Genre: Sports Developer: Sega of Japan/Virgin Mastertronic Publisher: Sega Europe Players: 1-2 Released: 1990
World Cup Italia ’90 bears a special place in my early memories. When I was a child, this was one of my favorite games. We had the Mega Games I multi-cartridge, where this was included along with Super Hang-On and Columns. I never actually liked Super Hang-On all that much, but Columns is fantastic and still is not getting old at all. This game, however, as I will try to explain, is getting old pretty fast.
Worth mentioning is that it is the first officially licensed FIFA World Cup game featuring the official logo. The game allows you to choose a majority of teams, and at the beginning of the game you choose the formation and players of the team. This is interesting because if you have the right eye for statistics, you can have a small advantage over your enemy. The names are, for the most part (or very close to) the real names.
You can play in two different modes: World Cup and Test Match. The latter can be played with two players. After that, you can choose your team. The team selection with a cursor is a neat idea, but could have used more color and detail. In the world cup, your goal (word play) is to, of course, win the world cup, first going through a group phase and then proceeding to the elimination round.
The game is fairly simple. You play from a top-down view, with a standard football field and a HUD on the right-hand side which shows score, team names and also a radar to help you find passing stations. The controls are easy to understand, but there is an annoying thing: You control the goal keeper. Not that it would be a big deal if it was easy enough to do, but that’s the point: It isn’t. You have to keep trying in order to be able to beat all of your competitors.
The music is fantastic, considering the time it was released. Every match is underlain with a nice background theme, with wisely chosen instruments and PCM samples. At that time, it wasn’t usual to use samples, but this game did everything it could to make it pleasant. It is not annoying at all, and this is important if you want to enjoy a video game for a long time without having to shut off your TV’s sound. Side note: One of the game’s tracks is also the music of the game-selector on Mega Games I.
Graphically there is much to say. It’s a football game, and all the art and colors are adequately drawn. In between goals, corner kicks, free kicks and other such events, there are very nice pieces of art shown to represent the current situation. For example, if a player scored a goal, a player running on a field celebrating his goal is shown, and in the background someone shouts “GOAL!” It’s a very nice little touch, actually. Unfortunately, back then audio sample quality wasn’t really that good, because developers hardly knew the hardware’s internals enough to bring out sample quality like people do now. The game’s style is comparable to that of, for example, Microprose Soccer on home computers. Unfortunately, it also looks like that. Comparing C64 Version of Microprose Soccer to World Cup Italia ’90, it looks only minimally better.
By this point of the review, one might think that I’m completely praising this game, but there’s also another side of the medal. While this game is good for spontaneous sports games needs, the prolonged motivation factor is not really high enough to drag you into the game. You’re going to forget World Cup Italia ’90 after playing for a while. One or two world-cups, and you don’t feel the need to play this game anymore.
In conclusion, the introduction of officially licensed world-cup video games was successful, although it comes with some flaws. For a while you are probably, if you like sports, going to have fun with World Cup Italia ’90 for a short while. The most fun lies (by far) playing with two players, because chances are a bit more fair because both players have to control the goalie. The music is good, the graphics are pretty good too, and gameplay is good, although with some flaws.