Retro Mini – Kenny Dalglish Soccer Manager (1989)

This mini review is taken from History of…Football Management Games – Part 2, available here.

What better way to end our Spectrum journey than with a game inspired by the great man himself.

King Kenny was a legend as both player and manager, famously delivering the league and cup double in his first season as player manager, assembling possibly the greatest team in Liverpool’s history with Barnes, Beardsley et al and of course securing the Anfield outfit’s last league title in 1990 before his premature exit. So how does he fare in the digital realm?

This is a nice little effort that, if nothing else, brings some new elements to a stale genre. First thing to note is that this is icon driven. There are none of those dreary text based menus here. Using either joystick or keyboard you move around the screen to select the option you want. Due to the icon layout, control with the joystick is much the better option.

Let’s start off with the team. Having chosen who you want to play as (Liverpool, natch), we’ll dive into the player listing. There are no real players here, which is a little bit of a surprise given that the publishers have secured the Kenny licence, but it’s not a deal breaker. Players have set positions, defined as left, right or central rather than just the generic D, M and A, something of a rarity in these Speccy games. Ability is defined by a rating between 1 and 99, the higher the number the better the player. By default you get no other information but you can opt to see season stats, including games played and goals scored, things you think would be included as standard. Strange.

Picking the team is fairly straightforward. Selected players are marked with an asterix so just drop out whoever you want and replace them. Before we dive into a match though, let’s go and have a chat with our staff. A series of mug shots denote an accountant, scout and coach amongst others. Clicking on them brings up a short piece of dialogue, allowing you to check finances, make a signing or get an overview of the team’s rating.

Right, that’s the backroom stuff set up, onto the game. Before we kick off, we have the option to change the formation. It is an interesting system in that you get an overview of how the opposition will line up and can then place you players anywhere on the pitch (the manual helpfully advising you against picking too many defenders or left sided players). In theory it means you have ultimate flexibility to pick some weird and wonderful formation, a tried and tested 442 or go man-for-man and play for a 0-0. In practise, I’m not sure what difference it makes. What is the point of picking your players, who remember each have a defined position, if you can them stick them anywhere?

Bizarrely the highlights are switched off by default so you have to opt in from the options screen, otherwise we are in instant results territory here. Switch them on and you are rewarded with some pretty decent graphics actually. Player movement isn’t particularly sophisticated; there is no tackling or dribbling per se. These are clearly pre-defined routines that once you’ve seen a few times you’ll quickly realise which scenario is playing out, your formation and team selection seemingly having little bearing on what you watch. Still, they look great, the ‘keeper dives enthusiastically and even makes the odd save, the ball will occasionally rebound off the post onto the waiting boot of your grateful striker plus you get the odd bizarre curler from outside the box that seems to defy all the laws of physics.

Once you get past the nice graphics, it is all pretty simple stuff. There is no great tactical depth. And the highlights themselves soon become repetitive, switching them off rendering the game a simple ‘hit continue’ affair. It’s quite good fun though and a laudable alternative to some of the rinse and repeat stuff that has come before.

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