Ben Wilson counts down the greatest digital recreations the beautiful game has ever seen...
The best bit about Christmas Day family reunions: repeated hammerings of your upstart little bro on FIFA or PES. Yet such events becoming as traditional as turkey-flavoured rows and Boxing Day hangovers isn’t necessarily a good thing. Great as that pair are, their dominance over the past two decades has seen a number of talented rival games earn free transfers to Obscurity United.
With that in mind, we've put together a World-Cup-squad’s worth of the sport’s greatest videogames, many long forgotten yet forever praiseworthy. To prevent the list – like 25 December – becoming a FIFA/PES blowout, we’ve limited entries to the best within a particular series.
Exceptions are when a game was a clear spin-off (e.g. EA’s World Cup and Euros efforts) or developed by separate studios or publishers. (For instance, PES is a Konami Tokyo creation, while International Superstar Soccer was made by Konami Osaka.) All clear? Let’s boot some pretend balls around…
23. LMA Manager (2002)
Kicking us off: the pinnacle of Codemasters’ made-for-console dugout sim series. This PS2 edition gave us a 3D match engine long before Football Manager was able to, typically wry post-match analysis from Alan Hansen, and the ability to save your team to a memory card and then face off against a mate’s. Oh, and the option of barking orders from the touchline, even if in-game-you sounded like overly competitive sad dad watching his boy’s under-11s.
22. FIFA Street (2012)
Long criticised as shallow and gimmick-reliant, the PS3 reboot of EA’s five-a-side panna-thon finally nailed the intensity and intimacy of close-quarters footy. Ridiculous tricks were still de rigeur, but adroit footwork and sharp passing were necessary tactics too. The thinking man’s futsal game? It genuinely wasn’t far off.
21. Microprose Soccer (1988)
The first football game made by Jon Hare and Chris Yates, who’d go on to refashion the genre in spectacular style with follow-up Sensible Soccer. To this day we miss the C64 version’s moreish six-a-side mode and science-flouting banana kicks, but are relieved to have moved on from the ball appearing superglued to players’ feet.
20. Euro Boss (1991)
Budget Spectrum and Amstrad coaching sim with a demonic twist: incoming cash could be siphoned off to purchase players, but if you didn’t set aside enough to finance stadium upgrades you’d be fired without ceremony after season two. Presumably Arsene Wenger played this a bunch.
19. Super Soccer (1992)
A SNES launch game, and favourite, with customary Nintendo quirks. Players only had first names, based on famous counterparts (Diego for Argentina’s Maradona), while the vertical perspective meant the pitch got narrower as you attacked its far end…lending a massive space advantage to the competitor playing towards the TV screen.
18. World Championship Soccer 2 (1994)
This little-known Mega Drive effort is now one of the most highly sought-after footy games ever, after it emerged that Jon ‘Sensible Soccer’ Hare had a secret hand in its development. No surprise, then, that it plays like a sped-up, side-on Sensi… albeit perhaps not one worth forking out £752 for.
17. Emlyn Hughes International Soccer (1988)
While the late-‘80s saw home computers inundated with management simulators, few developers dared to provide total control on the field of play. C64 standout Emlyn was the spirited anomaly, enabling you to pass, dribble and shoot (and trigger deft changes of pace) using a joystick. Editable names and shirt colours added to the notion of realism.