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Kick Off 1 and 2

kick off 1 and 2

I decided to look back to where football games started. No, not the first few pong-like "football games" that are outright unplayable these days, but Kick Off and Kick Off 2, two fantastic old games that are still playable, and indeed played, today!

While it wasn't the first football game to take the world by storm, Kick Off is recognised as the father of modern football games. Released on the Atari and Amiga back in 1989 (The same year Theo Walcott and Garath Bale were born, just to put it into perspective!) the game featured revolutionary features such as replays, tactical choices, red and yellow cards, players and referees of varying skill levels and injuries. Before Kick Off, soccer games were rather simple beasts, involving two identical teams in differing kits passing, tackling and shooting their way up and down a pitch. The first Kick Off made a step in the right direction, allowing you to chose the skill level of the home and away team, meaning you could play Internationals Vs Amateurs or two teams of equal skill levels. In 1990 Kickoff 2 came out, bringing in individual player statistics, something which every major player in the industry has followed.

Looking back at the first game today, the first thing that stands out is the graphics. Kick Off was created in a different era, when square blobs on un-rendered backgrounds were considered high end, so long as they kind of looked human. Maybe. If you squint. If you gave a copy of Kick Off to a modern gamer they may laugh over the graphics, but in it's day it was stunning. The ball becomes larger depending on elevation, the players look quite human, albeit a little overweight, and the game flows smoothly. The run can be a little straight-lined, with players running in a perfect horizontal or vertical path across the pitch more often than not, the off the ball movement is still varied enough to distract you from that. The second game runs a little smoother. One major criticism though is that Kick Off 2 features a much darker, more artificial looking pitch. I think the original actually outdid it's sequel in that regard.

When you sit down to play Kick Off, it becomes clear why people are still playing the series to this very day, organising competitive meet-ups. While you were limited to one button, which would either slide in with a tackle when you didn't have possession or kick the ball if you did, the game actually stands up really well for it's age. The rest of your team moves with intelligence, the play can be surprisingly varied, and the fast end to end action we've all grown accustomed to is very much still there. While you can slowly work your way up the pitch, it's very possible to launch a fast counter attack, taking your opponent by surprise. That said, the game is surprisingly hard, and I generally found myself on the receiving end of said counter attacks.

The way the ball moves naturally rather than sticking to your feet also takes some getting used to. It seems that football games actually took a step backwards in this regard through the 1990's, with their sticky dribbling controls. What at first is a real annoyance actually adds a tactical element to deciding if you should tackle or try to nick the ball off of an opponent mid run, once you get used to it. If you are a new comer to the series, and decide to give it a try, try pressing the button while dribbling, before your player makes the "kicking the ball. It allows you to trap the ball until released! Don't press a direction, or your player will pass the ball. Instead release all buttons then start running in a different direction.

Moving on to Kick Off 2, the game plays mostly the same. The fact that different players are better and worse than each other can occasionally shine through though, and the off the ball movement is even closer to how it should be. Port in a modern control system, new graphics and club teams (rather than kick Off 2's international sides and it wouldn't be out of place on a modern console, the movement can be so good at times.

Kick Off 2 brought in several ideas that are still present in modern games. It featured a kit designer, a rudimentary ability to edit teams (or at least their names), and the ability to just sit back and simulate your way through a tournament without actually choosing a team to play. I know I personally spent many a weekend evening doing this back before I discovered the football management genre, and ultimately I owe it all to Kick Off 2!

Unfortunately, despite the success of Kick Off 2 the third instalment wasn't released until 1994, and it was clear that Dino Dini, the genius behind the first two games, had left the franchise. Instead he moved on to Virgin Games, where he developed Goal!, which is considered by many to be the spiritual successor to Kick Off and Kick Off 2.

So overall, Kick Off was a very good game, and laid the foundation for the genre. However, if you are looking for a football game from that era, you'd be better off either looking at Kick Off's main rival, Sensible Soccer, or at it's own sequel, Kick Off 2, which did everything Kick Off did, only better. Once you pass Kick Off 2 and Dino's exit, however, the series is no longer worth pursuing.

As an interesting side note, coming back to the issue of management games, the original Player Manager was based on the Kick Off 2 engine, and there was the ability to transfer teams into Kick Off 2 to play unofficial games against your friends! A few years later, Player manager was ported over to the Playstation, an event which led to my eventual rise as the greatest football manager in the virtual world!

Here you can find an article on kick off for the arcade.

Find out about more classic games here.