Sports games aren’t popular with collectors because everyone thinks they suck. But there are some hidden gems out there to enjoy — and their lack of popularity means you can pick ’em up pretty cheap, too! Let’s explore this unloved genre!
I do not like football. I do not like football culture, and there is no surer means of getting my attention to wander than having a conversation about football. So why is it that I currently find myself oddly drawn to Sensible Soccer, a beloved classic adaptation of the supposedly “beautiful” game from 1992?
Well, it’s the same story as we’ve seen a number of other times with retro sports games: it doesn’t feel obliged to be a massively accurate simulation of everything to do with football. What it does provide is simple, easily understandable gameplay that anyone can enjoy — plus sufficient depth to satisfy people who are actually interested in the sport in reality.
In other words, as someone who isn’t a fan of sports in reality, I can enjoy Sensible Soccer for much the same reasons I enjoy Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe — it has straightforward, arcadey immediacy and is easy to figure out. On top of that, it’s a game that you can hand to pretty much anyone and have an enjoyable time with — even the most rabid football-haters know the basic rules of the game, and that’s all you need to know to have a good time with Sensible Soccer.
Add to that the wonderful customisation options and you have a game that, while perhaps lacking in a sense of long-term appeal and overall progression compared to more modern takes on the sport, is well worth having in your collection — whether you’re in the mood for a quick single-player match against a computer opponent, or a full simulated league featuring painstakingly entered player and team names from the real football leagues/the population of your office/your favourite VTubers.
Sensible Soccer offers several ways to play. You can play with national, club or custom teams (all of which can be edited, not just the custom teams) and participate in either one-off friendly matches, league-style competitions or multi-round cup tournaments. Any one of these options can involve any combination of computer and human-controlled players, so if you want to have a bunch of friends over for a tournament that the game takes care of the bookkeeping for, that’s fine; likewise, if you want to play a single-player game where you attempt to climb a league of computer opponents, you can do that too.
When playing in single-player, any cup or league matches that involve two computer teams playing against one another are quickly simulated rather than depicted in real-time, so there’s no sitting around waiting required. Conversely, if you just want to watch the computer play as a demonstration mode — or perhaps place a wager or two on the outcome — the friendly mode depicts computer versus computer matches in full.
A match in Sensible Soccer can be anywhere between three and ten minutes of real time in length — there’s no option to play a full “real-length” match. This is to the game’s benefit, though, since its speedy, arcadey gameplay lends itself better to quick play sessions rather than a lengthy slugfest. The default three minutes is a good, satisfying length to play that doesn’t get boring; those who want to get a little more engrossed in things can bump things up to the longer length if they so desire.
In the matches themselves, controls are very simple, betraying the game’s origins on home computers with single-button joysticks. A tap of a button does a pass, while holding it for a moment takes a shot, with aftertouch applied with the directional controls. Console versions of the game also provide a dedicated shoot button, but the whole thing can still be played with a single button if so desired. This keeps things accessible and easy to understand while still allowing for plenty of tactical flexibility; there are no complicated button combinations required to do crazy shots — it’s just pass, dribble, shoot.
A further sense of “video gaminess” is provided by the fact that matches feature a dramatic musical accompaniment, which adds a certain amount of excitement to proceedings. Purists can turn the music off in both matches and the menus separately if they so desire — but for those who are more into the Sensible Soccer for the “video game” experience rather than a “realistic football simulation” experience, it’s all part of the fun.
It’s the combination of that accessibility and its lack of shame in being a fun video game that has caused Sensible Soccer to be so fondly regarded for so long. Many more modern sports simulations find themselves being a little po-faced and overly serious — and complex to control, to boot. Sensible Soccer, meanwhile, remembers that some of us are just booting it up to have a bit of fun, and as such we don’t really care about accurate player stats or correct international squads.
Sometimes you just want to have a kickabout where a team of your favourite VTubers takes on some of the most famous dog breeds in the world. And that’s exactly what Sensible Soccer can provide.
Screenshots from the Evercade version.