Review: Kick Off 1

Kick Off

ST Format Review

I’d love to know what on earth posessed ST Format to run the review with such a vibrant background, making the review basically unreadable.

My Review
Kick Off is, for anyone who had an ST, a game that you already know. You either had it yourself or your mates had it, or one of its many later variants. Like an early The Sims, the game had many minor updates in the form of addon disks and expansions adding little to the game, but it also spawned Player Manager (which took an enhanced Kick Off and added an excellent management game – so good that Championship Manager basically passed me by), and later Kick Off 2, which for me is the ultimate football game. Later, Anco and Dino Dini would part ways, with Anco releasing a Kick Off 3 which really had little to do with the first two games, while Dino Dini went to Virgin Interactive and released Goal, the true sequel. I had Goal on the Amiga and its attacking play was a revolution, though defence was very very difficult. Anco never really recovered from Dino Dini leaving, releasing a series of sub-par games including a terrible Player Manager 2 – in truth before Dino they were nothing, purveyors of strip poker games, but Dino elevated them to a new cult success that could never last forever.

For this review I’m using Automation’s Menu 76, on Steem with a 1MB STFM and TOS 1.0. The menu has a rather fun little background…

The title screen is simple, not as pretty as the box, nor as pretty as what was used in Kick Off 2 and Player Manager, but gets the job done.

From the title screen we get to a simple menu to choose a game mode – it’s all very bare bones with little hint of the greatness that lies ahead.

The game itself is very simple, deceptively so. Sound effects are limited to the sound of boot on ball, the referee’s whistle, the crowd booing a foul and cheering a goal, and a voice sample telling you about a foul, while the pitch is represented only by the white lines for the edge of the pitch and penalty areas, missing the centre circle. To create a feeling of movement, instead of using a texture for the pitch, the developers opted instead to palette swap down the screen to create the illusion of a striped pitch – this has the effect of making the ST’s notorious huge border look like part of the pitch (though lines and players don’t appear in that area of course). You have some basic HUD elements at the bottom indicating a goal kick or corner, the score and the number of the last player to touch the ball (in his team’s colour), and you have a radar on the left showing you where all the players are. Player sprites are small but well-drawn and animated – personally I like them but some people prefer the tiny men of Sensible Soccer – these are chunkier footballers.

This simplicity allows Kick-Off to be lightning fast, running at a rate unmatched on the ST. This smoothness allows games to be fast-paced affairs, a big contrast to the later, more cerebral affair of Sensible Soccer. This early iteration doesn’t have named teams, nor does it have named players, so all you do is decide the level of your team and your opponent and crack on with it, reds vs blues. Later releases would allow more options in this area.

Controls are simple – you run towards the ball (your player is underlined) and either try to nick it off the opposition by walking into the ball, or pressing fire to slide tackle, or if the ball is in the air pressing fire to jump for the ball (this is also how you head in crosses). Once you have the ball, it is not glued to your feet in the FIFA fashion. When running you kick the ball ahead, and the ball moves a little ahead of you and then you start to catch it up, and it’s only in that latter phase that you can control the ball. Tap and hold fire here and you’ll be able to trap it, ready to pass to another player, selecting one of 8 directions on your joystick, no automated passing here, when control switches to the other player you’ll have to intercept what is almost certainly a wayward ball. If you tap the fire button any other time you’ll take a shot. Later releases featured aftertouch allowing you to bend and dip the ball, but this first iteration keeps it simple, omitting this. There are no power bars, nor would there be in later releases, it is simply a game of pure football.

Slide tackles often end up mistimed and lead to fouls, though if I’m honest in my case it’s usually intentional, but the referee (unseen) will give you a yellow card if it becomes too frequent, and your player might get a red if you go too far, making the match that bit harder as you go down to 10 men. I vaguely recall in Player Manager that getting 5 players sent off would lead to the match being abandoned, but I have yet to test this in Kick Off 1.

Yes I did deliberately foul in the box to get that screenshot.

Newcomers are initially put off by the ball not being glued to the player, and the insane speed of the game which makes it hard early on to control the players (often running around the ball instead of to it) but once you get the hang of it, the simple one-button controls become second nature, a far cry from the convoluted 50-button controls of FIFA which seem more like a Street Fighter game than a football game.

Scoring a goal is one of those absolute delights that newer football games can’t match – on getting my first goal I let out a yell that scared the cats, I was so elated to have got one, having struggled through a few matches trying to re-acquire my old skills from 30 years ago. Once it kicked in though, it felt so good. The passing started to feel natural, the rhythm of the game made sense. What I wouldn’t give to persuade my wife to join me for 2 player – she isn’t keen though. Two player is where it shines even more, as this is a game designed around playing a single match – it does have a league competition but the primary focus is just playing a match. It’s football in its purest form.

That win felt so good. I can heartily recommend Kick Off, though you might want the newer Kick Off 2 instead as that has a few useful features added and is the superior version.

See also:

Kick Off 2, Player Manager

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