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I've written before about how much I adore the Evercade, a retro-focused handheld console that came out in early 2020. It already provides access to a wealth of old-school games via properly licensed (before you start that Pi + ROMs chat) collections - from big-name publishers including Atari, Namco, Interplay and Data East - released on bespoke cartridges. It's a great little system that I continue to pick up regularly and have a lot of fun with - but that fun might just peak in 2021 with the release of a new cartridge.
Announced at the end of 2020 (check out the trailer below), the Evercade's forthcoming Codemasters Collection 1 - implying the distinct possibility of a sequel, down the line - compiles a number of the famous British developer and publisher's 8- and 16-bit favourites. Cosmic Spacehead, Super Skidmarks (it's okay to titter at the racer's title, we all still do) and Psycho Pinball are here, alongside Tennis All-Stars, a previously unreleased game that will be recognisable to anyone who played Pete Sampras Tennis on the Mega Drive.
But what's most appealing to me, on this set, are the games that Codemasters acquired when the company bought Sensible Software in 1999. Mega-Lo-Mania is a real-time strategy game from 1991, originally for the Commodore Amiga, that puts the player in command of a god. Anyone who loved the likes of Command & Conquer and Dune II should check it out. 1993's Cannon Fodder is an exceptional top-down shooter which both poked fun at armed conflict while underpinning its cute aesthetics with striking imagery of the needless loss of life (its message is firmly anti-war). And then there's Sensible Soccer.
And then there's Sensible Soccer. I write that like Sensi wasn't the game I played the most during the years 1992 to 1995, right through the middle of my secondary school years, from its initial release on the Amiga to the Mega Drive's International Edition of 1993, and onto the untouchable World of Soccer, aka SWOS, in 1994. I loved this game - so much that ever since I got back into games in a big way around a dozen years back, I've desperately wanted Sensi on whatever device I had to hand.
But I was denied, time after time. No Sensi on PSP. No Sensi on 3DS. No Sensi on Vita. No Sensi on Switch. Yeah, I bought the Xbox 360 version, playable on my Xbox One, but it's not my Sensi, you know? It doesn't quite handle the right way, and the Xbox controller's d-pad is appalling for fast-paced arcade sports. I've played Sensible World of Soccer on Antstream Arcade, via my laptop - but again, while it's great that the game's on the retro streaming service, it's not my perfect way to enjoy it. Playing on a laptop just doesn't fit easily into my life - and while Antstream also works on mobiles, I don't have a 'proper' controller for my phone.
TL;DR: I wanted Sensible Soccer - the 1990s Sensible Soccer that ate up so much of my teenage time - on a take-anywhere, play-offline handheld. And now, I'm getting it! And I am beyond excited. So very up for it. (Obvs I am also excited for newer games, but click here for some of those.) Every time I see something awful in the news - so, every damn minute of every damn day, right now - I can immediately lift my spirits by remembering that Sensible Soccer is coming out on a handheld in a few months' time. There's no shame in using any games to cheer yourself up, as a kind of coping mechanism for suppressing the nasty shit that mumbles away at the back of your brain - and the prospect of on-the-go (i.e., take it anywhere in the house or garden where the noisy kids aren't) Sensible Soccer is a full dose of the most sun-kissed serotonin. Into, my, veins, with it.
But why do I love this game so much - even now, when far more accurate, life-like, and comprehensive football games are available, even on handheld consoles? At the risk of sounding robotic, I admire its purity. Sensible Soccer is the beautiful game distilled to its very essence. It is immediate and hugely accessible. It's eight directions and one button. One button. Just like you've probably only got one good foot to boot a ball with, Sensi only has one button for passes both long and short, for lobs and top-corner screamers, and for free kicks and corner routines. That same button slides your player into a tackle - beware the referee with his teeny wee cards - and launches them into the most exaggerated diving headers video games have ever seen.
Okay, so console versions made use of extra buttons, but they were only ever optional given the one-button approach worked better - and the Evercade port is, I think, the Mega Drive's International Edition, so it'll likely have a command for a shot and a seperate one for a pass. But that you don't need them is the genius of this game. Kick, slide, punt, score: it's all in that same thumb, over the same spot on the controller, from the first minute to the 90th.
Not so many years ago I took the game - I still own the Mega Drive version a couple of times, though I dont have the console(s) set up at home anymore - to a barcade-style event, and there was always someone wanting to play it. Sensible Soccer is that kind of game: anyone can have a go, in a way that they can't with the likes of FIFA and PES due to the seemingly infinite amount of input possibilities those games offer. It's approachable, it's excellent, and it's eternal.
But it's also one of those, if you know, you know, sort of games. A game that instantly appeals to players of a certain age; but those who are 20 years younger, not so much. For a lot of you, you won't care about a football game from the 1990s. How can it hold a candle to Ultimate Team? Well, it can't. It's the same sport, but a totally different take on it. This is fast, scrappy, beautiful in its simplicity. FIFA, today, is hair-follicle accuracy, wind-caught jersey aesthetics, the roar of a realistic crowd as a player who'll never actually sign for your club nets a last-minute winner. In contrast, Sensi is static and fuzziness, 30-yard dives and faceless teammates; an analogue indulgence in an era of graphical-arms-race realism.
And I wouldn't want it any other way.
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