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I am a man of simple needs. Eighteen cups of tea per day, builder's brew. An egg, occasionally, ideally not in the tea. A moment's peace from my kids, just the one, around the 10pm mark. Acknowledgement from my peers that 1992's Sensible Soccer is the greatest association football game of all time. I do not ask for much, and expect even less - and yet, now, one of my most long-held dreams has manifested itself into a wonderful reality. I'm in a kind of handheld gaming heaven.
I wrote at the beginning of 2021 that the return of Sensible Soccer was more exciting to me than pretty much any new game release of the year. It was the star inclusion on the handheld Evercade's Codemasters Collection 1 compilation cartridge. And now that cart's out, oh dear: my productivity around any other gaming at all has dropped, massively. It's all about this - a timeless classic, which I can carry with me, anywhere.
Here's the trailer for the Codemasters Collection 1 Evercade cartridge...
Now, there's a downside to this new release of Sensible Soccer: it's not World of Soccer, the 1994 Sensi iteration for the Commodore Amiga (that Mini, cannot wait) and MS-DOS that added detailed management features and full-season play across several countries' league and cup systems to an already engrossing, electric, arcade-style kicking sim. What's on this cart is the 1993 SEGA Mega Drive version, complete with hilariously misspelled player names for both clubs and countries (and, Pro Evo style, team names are changed too - Arsenal are Highbury and Juventus are Turin, for example) and a range of custom squads covering such topics as pizza toppings, stuff you can buy at the chip shop, Crimes United, and a team comprised entirely of players named after great wars with Cold War playing as sweeper and World War II the lone striker.
All team and player names can be edited and saved, so if having 'Elan Shiarer' and 'Elly McCuist' up front for England and Scotland respectively bothers you, you can overwrite them with the correct spellings. Personally, I don't much care that the icons of early '90s competitive keepie-uppies and newfangled no-backpass defensive play had their proper monikers butchered. Sensible Soccer is all about how it plays - slick, smooth, fast and furious - rather than the finer details of accuracy and authenticity. You could update all the teams to reflect current football line-ups - but then you lose the time-capsule joy of seeing Hristo Stoichkov leading the forward line for Barcelona, and Robert Prosinečki absolutely boss the Real Madrid midfield years before his legendary season-long stint at Portsmouth.
Sensible Soccer is the epitome of an evergreen video game. Its looks are not important, just like its player names. It captures the essence of the sport it's replicating perfectly, exaggerating it so as to provide thrilling virtual competition but sticking to the tried-and-tested rules enough so that serious foul play is always rewarded with a red card. Its limited game modes - a few cups and leagues, and friendlies all day long - actually work fine for handheld Evercade play; and when the VS console arrives in late 2021, this cart is guaranteed to be permanently inserted into one of the new Evercade multiplayer machine's twin slots. (Come on over, and I'll school you in a classic.) It might sound like hyperbole to say that this fully licensed, naughty-ROM-free, 16-bit-but-no-Nomad-required, entirely legit way to play Sensi anytime, anywhere, is a highlight of my 2021 - but to anyone who knows me, they know different.
Sensible Soccer is just one of 17 games included on Codemasters Collection 1, with other highlights including Cannon Fodder (which I covered in detail, here), the tricky Tennis All Stars (previously known, with a few tweaks, as Pete Sampras Tennis), Psycho Pinball, the gods-bothering strategy classic Mega-Lo-Mania, and the genre-mashing graphic adventure-meets-platformer of Cosmic Spacehead. It's a great entry in the ever-growing Evercade library, perhaps even the best yet.
And it's not released on its lonesome, either. Complementing Codemasters, cartridge 19 in the Evercade collection, is the second volume from Mega Cat Studios. I can't pretend to have the same enthusiasm for this set of modern-made, old-fashioned indie games designed for original retro hardware as I do what's included on the Codemasters cart, but if you're keen on checking out new takes on throwback gameplay styles, this is well worth exploring.
Reads the included blurb about the studio: "Mega Cat has always aimed to recreate the experience of 'being in the back of your mom's van coming back from the department store, opening up a game and reading the instruction manual on the way home'. To that end, Mega Cat has released a variety of new games for old platforms in fully packaged format, complete with manual." On this cart - which, yes, has an instruction manual - you get eight games including the puzzler Ronin's Tale, the platformer Yazzie, and the shooter Arkagis Revolution. The latter, with 360-degree action, sampled speech and open levels ripe for exploration (and getting lost in), is pretty darn great, but Mega Cat 2 is absolutely a collections-aimed release, whereas Codemasters 1 is going to appeal to a far wider audience. It might even be a system seller.
Sensible Soccer, though, what a game. Even now, almost 30 years since its release, it's just one of the greatest sports video games ever made - effortless to pick up and demanding to master, and just the most fun played with pals on the same sofa. Diving headers for days, and I promise you that even if you've never played it before, if you've ever liked a football game before, you'll love this one. Else my name isn't Make Dover.
Codemasters Collection 1 and Mega Cat Studios Collection 2 are available now for Evercade, published by Blaze Entertainment. Mega Cat Studios Collection 2 cartridge provided by the publisher. Codemasters Collection 1 bought by the author - like he didn't pre-order it as soon as it was available.
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