[Retro] The Beautiful Games: Sensible Soccer

The Beautiful Games is a new series offering a retrospective on the seminal titles in the history of videogaming football. Each article looks at a series or title that advanced the art of computer or console soccer simulation, in this case the legendary Sensible Soccer on the Amiga, and other 16-bit consoles and computers.

While Kick Off and its sequel had given the world realistic ball physics, and pacy frenetic action, they had done so at the expense of the fun factor of many previous generation arcade football titles. They were fun for the committed, but weren’t exactly pick up and play. Newcomers could spend hours fumbling around trying to control the ball, let alone string together a beautiful passing move. Sensible Soccer overcame that difficulty by offering the best of both worlds.

Like Kick Off it used an overhead view, but zoomed even further out to show almost an entire fifth of the pitch in one go, eliminating the need for Kick Off’s “player radar”. The ball now stuck to players’ feet far more than in Dino Dini’s titles. It would still run away if you did a full volte-face, but generally dribbling was less of a chore than in Kick Off. Brilliantly, Sensi also fine tuned Kick Off 2’s “aftertouch” system, which allowed players to add height and curve to shots and long passes while they travelled through the air. Here the effects were much more pronounced, and could be introduced far more easily, making it possible to loft 60 yard long balls onto a striker’s head, or curve free kicks into the top corner of the net with a mere twitch of the joystick.

Sensi also took a cue from console based sports sims and brought a degree of automation to passing. Tap the joystick button and your player would pass in the direction he was facing. However, if the most likely target of said pass was a few degrees off one of the eight standard compass directions allowed by a joystick, the game would comepensate, and ensure the pass found its target. It simplified the passing system and allowed for some glorious, tika-taka style Barcelona pass and move tactics without overly automating the process. It’s worth noting that the semi-auto passing system was adopted by every single football title of the 3D era.

In keeping with what would become the studio’s trademark, Sensible Soccer also brought a wry smile to the genre. Injured players would writhe on the ground holding their ankle, and players’ heads would drop in shame if they were sent off.

Best of all though, despite not having any kind of licence, Sensi featured real player names (a feature that was dropped for the console conversions, where EA Sports were busy waiving FIFPro licence around menacingly), and sprites whose hair and skin colour reflected their real life counterparts. It was that feature that Sensible Software took the nth degree with the follow up, Sensible World of Soccer. That game featured real team and player names from just about every professional football league on earth and added a simplistic but addictive management career, with player transfers and squad juggling over multiple seasons – features that are now included in every sports game around, but which were revolutionary for football games of the era.

Best of all though was the way the on-pitch action flowed. Games were fast-paced and action packed without every feeling out of control. A skilful player could always beat a newbie, but unlike Kick Off, the barrier to entry wasn’t so high that new players would feel out of their depth. Played today, Sensi still holds up as the quintissential 2D soccer title, an experience some would argue has never been bettered.

The original Amiga version of Sensible Soccer and its sequels are readily available online and can be played using the excellent WinUAE Amiga emulator.

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Categories: Retro

2 Comments on “[Retro] The Beautiful Games: Sensible Soccer”

  1. March 24, 2011 at 8:24 pm #

    Superb article about my all time favourite video game. I would spend hours playing it as a teenager. I discovered that I still have the console and game in storage only a few weeks ago. This article perfectly captures all the major and minor details that made sensi the most fun football game to play. Substance outweighs graphics. It had great fine detail with a great sense of humour. Well done on the article.

    • March 25, 2011 at 7:00 am #

      Thanks, that’s really nice of you. I loved Sensi it was a truly great game and I played it non-stop for years. I’ve tried going back to it time and again, but it just isn’t the same without a proper joystick. I shall have to invest in one when I get round to it.

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