Genre: Sports Developer: TecMagik Publisher: TecMagik Players: 1-2 Released: 1992
At the time of this writing, the knockout phase of the UEFA European Soccer Championships 2016 had just begun. So it seemed only topical to cover a soccer game relevant to the event. While officially licensed FIFA World Cup games have been around seemingly forever, a licensed game for continental championship is a much rarer beast. However, there is at least one game of that kind available for early SEGA consoles: the 1992 soccer simulation Champions of Europe not only sports an official UEFA license (along with showcasing Berni, the official mascot of the 1992 European Championship in Sweden), it is also, appropriately, a PAL-exclusive release.
In Champions of Europe, you can select your favorite out of 34 national teams in order to compete in, what else, the European championships as reflected by the 1992 competition rules. It’s worth mentioning that real-world politics somewhat surpassed the map of Europe reflected in the game by the time it was released. Russia is still present, even though it would eventually compete as the CIS in the real world. More importantly, you can still play as Yugoslavia. In reality, in 1992 civil war had broken out, and Yugoslavia, already in the process of violently breaking up into several different countries, was barred from the competition. It leaves an odd aftertaste looking at the map of the officially licensed game.
There are a few of the usual options available for you. For single, demo, or practice matches you can determine factors like windiness, the quality of the pitch (dry or wet), the length of the match (three, five, eight or 10 minutes per half-time), or which referee will preside over the match, each with a varying degree of strictness in terms of fouls being called or yellow and red cards being handed out. In tournament mode, you play by the rules of the 1992 European championships. First there’s a group stage with two groups of four randomly selected teams each. The best two of each group advance into the semi-finals, and their victors will enter the finals in order to capture the crown of Europe.
The gameplay is fashioned after an obvious role model. Similar to the first games of the Kick Off series, you have a top-down view of the pitch, with the goals located at the eventual top and bottom. A map screen (which can be placed in either corner of the screen before the match) roughly shows the position of every player. Handling is also very similar to Kick-Off. The ball doesn’t stick to your player’s feet but rather bounces ahead, so it’s a bit tricky to get the ball under control. If you’re not familiar with this style of gameplay it takes a while to get used to, but once you get the hang of it successfully pulling off long passes and combinations feels quite rewarding. Button 1 allows for short passes and lobs, button 2 makes you shoot the ball. If you press left or right immediately after shooting, you can also give the ball a slight spin into the chosen direction.
Over the years, Champions of Europe has garnered a certain reputation as being an utterly broken game. Several sites (SegaRetro nonewithstanding) claim that the game actually doesn’t make a distinction between the goals, meaning that you could score by actively shooting your own goal. There are a couple of things I’d like to mention in that regard. For one, scoring in your goal is harder than you might think. The goalies aren’t weaker against you than against a regular opponent, and the collision detection as rather favorable towards the goalies. So, it’s not easier scoring into your own goal than it is into the opposition’s, which isn’t even as hard to begin with once you’ve gotten a hang on the dribble mechanics. Run straight ahead and spin the ball to the left or right immediately after shooting, and in at least nine out of 10 times you score an assured goal. Personally, I’ve found that it’s almost easier scoring the regular way than shooting into your own goal. Other than that, it appears that there might be at least two different revisions of the game, because I didn’t encounter that bug in the copy I have. In the course of this review, I’ve deliberately scored several times in my own goals in several situations, but regardless whether the game was drawn or I was behind or ahead in the score, my own goal never counted towards my score, not even once!
Whether that particular issue truly exists or not, what is true is that the programming seems shoddy at times. There were occasions where I missed the goal and no opponent had touched the ball, only to be awarded a corner kick regardless. Similar things happened where I was awarded a goal kick even when it was me who had shot the ball out of the field while in defense. The collision detection is quite iffy, to the point where the ball moves even when you couldn’t see any player actually hitting it, or fouls being commenced even though you hadn’t pushed any buttons, or by running into a sliding tackle several seconds after the animation for that had started.
Speaking of fouls, players can be injured, though it doesn’t seem to matter much; the affected player simply hobbles off the pitch, accompanied by little speech bubbles saying “ouch” and such, only to be immediately replaced. There are no manual substitutions in this game either.
As I mentioned, certain actions are accompanied by little speech bubbles, like when you score a goal, get fouled or the referee calls out a penalty, the remaining time, or the current score. These are nice, if a bit cartoony, touches that liven up the otherwise spartan presentation. The graphics are frugal but functional – not bad, but not particularly good either. Judging by the sprites, the game could easily be mistaken for actually being Kick-Off or a Master System cousin of Sensible Soccer. Occasionally, the game suffers from a bit of flicker though. The sound is barely worth mentioning. There’s hardly any music in Champions of Europe, which is a blessing because what little compositions there are aren’t very good at all. The sound effects are limited to bumping sounds for the kicks and the whistle of the referee, which does little to create a proper atmosphere for an exciting soccer match.
Champions of Europe is not the broken mess some websites make it out to be. If it is, then there must be two revisions of the game. But if that’s the case, even the “fixed” version isn’t a particularly exciting soccer game. The collision detection feels off, the atmosphere is weak, and the programming seems a bit shoddy at times. For what it’s worth, it is a decent Kick Off clone that bears the distinction of being maybe the first soccer game with an official UEFA license. For the Master System it’s an okay soccer game, though there are better ones. Other than that, it’s not very remarkable.
SCORE: 6 out of 10