Football video games have been around for more than 40 years.
Even the earliest Pong-style games in the seventies bore a resemblance to real football, long before Kevin Toms or Dino Dini etched their name into the subconscious of a generation. Of course, any 40-somethings reading this will immediately be taken back to their youth reading those names, agonising over signing Paul Mariner, or desperately trying to apply aftertouch to a wild effort on goals.
Video games have come on in leaps and bounds, and now there’s football on every device. Mobile games are as good as anything people played back in the eighties and nineties; you only have to see the graphics of FIFA Mobile or the depth of Football Manager Mobile to understand that. Even games that are football related have better graphics and sound than anything Dino Dini put out; the online slots from Gala Bingo are a great example. 11 Champions and Top Trumps Football Stars have crisp graphics and great music, far more so than anything on 8-bit machines. Even 8bit-Football football on Android and iOS feels fresh compared to some classics.
That doesn’t mean 8-bit games should be ignored; one, in particular, has a special place in football game history, and it’s one that we include in our roundup of the top five football video games of all time.
5: Kick Off 2
We’ve mentioned Dino Dini; his crowning glory was Kick Off 2, the quintessential video game of the early nineties. After a decent start with the original Kick Off, Dini’s product cornered the market as it tried to be the first true football simulation. It feels rudimentary now, but with kit design, aftertouch on shots and fast gameplay, it became a firm favourite. It wasn’t so strong on the 8-bit machines, but it thrived on Atari ST and Amiga. Sadly, a recent revival was deemed as one to avoid by Eurogamer, proving that some games are best left in the past.
4: Actua Soccer
Actua Soccer is often forgotten in video game history; it came from a smaller Sheffield-based development house and was eventually bullied out of the market by FIFA and Pro Evo. However, it featured groundbreaking motion capture using Sheffield Wednesday players Chris Woods, Graham Hyde and Andy Sinton, as well as the first live-action commentary of any game.
3: Pro Evolution Soccer 6
Konami’s current game, eFootball, is a sad reflection of what the franchise Pro Evo once was. It was the football game of the fans, it felt realistic, and despite those fake player names, it was the most popular game with hardened supporters. Pro Evo 6 was the best the franchise had to offer, but it had set the bar so many times; it was the first franchise to have recognisable players, the first to do away with gimmicks and present the modern-day idea of a football simulation.
2: MicroProse Soccer
MicroProse Soccer was the grandfather of modern-day games. It’s placed at number two here for a reason; it’s not better than the games we’ve named before; obviously, the technology available was nowhere near good enough, but it is the title that all others look to today. Why? Because it was coded by Sensible Software. That means the ideas later accepted as norms by big names like Kick Off 2 (banana shots and top-down views) started here, as did the game that still owns them all today.
1: Sensible World of Soccer
Sensible Software wanted their next game to bear their name, so they teamed up with publishers Renegade rather than Virgin. Sensible Soccer was the first title, but Sensible World of Soccer topped that with 1500 teams, 24000 players and (for the first time) players of different ethnicity. It wasn’t a simulation, but it was huge fun and has remained a core concept to this day. Much of what Sensible Soccer tried to do has remained a staple part of football games, from changing tactics to depth in teams, but it also had a certain arcade fun that today’s games just can’t replicate.