|Developed by:||Ocean Software|
Long before FIFA and PES came to define what a football game played like, us older gamers were cutting our teeth on such fabled games as this.
Coded by Jon Ritman, this sequel to the original Matchday was released across the major home formats of the day, finding its way into the cassette player of our trusty Spectrum as Ritman Rovers took on the mighty Soccerama.
It offered a stripped down kickaround with just 7 players on each team, but did boast a number of options, including cup competitions and multiplayer.
Well things don’t get off to the best of starts. Our old Speccy friend the colour run is back in full effect here. It is a feature of Spectum games that colours will bleed into each other when sprites get close, which is normally quaint and harmless. Here it is a nightmare; as your player tussles with the opposition striker, they both become lost in a sea of blended shades so that you lose sight of which guy was yours, fumbling desperately with the joystick as your lumbering centre back emerges into daylight, facing in the wrong direction.
There are some positives though. The default settings, quite naturally, see you playing on a bright green approximation of grass but it is a little garish. Brilliantly you can change it to blue, black or white, giving your retinas somewhat of a rest. In-game, a little dot shows the path of the ball, which you can use to position yourself, whilst the player being controlled has the obligatory marker above his head to denote him as active.
As you might expect on the Speccy, detail is a casualty to the constraints of the system. Players are on the robust side, looking like a team of Jan Molby’s strutting around the turf, although they do manage to stir themselves into a leap to head the ball. Kicks and passes are of the magical variety, leaving your boots with seemingly non-existent back lift whilst your goalkeeper seems to be paid in instalments, any dive for the ball taking an eternity for his hefty frame to hit the turf.
But looks can be deceiving, the real question is how does the thing play? Sadly time has not been kind.
Let’s start with the positives though. There is a surprising variety of options to choose from, either flying solo or with a mate or two roped in. You wouldn’t expect a multi-season management sim for a game this old but it’s more than just mix-and-match friendlies with cup and league options to choose from whilst teams can be set up with a defensive or attacking tactic.
There is some subtlety in control too. A little bar dictates whether you will play a long or short pass, or even a nifty back-heel whilst get your timing right and you can unleash a volley on the unsuspecting goalkeeper. The game will sometimes give you control of two players at the same time, which theoretically ensures you absolutely, definitely will be controlling the guy nearest the ball, but which more often than not results in you sending both guys in the wrong direction as you lose track of which one you were controlling.
But that is about where the fun stops. Things start badly from the kick off. You would expect to have a couple of guys in the centre circle but instead just one guy rocks up. With the limited options available, you can try a risky sideways pass to a team mate or just punt it downfield, rugby style.
The passing / shooting system in theory allows you to vary the length of your kick but the trouble is that it isn’t user controlled in the same way as, say, Sensi, where you hold down the fire button to control the height and power. Being reliant on the computer controlled meter, you have to try and time your pass or shot to coincide with the right power setting whilst simultaneously fending off an opposition player breathing down your neck. You can mitigate this to some extent by adjusting the settings to, for instance, only allow forward kicks but not back heels, or to lock kicks at a specified power. But if you want to master the full range of passing options, you’ll need to put the time in.
With the action underway, you take control of whichever lumbering beast happens to drift nearest the ball. The pitch may be intended to simulate grass but it feels like you are running in treacle as your Neil Ruddock-alike slovenly drags himself across the turf.
If the ball arrives at another player below knee height then he has a chance of bringing it under the control of his gargantuan frame, otherwise it bounces off of him, pin-balling across the turf. And if the opposition get the ball, forget chasing them down, the laws of physics going absent as players engage in a comedy slow motion ‘sprint’ down the pitch, the player in possession nominally slower, for all the difference it makes at the speed they’re travelling.
During one of these desperate, slow motion chases you will be forgiven for trying to launch into a sliding tackle or at least get a foot in. But no. Tackling is of the ‘just-happen-to-run-into-the-guy-in-possesion-at-the-right-angle variety’ regardless of how stubbornly you press the fire button.
But perhaps the coup de gras are the goalkeepers. Quite apart from their five minute plummets to make a save, they have a fundamental flaw – they can’t kick the ball! So witness the hilarity as your goalie manages the impossible by dragging his rotund frame across the goalmouth to actually save something, only to stand by helplessly as the opposition striker runs in, nabs it off his toe and smashes it home. You can let the computer control him if you like but for full hilarity, take control yourself.
In short, it is awful.
And yet…it’s brilliant! I mean come on, goalies who can’t kick the ball! Pitches that change colour! 7-a-side Rotundathons! Ritman Rovers vs Soccerama! Who doesn’t love that?
Playing this is like that sandpit of a pitch that Premier League teams have to play on when they draw some lower league scrubs in the Cup. It’s the great leveller where all skill ranges may apply. Picking up the latest PES or FIFA can be intimidating. Yes, yes, they are all very clever with their flashy moves and through balls and all that. But sometimes you feel like you need a physics degree to play the thing or you’ll get trounced by the lowliest of teams or some five year old online. This is a throwback to a simpler time. Grab a joystick, choose you team and just punt the ball vaguely in the direction of the goal. You never know, with any luck, it might even go in.
And there is some quality tucked away under the surface. It takes some serious practice to get right but the control system really does work, the ball pinging about realistically, allowing you to string together some rudimentary passing moves, dribble past the last defender or crack one into the top corner.
The sound is terrific. As the players take to the pitch you are greeted with a rendition of ‘When The Saints Go Marching In.’
In match sounds meanwhile vary between some vague crowd cheers and weird bleeps, whilst the ref’s whistle sounds bizarrely like Moon Patrol.
It doesn’t make any sense and certainly doesn’t sound anything like a football match but it all just adds the crazy fun.
Like many Spectrum games that you may be tempted to revisit, this is crap, rendered almost obsolete by the passage of time.
But switch off you cynical side, put away your preconceptions and remember a simpler time when gaming was simply about grabbing your mate, your brother, you mum or anyone else who was free, and simply having a great time.