Review: Kick Off 2

Kick Off 2

ST Format Review

My Review

For this review I’m running Steem with a 1MB STE, running TOS 1.6. I’ve gone with Medway Boys 75 because it was one of the first pirated disks I ever encountered, as a download from Tik’s Atari Palace in the very early days of the internet, to be run on the old PaCifiST emulator. There’s a very fetching troll, some reasonable music, text doing what you’d expect.

Kick Off 2 is the sequel to Kick Off, which spawned a management game using the same engine (and still letting you play, unusually for a management game) called Player Manager. Kick Off was, at the time, regarded as the greatest football game ever made, and its sequel offered a few improvements on it, not necessarily revolutionising anything, but making it slicker and more of a rounded package. Kick Off 2 would reign supreme as the football game of choice until Sensible Soccer made an appearance.

The Kick Off games take an approach to football which was unusual at the time, and is even more unusual now. Many games of its era had the ball glued to the player’s foot, while today FIFA has hardly evolved. The Kick Off games presented the ball as a separate entity to be tamed. It would bounce off you if you approached too fast from the wrong angle. Control was a tricky business with the player kicking the ball away as he ran and getting closer as the ball slowed down – it was in this slowdown of each step that you had a chance to turn your player or trap the ball to pass it. Control used the single button well, with the fire button trapping the ball if held on the slowdown, or shooting the ball otherwise, while a quick reversal of direction would make your player chip the ball. Tackling was done with the fire button to slide tackle, or you could attempt to walk into the ball (but not through the player as some games of the era allowed).

We get a simple loading screen, nothing too fancy, and then a menu which has a similar graphical style to Player Manager. We get a practice mode, we get to have different kit designs (KO1 just had one team in red, the other in blue, no matter what you chose)…

… and the options menu lets you choose different pitch types, referees (Frank Zappa anyone?), etc. There’s been some decent upgrades. If there is a disappointment it’s that the soggy pitch doesn’t look any different, though that would require background tiles which would undoubtedly impact speed (where Kick Off uses palette-swapping to create grass stripes to convey movement instead).

For those who don’t know, in the early 90s there was Kick Off, and then a bit later Sensible Soccer. Those are the two greatest football games ever made. I will fight anyone who disagrees.

Kick Off 2 came out in a world cup year, so it’s surely no coincidence that we get a simulation of an international tournament – it might have been nice to have some South Americans too but perhaps they’d have got into legal trouble. I think there might have been a world cup version, it wouldn’t surprise me as Kick Off was milked as badly as The Sims. Steve Screech and Dino Dini were a great team but I don’t think Anco was the most well-run company in the world.

Oh wait, we do have a world cup option, under special events. Press continue, then continue through the group matches you don’t care about, until you get to England. Highlight the C and press FIRE to turn it into a 1 (for player 1). Then continue to start the match.

So, Frank Zappa is the ref, we’re going down the pitch, let’s go.

The teams line up, Gary Lineker is checking he hasn’t shat himself and is figuring out why he hates Brexit while Gazza is figuring out just how pissed he plans to get.

Oh for fuck’s sake. So I may have gone for a cheeky slide tackle.. I’m down to 10 men. Moments later I get my first decent chance of the match, a darting run down the right, followed by a diagonal in from the corner of the box firing just wide. More goalmouth scrambles see me in with a chance, but nothing.

Well, I can’t say it’s not been coming. The keeper’s bailed me out more than once. 2-0 follows shortly after the restart. This is going badly.

The final score is NOT pretty. Holland were very good in 1990, and so that’s reflected in Kick Off. An embarassing start but perhaps I’ll do better in the easier group games. Ireland and Egypt must be easier surely?

Kick Off 1 vs 2 vs Amiga
It’s worth discussing how Kick Off 2 differs from Kick Off 1 and how they differ from their Amiga versions at this point. Cosmetically it looks pretty similar. Sadly the pitch doesn’t show its condition, and we haven’t gained any bells and whistles. However kits may now use a variety of colours and patterns, be they stripes or solid or sashes or squares. The animation remains excellent with the small players throwing themselves into every game with gusto. The sprites are simple, but the animation is so good at conveying life. The ST version, as mentioned before, uses palette-swapping (so it’ll let the monitor do the first 20 rows with a dark green background, the next 20 rows in lighter green, then the next 20 with dark green and so on) to convey movement. This allows the ST to achieve the blistering speeds which lend Kick Off its pinball-esque qualities. The Amiga version, by contrast, has a proper tiled background (which means you can have stands and that little semi-circle at the top of the penalty area and you can have the centre circle unlike the ST which is restricted to only drawing the straight lines on the pitch. I feel the Amiga version loses a little bit of speed, but not enough to be a problem.

Returning to differences between 1 and 2, the match engine hasn’t really changed much. There was an ill-fated experiment with power bars for shots in one of Kick Off 1’s many expansions but thankfully these don’t make it to Kick Off 2. The big feature is aftertouch. You can add bend or lift to your shots by changing direction on your joystick after shooting. AI was better too. In reality Kick Off 2 was not a big jump from Kick Off 1, but it’s still an awesome game.

Back to the World Cup

So, Ireland await, fresh from being thrashed by Egypt. By the way, getting good screenshots is an absolute bastard of a job with a game that’s this fast-paced. Just so you know.

The teams line up – Stuart Pearce calls the Irish captain a poof, setting up a grudge match.

The game is going well, I’m getting some decent shots in, but I do also enjoy an occasional slide tackle. You have got to rough them up a bit, otherwise they get uppity. This mirrors my approach to real world football where I make up for a lack of skill by running fast and kicking people.

My love of fouls gets me in trouble again…

Doing quite well, making chances.. and another bad tackle. Bollocks. We still manage to get some decent shots in but their keeper saves them all. We make it to half time at 0-0. There is still hope.

A third sending off. Maybe I should try to be less dirty. The goal comes, it’s inevitable, I’m 1-0 down. The match gets ever more stretched but remains 1-0. I’m out of the World Cup. The Sun are going to compare me to a root vegetable.

Time to play Egypt. Who have just beaten Holland after thrashing Ireland. Fuck. I rain shot after shot on their goal, but their keeper lets nothing in.

The Egyptians are physical as hell, and a foul injures my midfielder. Still I press on. I hit the woodwork, I force saves, nothing. Half time comes, 0-0.

Here’s my chance – Egypt foul me in the penalty area. PENALTY!!

The arrow goes back and forth – I must time my fire correctly, and not leave it too long so I don’t stick it into the clouds…

Finally a goal! My player runs off doing summersaults to celebrate, the crowd goes wild, we’re finally winning one!

And then Egypt equalised.. fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. Then another.. 2-1.

In frustration my players start lashing out, and it’s a sending off after a vicious slide tackle. But as least we managed to injure one of the bastards. He hobbles off (nice animation btw) and a sub comes on.

Another ignominious defeat.

Quite possibly England’s worst ever performance in a World Cup.

The Verdict
As a kid I had so much fun with Player Manager, and later with Goal. Kick Off 1 was fun, it took me some work but I eventually got reasonably good, but I couldn’t get near Kick Off 2. Difficulty is a lot harder, and I attribute this to a couple of things. First up, the opposition players tackle perfectly. If the ball gets within a certain range of the player, the opposition player will come away with it, while humans are messy and fallible. Second, the goalies are much harder to beat, and this takes away some of the chances for a jammy win. Those two issues make it really hard to beat the AI, even if you do get reasonably good at the traditional tricky control system (I’m not amazing but I’m ok, should be able to do a little better than those results certainly.

In the end, Kick Off 2 is really damn hard, and doesn’t offer an enormous amount over Kick Off 1 except to extend its bare bones modes into a proper selection of cup, league and World Cup. The difficulty however is not necessarily a good thing like in Dark Souls, where that difficulty is fair. It is instead a game of its time, where limitations are covered by some slightly cheaty jumping to position. A good game then, but perhaps better to play Player Manager or Kick Off 1 instead.

Next up, Harley Davidson.

Other people’s videos
During research for this I encountered some interesting videos which I thought I should share with you.

See also: Kick Off 1, Player Manager

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