Region: PAL-A, PAL-B
Developer: Enigma Variations
Released: July 1992
The three NES games Imagineer brought to Europe were all ports of popular home computer games. Elite was a groundbreaking, non-linear first-person space game, Super Turrican was a showy, fast-paced action platformer with a distinct character and arsenal, and Kick Off (originally developed by Dino Dini and published by Anco) was a soccer game. Already this is looking like a major step down, but let’s think about the potential good that could come from a one-programmer football game on the Amiga being ported onto the mechanically incomparable NES by one different programmer, from the company that brought us the hideous Pugsley’s Scavenger Hunt. I think that amounts to something close to zero.
The first thing anyone would notice is that the choices are numerous and intimidating. There’s various cups and games and simulator gubbins and so forth, and when you pick the ‘single game’ mode, mostly because that’s the only one that seems to be soccer to my untrained eye, a huge amount of garbage is spewed directly onto the screen in the form of an options menu. Most of these options don’t seem to do a thing, which is one of my pet hates in games that comes up most frequently in sports ’simulators’.
Of course, the game can’t really be measured by the metrics of a confusing interface as much as it should be by the ball-kicking action. And my, have we a freshly laid pile of droppings here. There’s no music outside the title screen (which was outsourced anyway), and the sound effects consist entirely of muted boops, taps and whistles. I said in my review for Aladdin that it has the worst graphics ever released for the NES, and I stand by it, but Kick Off comes a close second – both are more visually despicable than any game released in the US. The field is a bleached shade of green with some small orange spots on it, the ball is tiny and looks like a dirty frisbee, and the way the players look and move defies explanation. More so than the graphics, the controls and AI are an embarrassment. All of the players move about three times faster than the eye can follow, the player selection seems random, the other team always knows where the ball is and can run even faster than yours, the dribbling is so loose that it’s impossible to keep hold of the ball, and the goalkeepers seemingly can’t be controlled at all, no matter how hard you mash all the buttons and directions on the controller.
When you have the ball, you press A to kick it, and when you don’t have it, pressing A makes your player slide-tackle in the direction of the D-pad. This was done well in Hyper Soccer, but with Kick Off it’s hard to tell when you even have the ball, so your players will constantly fly off the screen instead of passing to another player. The ball itself frequently flies so fast that the camera doesn’t catch up until about half a second later, and with the computer’s ruthless AI, their side always gets it before you can see where it’s gone. Don’t ever try and kick the ball straight up or down – there will always be an opposing player to take it away. All of the players are too small and weightless to get used to the insane speed, and in all the time I spent playing I managed to score one goal and never successfully took the ball from the other team. Just about the only thing that seems to work is the fouling system, which constantly halts the game, and sometimes the reset caused by other team fouling my players caused me to lose the ball when I was about to score.
I have no idea how good the original Kick Off was, but this is probably a record low for home computer ports on the NES, a category that includes Conan, Warriors of Destiny, Heroes of the Lance, Castelian, Ghostbusters, The Last Starfighter – okay, maybe it’s not quite as bad as the last two, but what difference would that make? It’s still a totally unplayable soccer game that has no right to spoil the eyes, ears and minds of anyone generous enough to give it a chance. Don’t do it. Kick Off is a load of old balls.