Genre: Sports Developer: Rage Software Publisher: Sega Europe Players: 1-2 Released: 1995
The Sega Mega Drive was renowned for its varied and high quality sports titles, but despite this fact, many of the numerous released soccer games on the Mega Drive were not very good. Some, like World Cup Italia ’90, were simply terrible games full stop. Most were very average, whilst others that received wisdom at the time held to be good games, like the early FIFA titles, have aged very poorly and aren’t much fun to play nowadays. With the Mega Drive soccer game library blighted by so many mediocre efforts, is there a soccer game available on the system that actually plays well and remains fun today? Step forward Striker.
Developed by Rage Software, this is a follow-up to their earlier Mega Drive soccer game Ultimate Soccer, which featured a large selection of international teams and a very large number of options. Striker dials back a bit on some of the more ridiculous options from Ultimate Soccer (such as ball weight and wind direction), though there are still plenty of options to change (such as turning the back pass rule on or off). The team selection has been greatly expanded to include not just international teams, but a selection of club sides from 11 countries (all with made up names- no official teams here). From the menu, you can play a straightforward exhibition match against the computer or another player, or you can organise a knockout cup or league tournament. You can also practice penalties or customise the kit or player/team names of any of the game’s teams. The pitch in Striker is normally viewed from an angular perspective, looking from the bottom of the pitch towards the top, however there are options to alter the perspective to a horizontal view similar to that used by most other soccer games of the time or an overhead view reminiscent of that used in World Cup Italia ’90, if you prefer.
The gameplay here is perhaps the best seen in any Mega Drive soccer release. What makes this game so much fun is it’s speed and responsiveness. Matches are exciting, fast-paced encounters that often see a number of goals on both sides. The controls are responsive and easy to get to grips with, with each button performing a different type of kick. The difficulty is reasonable but can be altered if you find the game too easy or hard. As ever in a soccer game, team selection also has a bearing on difficulty- good luck trying to beat Brazil with St Lucia, for example.
You can play either a standard 11 player per team game with most of the rules in place or a six players per team indoor game where walls keep the ball in play at all times, which makes for a nice change of pace. There are also instant replays each time a goal is scored and it’s nice to see the replay if you’ve scored a goal you’re particularly satisfied with.
The graphics are nothing spectacular but do the job. The pitch and players look clean and well-defined, whilst the in-game display is clean and uncluttered, with the score displayed at the top of the screen, while player information and the timer are at the bottom of the screen. It’s a similar story with the audio. The music (there’s an individual piece of music for almost every menu screen) is OK but nothing too memorable. Similarly, the sound effects aren’t too annoying, and the in-game crowd audio sounds reasonably clear and less like the radio static type noise found in similar soccer games of the era.
There are a few minor flaws, however. It can be hard to work out what some of the icons in the options menu mean, whilst the penalty shootouts aren’t too much fun to play, but then again real penalty shootouts aren’t much fun either, so it’s not entirely this game’s fault. Also, you can only play club matches between teams from one country- an option to play matches between teams from different countries would have been nice.
Overall however, Striker is possibly the Mega Drive’s finest soccer title and a cut far above the numerous other mediocre Mega Drive soccer games. The graphics and sound are decent, but the gameplay is first rate, with a good sense of speed, thrilling matches and responsive controls. The indoor six-per-side mode is a nice addition to the gameplay and the numerous viewpoints and options available mean there’s something here for everyone. If you’re a soccer fan, I can’t recommend this game highly enough, and even though this is a fairly late Europe-only Mega Drive release, copies of this game are not unreasonably expensive.
SCORE: 8 out of 10