Retro Respawn – International Superstar Soccer 64

I’ve decided to stick with football games for the coming weeks.

Seeing as I’ve recently bought a lot of old football games for multiple platforms, I decided it would make sense for me to work my way through them. So, if you’re not a fan of Association Football (or “soccer” if you spell colour without a “u”) the next couple of weeks might not be something you savour. Or maybe, it’ll be a chance for you to broaden your horizons in relation to a genre you might not often indulge in? Glass half full and all that!

I’m happy to confirm that I have mostly positive things to say about ISS 64. If you like International Superstar Soccer Deluxe on the Super Nintendo, then you’ll like this one as well. The game is essentially a graphical update on the SNES game with better music and sound effects. The game contains commentary from much missed Master of the Mic Tony Gubba, although like most early football games it’s not very good. Gubba gives it his all, but adding commentary to these games was still in its infancy and unfortunately some of the delivery is stilted and doesn’t really fit the action. It’s still an improvement on the SNES version though, which had a gormless American commentator delivering a few set lines ad nauseam.

The graphics do look a bit jagged at times, as was the case with a lot of early 3D games, but for a game released in 1997 for the N64, it looks decent overall. The game also has some very nice little touches as well, such as sometimes when you play in the rain your player can actually slip on the wet grass. This gives matches in wet conditions an extra level of precariousness and is a very nice new addition that adds to the experience.

Gameplay wise, there have also been some tweaks to the way the game is played, with both One-Two passes and through balls making their series debuts. These would go on to be tweaked in coming years both on the Nintendo and Sony consoles, but it’s still good to have them here for the first time. Through balls don’t yet have the keenly designed lethality they would come to develop by the time Pro Evolution Soccer made its way into our lives, but they at least create a new avenue to pursue and add a new layer of strategy to the overall experience.

Passing itself is much more accurate and nuanced than it was on Deluxe, where passing was sometimes little more than a game of chance. Using the radar at the bottom of the screen, you have a good idea of where your pass is going to go and you can plan accordingly. This allows for a more fluent passing game than in previous titles and, once again, adds an extra strategic layer to the game overall. Crossing is still a bit too inaccurate for my tastes, but all in all the gameplay is both fun and challenging. It manages to get a good balance between being fast paced while also allowing a player to play the way they want to. This is a difficult balance to pull off, but I think the game does it admirably.

As in the previous game, you can assign players on your team to man-mark players on the opposition’s team. I often found that this could sometimes wind up biting you in the arse if you weren’t careful. The problem is that when you assign a player to man-mark another one, he’ll follow him basically everywhere. This is great when the opposition are attacking, but this also means that if the opposing player drops back to help defend his goal, your player will dutifully follow him along. This led to more than one occasion where opposition strikers would come back to defend one of my set pieces and half my defence would trudge up to be with them, ultimately meaning that one of the opposition’s midfielders just needed to grab hold of the ball and sprint down the other end to score an easy goal. If you’re 2-1 up and win a corner, the usual strategy would be to leave some defenders back if you had a corner in case the opposition counter attacked. After all, you’re winning the match so you don’t need all hands to the pumps in that situation. Unfortunately, this is a nuance that a game from 1997 struggles to understand, so as a result I often didn’t bother with man-marking. It’s a nice idea in theory which doesn’t really work in practice.

The game doesn’t include real player names, instead taking on the fake names from Deluxe. It’s quite obvious who each player is supposed to be. Columbia’s blond haired Murillo is clearly Carlos Valderama and Italy’s tall, silver haired striker Carboni is obviously Fabrizio Ravanelli. An edit feature also allows you to change player names and save them to a memory pack, so you can soon have a decent roster of correctly named players. All of the teams have had their kits updated also, so the game gets around the lack of license relatively well.

The three main modes are International Cup, basically the World Cup with qualifying and knock out rounds, World League, and Scenario Mode. Scenario Mode is a holdover from Deluxe and allows you to step into certain teams’ shoes during a match with a goal to achieve. For instance, one of the modes has you playing as Holland against England in Euro 96. You start the match trailing 4-1 and have to fight your way to victory. I’m frankly shocked that more games don’t have a mode like this. The FIFA games used to but they’ve gotten rid of it as of FIFA 16, which is a massive shame in my opinion. World League takes 70 matches to complete, with it again possible to save your progress on the memory pack. So longevity wise, the game has a decent amount to offer.

Overall International Superstar Soccer 64 is a very good game. Had I been around at the time, I would have probably scored it something like 7/8 out of 10. It’s fun to play and there are enough game modes to keep you coming back for more matches. Having three friends and three extra controllers also opens the game up for multiplayer action, which is always a welcome addition. There may be only 32 teams to choose from, but most major nations are represented and chances are there’s a team for every one amongst those 32. I personally found playing as Turkey to be a lot of fun, with Scotland also being one of my most selected teams owing to their stout 5-3-2 formation and impressive goalkeepers.

I’d certainly recommend this game, but if you want it fully boxed it doesn’t come cheap. If you’re just looking to have fun playing some high tempo togger and aren’t bothered about collecting games in mint condition, my advice would be to just pick up the cartridge on the cheap. It’ll more than meet its money worth for you in that scenario.

As always, I’ll post some game footage below.

Thanks for reading

Nil Satis, Nisi Optimum

You can view YouTube Footage of the game, courtesy of gennaro di costanzo, by clicking HERE

Looking for more great content here on the site? Then why not take a goosey gander at the following?

You can read Jorge’s excellent feature on Phoenix Wright by clicking HERE

Ian gushed all over Mad Catz R.A.T Pro X and you can read all about why by clicking HERE

And we did a group feature this week where we all look at our favourite multiplayer games, and you can read all about it by clicking HERE

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