Football games – a staple of home and arcade games machines for as long as man or machine can remember, they have been an endless source of fun and vitriol for me since my Spectrum days. While I played a good many football games before getting a SNES, they mostly paled in comparison to that fateful day when International Superstar Soccer Deluxe arrived in the Nightman household. At this point, the only true multiplayer experiences I had had in my own house were on Super Mario Kart and Super Bomberman – both classics, and when ISS joined the drawer of games in my brother’s bedroom we had a new King.
There’s a strong case for ISS Deluxe being the best football game ever – sure it didn’t have real player names, and it obviously cannot compete with the graphics and sheer amount of options we have in the likes of Pro Ev and Fifa today, but for pure, terrifying enjoyment there is none better. With some ultra smooth, balanced gameplay, it was and is still a delight to play, without getting bogged down by all the realism and extras of today’s versions.
As with all my gaming posts, this is part review, part personal recollection – more of why I liked it rather than why it is actually good. This was one of the many SNES games that I had immense fun playing by myself on, as well as with others and therefore have plenty of fond memories. To start with some review-ish comments, the game (as the title suggests) only features international teams meaning there was no local or national team rivalry when playing. When you’re young though you’ll find anything to be rivals over, such as who gets the pound coin from Granda, or who gets the five twenty pence pieces. I can’t recall how many teams were actually in the game, but it was at least 16 (probably more than 30), and featured all the main European and South American giants, along withe counties from Asia, Africa, and unlockable All Star teams. The teams did not feature real player names, due to licensing issue, but thanks to how much I played this game versus how much international football I watched I was probably more familiar with the invented player names than the real ones. Thanks to some graphical flourishes though, you could tell quite clearly who certain players were – Roberto Baggio had a ponytail, Ruud Gullit had a massive mop of dark weaving hair, while Chris Waddle had the uncanny ability to sky rocket every penalty.
Before you started your game there were a wealth of options, and before you got near those you even had a nifty title sequence followed by the eternal battle cry of ‘International, Superstar Soccer – DELUXE!’ On the main menu you had a variety of game modes – one off friendly match, short league, short cup, World Cup, World Series (ahem), penalties, training, and the ever popular Scenarios mode which saw you having to meet some explicit challenge such as winning a game with only a minute remaining and being a goal behind, to beating a vastly superior team with a vastly inferior team. These were a great, addictive extra, but I never could beat them all.
Penalties mode is as you would expect, while Training allowed you to hone your skills in peace. All of this was set to some funky, jazzy, and hyper-infectious music which I’m humming out loud as I type. The meat of the game of course comes in the actual competitions, and in these you had a wealth of options I had certainly not experienced before – kit types, weather types, night versus day, stadiums to choose from, how long you wanted games to be, and even changing the skills of the team and the keeper. Before starting any game you could choose your Keeper skill out of a range of 10, from essentially a man with no limbs in goals, up to essentially a brick wall. This led to many multiplayer moments of hilarious treachery as you would switch your opponent’s keeper skill down to one when they weren’t looking and laugh as every shot you hit went sailing into the net as they screamed on helplessly confused. The outfield players skills and fitness were displayed neatly as smiling faces – pink and smiling meant they were on fire, while sagging and purple meant they were at death’s door – again you could customize these to your liking. The honest way to play in the player versus computer tournaments was of course to cope with what you were given – if your best player was purple, you had to choose to risk playing him, or dropping him for some reject on the bench who never normally got a 90 minutes.
The graphics in the game are as bright and crisp as you would expect for a SNES game, but it really shines in the little details, such as player animations, and amount of stuff happening on screen. You could have multiple players on the screen, the handy map running at the bottom, rain booming down, and there would never be a drop in rate or change in how smooth the play was. Players and their kits were instantly recognizable, and there was a large selection of hilarious animations to wade through, from goal celebrations (including the Klinsman) to tackles, step overs, headers, and shrugging innocently to the crowd after being booked for snapping someone’s legs. Tackling was one of the most fun parts of the game, made even more fun by the (under-used nowadays) shoulder charge. Sometimes you would get so infuriated by your opponent, especially if they were cackling in the room beside you, as the somehow dodged every tackle and scored every goal that you would spent an entire half shoulder charging around the screen in an attempt to injure as many of their players as possible. This led, not only to a multitude of bookings and sendings-off, but also the immortal ‘DIRTY PLAY, REF!’ as you knocked someone to the ground and got away with it. Off the ball shoulder charging was great fun, and you would not be caught for doing it. Now that I mention it, you could also choose from three referees, one strict, one lenient, and one Collina. No matter who was there, I tended to get red cards more often than not for my exuberant 100 hard dash followed by elbow in the face on screen antics.
One other fun thing to do was slide tackle the goalie when they had the ball in their hands. This also tended to lead to an immediate red card, but sometimes you could get away with it which was always hilarious. In my house the SNES belonged to my older brother and at weekends he would sometimes have friends round to play Bomberman, ISS, and Mario Kart, and I would get brought into the action. This of course meant 4 player tournaments, and the dreaded two versus two, or two versus 1 player games. I think in all the games we ever played against my brother, we never beat him in a 2 versus 1. I still have nightmares about coming so close to victory one or two times, only for some mishap to defeat us. My brother’s friend Keith and I would team up. I was okay at the game, not as good as my brother, while Keith was worse than me, but for some reason we thought 2 was better than 1. I still remember leading one game 1-0 with seconds to go on the clock when Keith dove in with a Dirty Play Ref and gave away a penalty. 1-1. Into injury time I somehow had a chance and smashed the ball from all of 40 yards into the cross-bar. This somehow fell to my brother on the wing and he was able to dance his way past every challenge, glide into my box and slip it past the keeper 1-2. Final whistle. Some things are best left in the past.
Having friends round for a 10-9 Friday night thriller was always excellent entertainment, but when I played on my own my list-keeping self would always come out. I would set up my own extended super-leagues, and keep a pen and pencil record of goals scored and best performances by my beloved Brazil. I probably still have pages and pages stored of results and goals by Allejo, Gomez, Santoz, and all of my other ISS heroes. This was before I had any management sim – I would run a tight ship based on who made mistakes in my games versus who scored a glorious last minute winner. While I always played as Brazil my brother was occasionally England, but mostly Holland -led by the dreaded Van Wijk. The computer had five levels of difficulty, and each one seemed nicely weighted with 1 being exceedingly easy, and 5 being pant-fillingly brutal, but all the more satisfying to slaughter.
Scoring goals in the game was perfection, from leaping headers, to hoofing one into the top corner from just inside the halfway line. Free-kicks were difficult to score, but not impossible, while hat tricks were common place. If you did score a hat trick you would get a bonus animation shown on the stadium screen. Likewise, if you came from behind to lead you would get a further stadium screen animation. It’s these little touches that felt beautiful and helped you rub the shattered remains of your best friend’s dignity into their stinking faces. The commentary was good fun too, and would pervade my every day speech, from ‘IT’S A BIIIG KICK’ to ‘NO FOUL?’ It was all charming and effective, and didn’t distract. Some of the controls would occasionally distract, like when you were trying to get the ball off an opponent and repeatedly hitting the tackle button, sometimes they would lose the ball by mistake and your tackle suddenly turned into a massive ‘boot the ball out of play’ as you couldn’t cancel the action. It all added to the fun though. Adding to the fun too was the good old ‘turn the referee’ into a dog cheat – pointless, but pretty funny.
ISS Deluxe is an immortal watershed in football games. It must be one of the few sports titles that truly stands the test of time, over 20 years after its release, and a reminder of a time when Konami was king. Did you have the game? What are your cherished memories of it, or are there moments you have tried to forget? Let us know in the comments!