxed out at 30 bars, while Japan and Canada are in the basement at 14. The rankings of mediocre teams seems to be a bit overstated, however, making for a crowded lot of competitors in which mostly everyone has got a chance. Depending on whether you wish to promote strengths, hide weaknesses or simply try something different, you can select from four attacking formations before each game’s half. If you’re partial to a kick-and-run method of attack like I am, the 4-5-1 is waiting for you.
On the pitch the players appear fairly close-up from an isometric viewpoint. Visibility is a challenge: in fact at kick-off you can hardly see more than the center circle. Placed top right is a radar tracking player movements off-screen, while time and the score is kept top left. Since having a radar in a soccer game feels a bit like watching the weather, I elect to pause the game and manually take all items off the screen. If the half-time and post-game highlight isn’t enough action for ya, you can actually rewind and view about ten seconds of the action any time during the game.
Until they move, the players don’t look half bad, as one would expect from a Sony Imagesoft title. The players are nameless and numberless, and are signified by an either light or dark team jersey, distinguished only by a pair of hair colors. Player movement is choppy, reminding me of a crappily made stop-go animation, or a soccer match between 22 grandfathers. With the ball in your possession you are capable of 8-direction mobility, and a well-timed X-button special move adds some dexterity as well. Unfortunately, it generally seems like the defender is always faster, so shaking and baking will get you only so far.
Simply put, the gameplay controls in CWCS are incredibly frustrating. A, Y, and B will shoot, chip and pass respectively, but only abstractly. B will pass the ball to a teammate, either close or far away depending on how long you hold it down. Although you can kick to space and chase the ball down with your forward, you’ll run into tons of problems trying to switch to the right player on offense and defense. You may watch your players run behind or even away from an opponent with the ball as you frantically tap R and accidentally pull your players out of position. On defense, X gives a burst of speed and A lays you out for a ghastly unsafe tackle. Although you can bump opponents off the ball by simply running into them, using B can block their shot or steal it outright.
If you like high scoring contests, CWCS is probably not your rodeo. While A supposedly shoots, it is pressure-sensitive to the effect that nearly everything is launched over the goal. Many times it won’t even be close, because you can only shoot when lined up with the goal straight or from a perfectly 45-degree angle. But the worst happens when you get close to the goal. Inevitably you will either be clobbered by the keeper, or tackled from behind by the defender. The injustice of the situation is all the more frustrating because the culprit of these obvious fouls are carded only about 5% of the time. It’s honestly enough to make you think the refs have been paid off or the computer has a vendetta against you!
As crappy and even frustrating as the controls are, there are moments of fun to be had. It’s so damn difficult to score that it’s a masochistic achievement when you finally do. With enough jiggles and dribbles, crosses and chip-overs you can at times feel like what you’re doing resembles the world’s sport. Goalies are capable of sporadically making acrobatic plays, and every now and then the computer will pull off a nifty header or bicycle kick. It’s a curious feeling to know that a source of so much frustration can also offer some fun.
For instance, I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry when my team goes into penalty kicks. If a knock-out round tournament game ends in a tie, both teams go to shoot-out. Getting a kick past the goalie is very challenging, and defending one is even harder. Usually in soccer when one team has made enough of their kicks that the other team can’t catch up in their five allotted kicks, the game ends—but not in CWCS! As if to spite you, both teams have to attempt all five kicks. And I’ve already mentioned the penalties: at the game mode screen you can choose to turn on/off penalties and offsides. But in reality nothing is hardly called. What a joke!
It seems that at just about every turn, CWCS fails to deliver. There is nothing spectacular, nothing extra. Ok, the crowd might get into it when you score a goal in the tournament final. But don’t expect a mode to practice those insanely difficult penalty kicks! The game sinks below average because its poor controls makes it difficult to jump into and enjoy outright. But then there are the insults to injury. Such as making throw-ins impossible to win possession, and not allowing you to choose your player pre-kick-off. Or such as not allowing continuous play, but instead calling time when I’m winding up for a shot. Or such as giving me one lousy screen of my team holding a trophy after seven thumb-blistering games!
I don’t expect a SNES game from 1994 to resemble the most recent release in the esteemed FIFA series by EA Sports, but I don’t think I’m heartless for asking that a soccer game resemble association football. So if you enjoy the exercise of having to re-balance your chi several times a game because of its injustice and inadequacy, then get a copy of Champions World Class Soccer today. But if not, trust me, there are other footie titles out there better worth your time.
Two Stars out of Five
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