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FIFA Soccer ’96

Genre: Sports Developer: Extended Play Productions Publisher: Sony Imagesoft Players: 1-4 Released: 1995

FIFA ’96 is the third incarnation of the now-famous series, and it was the first FIFA game that wasn’t in any way exclusive for the Sega Genesis. The original game was first released on the Genesis and the 95 edition was an exclusive release for Sega’s 16-bit platform, but FIFA ’96 got a multi-platform release. Besides the Genesis the game also hit the Super Nintendo, PC, Game Gear, Game Boy and the ‘next-generation consoles’ of that time, the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation. Even the Sega 32X got a (very scarce and crappy) port of the game. Somehow, I don’t have very found memories of FIFA ’96. I was very disappointed with it when I was kid and all I could remember was that the game looked very dark and was very hard. Now, 15 years later, it’s time to re-visit the game again and see if my initial feelings are still justified.

First, let start off with the graphics. The isometric view on the pitch stayed the same. On the backside of the box EA claims that players are modeled with “Silicon Graphics utilizing MotionDesign animation technology.” I don’t what that means, but in comparison with its two predecessors, the animation has improved just a little. However, it isn’t such a big improvement as the “Silicon Graphics MotionDesign animation technology” might suggest. While the animation is a little better, I still feel that the overall graphics are worse than in FIFA ’94 and ’95. It’s hard to put my finger on the cause of this, but it probably has to do with the colors. FIFA ’96 seems much darker (I’d almost say ‘gray’) in comparison to the earlier games, which makes this edition look dull and obsolete. The sound hasn’t changed much;  it’s still solid, with decent passing sounds en cheering public.

Secondly, what’s my opinion about the gameplay now? Well, I still have the same opinion about it as 15 years ago, just as with the graphics: the game is very, very tough. Scoring a goal is almost impossible due to the overwhelmingly skilled goalkeepers. The controls are solid, but the addition of some new moves (1-2 passing, fast dribble, volleys, dummies, fakes and nutmegs) make things a little harder. Not all those moves are all very useful and some of them are difficult to perform. To me it seems the game is a little too keen on performing the 1-2 passing, even when you think you don’t use that move, which makes keeping control of the ball even harder. Also, the speed of of the gameplay (especially that of the ball) has improved, making things tougher. So, even more than the first two games, FIFA ’96 requires a lot of practice.

What I can appreciate about FIFA ’96 now more than in the past, is the excessive amount of options. The instruction manual is almost as thick as that of a RPG to describe all options! (Well, maybe that’s also because my European manual is in five different languages as well). FIFA ’96 is the first edition of FIFA with an official license – which means all official players from 12 international leagues from the concerning season are available. You can chose to play a friendly game, a custom game, leagues, tournaments, playoffs or even practice scenarios. For managing fans, it’s possible to transfer (or create new) players in league play. The memory back-up functions are even more elaborate than in FIFA ’95. All leagues can be saved on cartridge, and after winning a league, tournament or playoff you get a password with which you can restore erased memory from your custom game! However, I find the memory back-up also a little bit confusing sometimes, the game seems eager to save anything. When you just want to start a quick game without paying too much attention to the option screens, you almost always end up in a random match between two teams you didn’t selected, presumably from a last save.

Overall, FIFA ’96 is a good game. A lot of effort has been into it, the memory backup is very good and the amount of options is innumerable. However, the game lacks the pure fun factor of its two predecessors and of especially of its main rivals – Sensible Soccer and ISS Deluxe. And isn’t fun what’s gaming all about after all?

SCORE: 6 out of 10

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