Big Time Soccer Match Ultimate!

Nintendo World Cup

It might seem weird to think that the same game series that had Renegade and River City Ransom also held dodge ball and soccer games as well, but that's only because in the U.S. we didn't realize these were all connected adventures. Due to changes in titles for the games when they were localized, each of the first four games in the series had their own name, their own branding, and then connections of Kunio-kun and his pals was greatly downplayed. These were all standalone tiles, we thought. They just had similar aesthetics.

Getting into the meat of the games, though, it's pretty clear that each one of these games is Kunio-kun through and through. From the art style, to the animation, to the delightfully cartoony violence, these games all recognize what made the original titles work and how that formula could be ported to other genres. If anything, the first two sports titles in the series -- Super Dodge Ball and then Nintendo World Cup -- are probably the best fits for the formula as they allow the characters to beat the ever loving snot out of each other within the bounds of the game rules.

If you're sitting there thinking "violence isn't part of soccer", well, it could be if you do away with all the pesky things like rules and fouls and red cards. In this version of the game the characters are allowed to shoulder bash, slide tackle, and generally rough each other up as much as possible and there are no referees around to get in the way of it. It's a lawless time on the field, which is just the way Kunio-kun and his band of miscreants would want it. It makes for a very frenetic and chaotic game of soccer but, frankly, that also makes the game way more playable than your usual soccer title.

Nintendo World Cup (originally released on the Famicom as Nekketsu High School Dodgeball Club: Soccer) wasn't the first soccer game to grace the NES, mind you. Five years before Nintendo (via production company Iwasaki Electronics) had published a game called simply Soccer and it did what was on the box: it gave gamers a chance to play video soccer. It was fine, if not revelatory, but it did show that a soccer game could work on the NES. Call Nintendo World Cup, then, a proper evolution of what came before, a game that saw what the other titles were doing and said, "nope, we can do this better... and differently.

Considering its pedigree, Nintendo World Cup plays like you want and expect. Two teams of six (five main players plus a goalie, each) face off on a grassy field. They then fight for control of the ball, passing it, kicking it around, and generally trying to get the ball into the opposing team's goals. When a player has the ball they are a target for everyone on the other team, and the player controlling them will have to try and juke, dodge, and pass the ball away before their player is nailed by a shoulder slam or a dive kick. Get tackled and the ball can easily be scooped up by the opposing player.

What's interesting about this fighting mechanic is that the players do, in fact, have stamina. Even though you don't see it immediately on the HUD the players can slowly get worn down by all the abuse they take. One they've taken enough damage, the next hit will lay them out on the ground and they'll stay there until a point is scored or the round is over. This will put a team at a disadvantage as a player can get tackled and then the team has to work with one less guy. This can work against the human players as well as the CPU, so its one more thing to think about as you're managing the scrum of the soccer field (and it very much is a scrum in this game).

Coming over from Super Dodgeball are the power attacks. Each player on the team can perform a powerful kick which will send the ball blazing across the field. If it hits another player it will knock them down, dealing solid damage. If it makes it to the goalie, though, more than likely they won't be able to block it, leading to a scored point. That's not the only strategy you can use for scoring though as the players are allowed to hang out anywhere on the field, including in the goal, and if a ball comes their way they can kick in in quickly before the goalie grabs it.

Honestly, this is such a ridiculous arcade version of soccer. If you know what you're doing you can easily dominate the CPUs, racking up point after point while the A.I. is unable to counteract. I've scored games at 25-0 or more, and that's an absolutely stupid score to get in soccer, realistic or otherwise. This is, amusingly, one of the few sports games where the odds of winning are seemingly stacked in the favor of the player and not the CPU, a rare thing indeed in the era of the NES.

Which isn't to say the game is a complete cake walk. The setup for the tournament is much like in Super Dodgeball where you'll play one team after another with each team getting successively harder and harder. By the time you reach the end of the championship, facing off against bruisers like the West German team, you'll find guys that will regularly use their power-shots, will dominate your defense, all while they take hit after hit without falling down. With the right strategy you can still work the game to your advantage, but it does take more effort. The game knows how to bring the challenge over time.

As a nice bonus, tournament mode in the game isn't the only way to play this game. Not only can you (and a friend, if you want) tackle the whole championship together but you can also play exhibition matches as well. Even better, with a four-player adapter, like the Four Score, you could bring in two extra players and do two-on-two matches. These always seemed a little too chaotic to me, a little hard to keep track of who was where and how, but it was still a solid bonus to include, one more way to extra life out of the game.

Playing through this game I was reminded of the only other sports title we've reviewed on this site: Mega Man Soccer. There's a certain shared DNA between those games, even though they were made by different companies. They both feature cartoony teams of characters, super moves, and a long tournament of increasing challenge. Of the two titles, though, I do vastly prefer the Nintendo World Cup as it has something Mega Man Soccer lacks: fun. This is just such a wildly stupid time I found myself enjoying it the whole time I played it.

The game was pretty popular at the time of its release, eventually leading to multiple ports. A Game Boy edition of Nintendo World Cup (titled Nekketsu High School Soccer Club: World Cup in Japan) followed quickly after. This dos a pretty solid job of scaling the game down to the smaller Game Boy screen, although it is harder to get a full sense of the field in this edition just due to that smaller screen. There were also ports in Japan for the PC Engine (TurboGraphix), the PC Engine CD (TurboDuo), and the Mega Drive (Genesis) as well, each upgrading the graphics of the game some while preserving most of the elements that made this title work so well.

Honestly, I generally don't care much about sports games and I didn't expect to jive on this title as much as I did when I picked it up. Nintendo World Cup won me over, though, showing there is a way to make a sports game fun. We might have more realistic versions of soccer on newer consoles but I seriously doubt they can match the stupid fun that Kunio and his boys had in the Nintendo World Cup.