Sports games used to be better. Somewhere along the way, despite tremendous popularity of simpler titles like NBA Jam, Sensible Soccer, and Tecmo Bowl, the genre became obsessed with simulation. Developers stopped focusing on fun approximations of real life in favor of being as lifelike as possible — no matter how inaccessible and confusing it may be to the majority of potential players.
But there are those who are fighting back, creating sports games with uncomplicated controls, fewer obstacles to enjoyment, and more arcade-style action. Super Soccer Champs 2013 is one such effort, drawing on the legacy of Dino Dini’s Goal! and Sensible Soccer to provide a delightful, nuanced, two-button top-down soccer game.
If you’ve played anything in the vein of 90s classics Kick Off and Sensible Soccer, Super Soccer Champs should feel instantly familiar. It even has finer details such as aftertouch and tapping a button to trap the ball, stopping it dead so you can pivot and turn or hold momentarily for a teammate’s run.
This should be a welcome sight to Sensible Soccer and Kick Off fans.
Never fear if that era of soccer gaming passed you by — Super Soccer Champs won’t take long to learn. You have just two buttons and a joystick for controls. Use the joystick to move the currently-selected player — switching between them is done automatically. The blue button is for simple passing or making a beeline to the ball; the red button is for slide tackles, shooting, and long or lofted passes.
There’s plenty of hand-holding while you learn the ropes, with assisted dribbling — whereby on the full setting the ball essentially sticks to your players’ feet, no matter how sharply they turn — and difficulty settings added to the comprehensive help screens (from the main menu, go Extras->Instructions).
There’s a fairly robust tutorial at hand to show you the ropes.
On lower difficulty it’s easy to simply dribble your way through the opposition’s defense, but Super Soccer Champs gets challenging when you ramp things up. Sudden changes of direction are perilous when the ball is at your feet, reducing the possibility of inhuman turns — expect to watch in despair as the ball goes off on a separate course whenever you try something outrageous.
Super Soccer Champs encourages you to follow the old football adage: play the way you’re facing. The best players will slip into a fast-paced one or two-touch passing game, dancing the ball up, down, and across the pitch. It’s beautiful to watch and incredibly satisfying to pull off. Especially given how hard it is to not give the ball away against strong opposition.
Sensi Soccer clones and lookalikes often have woeful AI, but here it’s far from it. Teammates will make simple runs for you, and do their utmost to hurry over to where they should be when you drag them out of position. Opposition defenders keep things tight, ever watchful of gaps in their line. Goalkeepers seldom leave you scratching your head. Non-controlled players on both teams make plenty of interceptions, and opposition strikers have a decent eye for goal.
Go for goal? Or cross? The defenders have made both tough.
Indeed, Super Soccer Champs is one of the best representations of soccer’s appeal that I’ve seen on Android — although it’s still hard to go past New Star Soccer’s charms in portraying the highs and lows of a career. It cuts to the core of the beauty of kicking a ball around a rectangular field with goals at either end and two teams battling it out. Shame the offside rule seems to be completely ignored, though.
You get a managerial career mode, in which you are responsible not only for the action on the pitch but also squad management — fitness, tactics, lineups — and buying/selling players. Do well and the bigger clubs will swoop in with a job offer, accelerating your rise to the top.
Win 10 in a row with a little club like Brighton and you, too, may have mid-tier clubs from top-flight leagues sniffing around.
There are leagues from England, Scotland, Italy, Spain, Japan, and China, with two divisions offered in England. All are open to hop between in Player Manager mode or Friendly Match mode, or to play individually in a League mode. There are also challenges for historic tournaments — the 2012 or 1996 European Championships and the 1966, 86, 90, and 2010 World Cup.
Many clubs in the UK have made-up names like Islington Guns (Arsenal) or Stretford Utd (Manchester United), as do their players, but for the most part real names are featured. You can always edit the fake ones to be correct, if it bothers you.
This is all you can learn about players outside of the editor.
Players have an overall rating out of five stars, based on individual values out of 100 for eight attributes. Strangely, the current release only allows checking of those attributes in the editor — when you’re selecting a team or buying people in Player Manager mode you’re stuck with just their star rating (and maybe their market value).
This is frustrating because you might want a speed-demon winger with high control, but instead end up with someone slow and physical — all because you couldn’t see their specific skills.
In the case of Messi, it’s maybe no such an issue, but there’s no way to gauge how the overall rating matches the specific attributes without popping into the player editor.
A Few Yards Short
That isn’t the only issue I found with the game. Several other little niggles hurt what is an otherwise-polished experience. Gestures for red-button kicks — down to cancel, up to just hoik it clear right away — are hard to complete under duress, or generally in the time before the power gauge fills in its entirety, partly due to sensitivity issues but mostly because of the button position.
You have to tap a button to simulate each league match — individually — that you’re not playing. You can’t change the zoom level (the players and ball are really small at the height given). Buying players is too easy; selling is annoying because you have to back out of one screen and open another to see how an offer compares to the player’s value.
It’s a little thing, but tap that sim button 10-or-so times for each round of a 38-game season, and repeat ad lib, and you’ll get annoyed.
There are also no user-defined tactics, which severely limits the game’s potential for strategy at the highest level and hurts its longevity for when you finally master the on-field action.
This is pretty much the full extent of your tactical freedom. You can change to one of a few other formations and swap players around.
And there’s a menu option for two-player games that’s currently inactive. Presumably when that does arrive, it will be an online or local wifi mode that lives or dies on its lag-free/laggy performance, but for now it’s a big tease sure to disappoint many buyers.
Arcade Soccer Joy
Super Soccer Champs 2013 is already a fantastic, rewarding, and fun soccer game true to the spirit of the Amiga and DOS classics in the Sensible Soccer and Kick Off/Dino Dini series. It’s accessible enough for first-timers to pick it up and be scoring goals right away, while also being deep enough that veterans of the older games can bask in the challenge of leading a team of no-hopers to glory.
If you’ve been waiting for an old-school soccer game that plays to the core delights of kicking a ball about, look no further. Super Soccer Champs 2013 scores a winner.