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The Short History of World Cup Themed Football Games


Warning: if you are American, the game that is being referred to as ‘football’, by the author from the United Kingdom, is actually what you would term ‘soccer’. In order to respect both sides’ views of what this sport should be termed, please refrain from even attempting to register a dislike of either term in the comments. Please also refrain from retaliating with stupid made-up nicknames of the other nationalities’ sport. Either of these two methods of communication will be ignored, and advice will be given to others to do the same. You have been notified.

My earliest memories of World Cup football belonged to Italia ’90. Trying to remember the final between Germany and Argentina was a blur, and rightly so; I remember that it was ill-discipline by the Argentines, a single goal from a penalty and the fact that it was a boring match that contributed to much of the memory haze. No, it was one night in Turin (I would never have thought about using those last four words without seeing a DVD case like this where I work) and the same night in front of a television in Norfolk that elevated my understanding of what football meant to a whole new level. That, Roger Milla’s celebration dance and New Order’s World in Motion.

The frustration of going behind after a free-kick defected off Paul Parker past Peter Shilton in goal; the elation of the Gary Lineker equalizer; the dawning moment on Paul Gascoigne’s face when his poor tackle meant he’d be disqualified from a possible final appearance; the despair and agony of going out on penalties after extra time. All of these memories mixed into a story of hope and loss, of dreams and missed chances. What better way to overcome the misery than to plug in a games console, turn the semi-final back to kick-off, and get your team to actually win this time, with you in control, instead of being a helpless spectator.

I may (or may not, at the time) have had only had a Commodore 64 to play with, but there were already a solid amount of football games out for it. Problem was, some weren’t very good, and it was a bit hard to control with either a keys or joystick. No, I needed something like a games console with a joypad to really get decent graphics and control. And there were officially licenced (and unofficial) games available at the time to cash in on the football fever.

I’m going to list those games that have existed up to when Electronic Arts took control of the World Cup licence from 1998, because in following tournaments, they are very much like the EA games that you play today. There’s no real need to reference them unless you want to compare how they contrast with the older games.

The earliest game I noticed was a sole effort for the 1986 Mexican World Cup. That tournament was memorable for one reason; Diego Maradona. He destroyed England with one highly questionable goal and another of pure genius, before going on to win the cup with the Argentines winning 3-2 against Germany. Would his display of skill inspire people to try their on little mazy dribbles on the small screen? Let’s find out….

World Cup Carnival
For: Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum
Published by: US Gold
Developed by: Artic Software

…the answer is no. The game was actually called World Cup Football, and this incarnation is the same, just with the licence added for the tournament. US Gold had to acquire Artic’s game when their attempt to make their own game in time for the tournament had met with problems. Maybe they shouldn’t have bothered; the eventual game was met with extremely poor reviews for the Spectrum and Commodore versions. The latter had a rather subdued theme tune playing throughout the action, with six players on each team. Artic’s original version was even more basic on the Spectrum, with a crude version of ‘When the Saints Are Marching In’ and other tunes played over and over again. I bet you won’t even be able to stand listening to it over the course of this following video…although it is worth loading up the final part of the four just to see the piss-poor image of the cup-lift at the end.

US Gold developed an improved version of World Cup Carnival for Italia ’90, but let’s face it, if you have a rep for a bad game like that, it won’t help the copies of forthcoming games flying off the shelves.

If the game was a footballer, it would be…

Mwepu Ilunga of Zaire; YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.


You’ve already heard my memorable moments from the 1990 tournament, so we’ll get straight into the available games. Just before we do, Wikipedia lists World Trophy Soccer (AKA European Club Soccer) as a World Cup game, but there is a problem with this; the game’s listed as being released in 1992. This is a year too late to the party, and we are having no gatecrashers here.

World Cup Italia ‘90
For: Sega Mega Drive/Genesis
Published by: Sega
Developed by: Sega

This game hasn’t aged well, and it shows (for example, when in the semi-animated cut-scenes, the players’ colour palettes just swap not only their shirts, but also their skin colour without changing the image; Brazilian players just look like tanned players from a European country if they didn’t have the classic yellow shirts…). However, it is playable in spite of its top-down view and straight-line passing. The goalkeepers are tough but rewarding to play and score against, and game adds a little depth by introducing a squad selection scene at the start of the game after you select your country.

The music is a good addition too, with the funky tune playing over the title screen. Shame it doesn’t play during the match, as the sound-effects and the tune that plays over the action are a little lame. However, there is digitised speech too! In Chad Concelmo’s termed ‘Double Dribble speak’, you have a roar of ‘goal!’ that ends up sounding like Street Fighter’s Blanka was rushed into a studio and recording a ‘GAAAAARRRRRRRHL’ instead.

If the game was a footballer, it would be…

Gennaro Gattuso of Italy. Plays rough and not very pretty, but he gets the job done.

Tecmo World Cup ‘90
For: Arcade, NES
Published by: Tecmo
Developed by: Tecmo

My first impressions of the arcade version from the video are really good; the graphics are solid, as is the movement of the players, with a good soundtrack and crowd noise behind it. A nice touch is the two insert images pop-up when one side scores to display the contrasting emotions of both sides, along with the players running about in circles in celebration.

What is also intriguing is that your player can make mistakes; for example, you can fluff-up the timing of an overhead kick, and watch the ball fall limply as the leg connects with it. Since it is an arcade game, there are only eight teams to select from, but that’s not the only unusual thing; when you win the cup, your team lines up, then surrounds this massive trophy that falls to the pitch!

The strange thing about the NES version is that is almost exactly like Sega’s World Cup Italia ’90 in the way it looks and plays.

If the game was a footballer, it would be…

Giovanni Ferrari of Italy. Someone Gattuso would no doubt look up to.

Nintendo World Cup
For: NES, Game Boy
Published by: Nintendo
Developed by: Technos Japan

You know how you guys love River City Ransom and that dodgeball game? Well, commence fapping; the forth Kunio-Kun game (originally called Nekketsu High School Dodge Ball Club: Soccer Edition) was adapted for the World Cup, and boy, did I have fun with the Game Boy version. Only six-a-side, the players had that recognisable charm, and as a result, some damn character. Fouling is encouraged (hey, this is RCR we are talking about), and you can take players out for a while after plugging at them repeatedly. The game also gives players the ability to take a ‘super shot’, of which there are limited amounts in each half.

Since I’ve only played Sega’s Italia ‘90 and Nintendo World Cup, I’d rather have the latter game, because it just seems to do what it does so well, and with personality.

If the game was a footballer, it would be…

Paul Gascoigne of England. A guy whose antics stay with you, but his skill and potential on the world stage appears, sadly, all too briefly.


When the World Cup got handed to the United States of America, English comedians were making a song and dance about how the Americans had no idea how to handle the tournament taking place. You not only proved them wrong, but the joke also fell back on the English; our team didn’t qualify. Still, there was much to enjoy; Diana Ross missing a penalty in the opening celebrations, Bulgaria became the surprise package by knocking out the Germans (and trashing a goal along the way), Jack Charlton’s argument with a bespectacled moron during an Irish substitution, Maradona failing a dope test….it was eventful.

The same couldn’t be said about the final… another boring match with Brazil and Italy goalless and going to extra-time penalties. So boring, in fact, I probably would have watched the movie being shown on another channel, Alien, instead. I think Roberto Baggio would have been better off watching face-huggers latch onto John Hurt as well, because he blasted the ball over the bar and Brazil got the trophy. Back to the games.

World Cup USA ‘94
For: Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, Sega Mega CD, Sega Master System, SNES, MS-DOS, Amiga, Game Gear, Game Boy
Published by: US Gold
Developed by: US Gold

As an ex-owner of the Mega Drive version, I felt US Gold finally seemed to have constructed a decent World Cup game. The more I look at it, though, it seems that they had looked at what their competitors did. The game was a bit like Sensible Soccer in its viewpoint. It had a map of the pitch on-screen like Italia ‘90. Little insert pictures, a la Tecmo World Cup, appeared for referee decisions. That said, it did have a line indicator for goal-kicks and free-kicks. Anyone who has played one of the earlier games in the FIFA series knows how difficult it is to score with a free-kick, and this was a nice bit of help. The game moved at a fair pace, and you could spot the referee in the action. Crowd noises were good (no in-game music) too, not to mention a nice animated introduction.

The only problem with this game is that you can score quite easily by taking a shot parallel with the goal mouth close to the post. That and the fact that when I watch videos on Youtube to refresh the memory, one attack on an opponents’ penalty area was met with two static defenders who didn’t close down the striker. Slightly dodgy AI is not what you need, but still, this is a major improvement from US Gold.

Then again, I may be easily satisfied; this guy is not happy with certain elements in the SNES version (swearing included in link). He does have a good point about the menu selection screen images looking a little vague in their meanings. His grumble about the tough AI is noticeable too, and with no map of the pitch to get an early warning on the SNES version, trying to get out of his own half proves to be a massive effort. At least the Mega Drive version had its opposition players carded for fouls. I also noticed a short, controllable action replay available when a goal is scored on that version too. Probably of little consolation, though.

Finally, an interesting fact; the Sega Mega CD version of the game had a CD soundtrack including two tracks by German rockers The Scorpions….I’m wondering if their inclusion had anything to do with the fact that the German national team had collaborated with The Village People for their World Cup song for that tournament….

If the game was a footballer, it would be…

Edmundo for Brazil. A schizophrenic player who can either be heaven or hell incarnate for your team. At world level however, he can’t cut the mustard when you need him to.

World Cup Striker
Published by: Elite
Developed by: Rage Software

In the USA, it was renamed World Soccer ’94: Road to Glory. Now, this game I actually have in my room. Hell, I could even boot it up on the SNES I have right now if I wasn’t so lazy. That said, I still remember how good the game was and the way it played. The rapid pace, fast passing and quickly-shifting environment wasn’t to every player’s taste, but I loved the game. If me and my friend spent time playing the original Striker racking up hours and scores of goals without the smiles drifting off our faces, then Rage was doing something right. In particular, the ability to bend the ball was an awesome touch.

Additions to this game included an indoor pitch, where you could happily bounce the ball off the wall to your hearts content (and remove any need for throw-ins), and a really catchy menu tune. Penalties were taken using a ‘stop the arrow to shoot in that direction’ method. Mode 7 was also used to good effect at certain points, compared with hardly any for US Gold’s effort.

If the game was a footballer, it would be…

Cristiano Ronaldo for Portugal. Blisteringly fast, with great touches and style. Can be a bit annoying to others, though.


France 1998, and England were expecting to win. Again. However, this time they had history on their side, or more precisely, one interesting-looking list. Basically, when England won in 1966, the order of subsequent winners appeared as Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Italy, then Argentina, Germany and Brazil. Did you notice that all it takes to make that list of countries become a palindrome is to put England at the end? I only discovered that before or during that World Cup. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. However, maybe it could have been a tempting clue as to who really was going to the win the Cup; it would be won with a balding midfield genius on the host team (in 1966, Bobby Charlton for England, who were hosts; in 1998, Zinedine Zindane for the French, who were hosts…).

Anybody with an initial idea of who was going to win the tournament that year (without the use of history-based omens of any sort) would have plumped for Brazil. All they needed to do was take a look at how their striker Ronaldo was playing, and they were sold. How they would have liked to know about the fit the star player had in the dressing room right before the final, unsettling both him and the team in the process. A shadow of the squad that cruised to the final, they were thumped 3-0 by France. A surprise to cover over the events of young Michael Owen’s goal and David Beckham’s red card against Argentina, as well as trumping the French comeback in the semi-final by Lilian Thuram.

Three Lions
For: PC, Playstation, Game Boy Colour
Published by: Take-Two Interactive
Developed by: Z-Axis Ltd

Three Lions (or Alexi Lalas's International Soccer) is an example of a game made for the World Cup and marketed with the national team in mind, in this case, England. The developer had an interesting idea to separate this game from the others; by manipulating the camera angle whilst the game was in motion, it would be easier to score if you were closer to the goal. This was done by forcing the camera to take up a standard view of the pitch when the action was at the centre, then slowly shifting the view so that the closer you were to the goal-mouth, the camera would line up more with it and more visible it would be. In theory, it would stop all those unrealistic long shots from the half-way line to score, encourage a little more adventurous play and hopefully prevent loads of double-digit goal-fests.

Unfortunately, it was awkward. Me and my friend played the demo and could hardly get a goal because of where the camera was pointing (as well as getting used to the ‘shooting-target’ method of scoring). We agreed we should go back to EA’s World Cup ‘98, and say no more.

If the game was a footballer, it would be…

Andy Cole for England. Prolific scoring at club level suggested a promising international career. 15 games for England with only one goal in reply changed that.

Neo Geo Cup ’98: The Road to Victory
For: Neo Geo, Neo Geo Pocket
Published by: SNK
Developed by: SNK

Also available in Colour for the Pocket Colour….wait a bloody second, that’s Super Sidekicks! Ohh, the happy memories of arcade football…I can load the game up on the SNK Arcade Classics release and play that instead. I have to assume it is virtually the same game (hell, even the introduction is the same, aside from the title…).

Super Sidekicks could be written off as a flashy version of Tecmo World Cup ‘90. However, there are at least a few options at the start of the game other than picking your national team. You can also choose the playing style and upgrade for your team, then you are off to play some (very quick) matches. Players can sometimes act out special skills, as evidenced in the video, and shooting can vary between short strikes on goal to a quick third-person view of the player for a long shot, leaving you to quickly press the shoot button when the reticule is over a vacant area of the goal-mouth.

The only problems visible are the short duration of the matches (I reckon that the time can be increased for home versions of the game, surely) and the lack of ability from defenders to clear the ball effectively. That said, it is a Neo Geo game, and presentation and graphics are top-notch. Don’t think about being able to delve deeper towards a simulation of the beautiful game, okay?

If the game was a footballer, it would be…

David Beckham for England. Good-looking, skillful player making long passes and shots look sublime. In danger of sounding a bit dumb though.

Jikkyou World Soccer: World Cup France 1998
For: Nintendo 64, Playstation
Published by: Konami
Developed by: Konami

AKA International Superstar Soccer 98. Everybody should know about ISS by now. The game that had the balls to take on FIFA, and grew a fan-base to match it. The franchise that started strong with its own distinctive gameplay, mixed in with realistic player sprites and polygons. The name that disappeared after a PS2 outing that had its weaknesses shown up by its own younger brother Pro Evolution Soccer.

This incarnation of the series made its way from the SNES to the N64, and the move to a next generation of console allowed for more international teams and players to be added, along with a formation mode that could be changed during the match and five difficulty levels.

The Playstation version, called ISS Pro 98, was a different game compared to the N64. Nevertheless, both versions received good reviews for both critics and gamers alike. It is just a shame that, unlike FIFA, their developers have hit a brick wall in where to go with their football games.

If the game was a footballer, it would be…

Peter Crouch for England. Looks weird when first encountered, but will win you over with his useful height, when in action and when you look at his strike record. Problem is, will his manager let him get off the bench (are you listening, Fabio Capello)?

World Cup ‘98
For: Game Boy Colour, Nintendo 64, Playstation, PC
Published by: EA Sports
Developed by: EA Canada

Finally, we arrive at the point where EA captured the official licence and never let go. This game is not to be confused with FIFA: Road to the World Cup 98 by the same developer. Although the games use the same engine, World Cup ’98 had additional gameplay improvements like changing team strategy on the fly. The players all had their proper names (if you didn’t have the licence, your game would have made-up ones instead), and had excellent presentation and commentary from John Motson, Chris Waddle, Gary Lineker and Des Lynam in the English versions of the game. It had a great soundtrack from artists at the time (‘Tubthumping’ by Chumbawumba, anyone?), but most importantly, the game looked and played good. Not to mention the ability to play as classic teams of previous finals after a tournament win.

Many great times were had playing against my mate on World Cup ‘98. The main memory that still lingers is putting each other into a proper cup tournament, my friend controlling England, me with Jamaica, and the rest of the teams as the CPU. We both made it to the final, and with great difficulty and an inferior team, I managed to win the trophy for the Reggae Boys in the dying moments of extra-time 3–2.

If the game was a footballer, it would be…

Ronaldo for Brazil. His skills, style and goals will win over men from around the world. Will become bloated on success, however.

So there you have it. Feel free to make me aware of any games that I haven’t mentioned that have picked up on the World Cup craze, and share your memories of the ones I have. As the final for this year’s World Cup edges ever closer, maybe it is about time that, if you are one of the many fans who were unlucky in this tournament, you should have a dip into one of these games sometime. It’ll help you cope with the disappointment if you control your team to glory. Trust me, I know. I’m from England.
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About Batthinkone of us since 9:11 AM on 08.20.2007

I am a gamer of 36 years of age. I'm not happy when prodded or teased. You have been warned. I am a human-being, you know? With feelings.

I also have a likeness for RPGs.

My favourites: Road Rash (Mega Drive)/Dark Chronicle (PS2)/Pro Evolution Soccer 5 (PS2)/Burnout Revenge (PS2)/Resident Evil 2 (PS)

Currently playing: Titanfall (XBox One)
Forza Horizon 3 (XBox One)
Disgaea 2 (PS2)
Persona Q (2DS/3DS)
Recettear (PC)

Mood: A little stressed.

Fanboy class: Dedicated enough to get decent RPGs and action figures.

Favorite music artists:

Boards of Canada
Joy Division
Mr Scruff
Talvin Singh
The Prodigy
Primal Scream
High Contrast
DJ Shadow
Nightmares On Wax
Cocteau Twins
The Chemical Brothers
Kenji Kawai
Ian Brown
The Go! Team
Principles Of Geometry

Moments of Glory:

Promoted Monthly Musings

Expanded Universes
Untapped Potential
I Suck At Games
Do The Wrong Thing
Something About Sex
Xbox LIVE:DreadJesterBatt
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