Back in 2002, I was in Brazil when the World Cup was taking place. The Winter Olympics had already happened back home but being in Brazil, I barely heard that event being mentioned. For World Cup 2002, it just so happened that the Brazilian team won the Cup for the fifth time and it was one of those events that was a little surreal to witness. Not because I had any “skin in the game” so to speak, I knew very little about the sport prior to living there. I wasn’t anywhere near a TV or radio when the win happened but I didn’t need to be as when it took place, it was non-stop partying for about 48 hours no matter where you went. Fireworks going off non-stop, cars driving around dragging enormous flags behind them and cheering passengers, bars filled to capacity or beyond; I’d never seen anything like it before or since. This would probably be a good time for me to share in a picture I took when I later passed through Três Coraçoes, birthplace of the legendary Pelé, where they have a statute of him at a park there but I seem to have misplaced it.
Anyways, a new World Cup event is upon us and most of the world is paying attention to the events that just so happen to be taking place in Brazil, so I figure why not take a look back at the soccer video arcade titles that have been on the market since video arcades became a thing. Yes I know that it is called “football” everywhere else but we’ll just go with soccer as that is the term used in the titles of most of the games anyways. Because there is a bit of content, I am dividing it up between tabs. Just click on the decade below starting with the 70s and go from there.
NOTE: This post is very heavy on video/graphics media so you may need to give each tab some time to load.
Exact release dates are difficult to come by in the early days, especially where clones are concerned. Atari’s Pong influenced a lot of clones to flood the market, which sometimes to differentiate themselves from the competition, they would tweak the physics and maybe add extra paddles to the mix. While people generally associate Pong with Tennis, Pong variations would take upon themselves sports like Hockey or Soccer. In 1973 we saw titles with creative names like Soccer (Taito), Soccer (Ramtek) or Super Soccer (Allied). Taito would create a 4-player version called Davis Cup that year as well. No one really gave these games much thought because they weren’t anything special. Atari themselves would have to create some of their own Pong variations to compete, coming up with Quadrapong and in 1974 and 75 they branded a couple of these variations as World Cup and Goal IV, respectively. World Cup I’ve seen mentioned because apparently Steve Jobs had some hand in the development of that one but otherwise it is forgotten like the rest.
Soccer games took a break for a while as manufacturers looked to other ideas that were a little more original and could find better earnings, given the state of technology at the time. That changed when some technological improvements such as the CPU and color TV gave the world an unusual soccer game by the name of Car Polo (Exidy, 1977). It wasn’t soccer in the sense of technical soccer by any means but the combination of the sport with cars did offer arcades something different and in glorious color to boot, still a rarity at the time. For the concept of cars playing soccer, that is also a rarity but it was revisited in the arcade a few years ago with Konami’s GTI Club Supermini Festa, which had a limited Western release.
Exidy had a little something in their hearts for soccer at the time as shortly after Car Polo came Football (1978). I guess the cost of the color screen used in Car Polo was still too high so this went back to the trusty B/W set; I also believe that this was Exidy’s first attempt at using a trackball, which they called a “palmball”. One thing that isn’t clear however is whether this came first or Sega’s World Cup. The cabinets have different artwork but the software looks exactly the same, down to where scores are and the font. Neither Exidy nor Sega’s name shows up as a licensee on the opposing flyer so I’m not sure which one should get the credit for being the original developer.
Around that time Atari was getting back into sports, releasing the popular Atari Football(1978). It was based on American Football and did well excepting the part where it was overshadowed by Space Invaders. Still, Atari would release a few sports games and that included Atari Soccer (Atari 1979). This used the trakball technology introduced with Football but it could handle up to four players. It also is the first soccer game to feature a scrolling playfield, as opposed to the single screen affairs that had been used up until this time; I also believe it would count as the first to feature character animations.
Other than that, most everyone was cashing in on the space craze of the time so sports games in general were somewhat rare. Speaking of the World Cup, there have been some soccer-themed pinball machines but I will have to maybe do that in a separate post some time.
Scroll back up and click on The 80s tab to see where soccer games went to next!
The 80s gave us many classics to enjoy but if you think really hard about the Golden Age, it might be hard to recall a soccer title. Between Atari Soccer and the next game, soccer fans didn’t have much to look for, in fact I can’t find any video arcade soccer games in 1980-82. I might be overlooking something but if I am, it probably only got a very limited release. 1983 is where the sport suddenly reappears with two games, Exciting Soccer (Alpha Denshi) and Pro Soccer (Data East). It isn’t clear which one came first but they are very similar to each other, setting the tone for soccer games in the future with selectable teams based on the country, indicators to show ball possession and target and some actual soccer rules. Pro Soccer would be a little more on the technical side than ES would be. With the release gap, these were also the first soccer games in color, unless you count Car Polo. Alpha Denshi would release Exciting Soccer II the following year.
Tekhan World Cup / Tecmo Cup (Tecmo, 1985) – Tecmo is often remembered from their arcade titles like Ninja Gaiden or Tecmo Bowl but they did have a soccer game out on the market in 1985. The Wikipedia article for this game erroneously states that this was the first soccer game to use trackball controllers but as you already read and saw by now, Exidy beat them to the punch by seven years; Atari by six with the cocktail format. Most of the cabinets for this were a cocktail table so the game itself is seen with an overhead view like Exciting or Pro Soccer but the scrolling at this point was much better. Tecmo would release several sequels to this through the 90s, starting with World Cup ’90 in 1989.
Indoor Soccer (Universal, 1985) – this was a little odd in some of the art (they could have called it Beach Ball Soccer given the size of the ball) but is at its core a 2-on-2 soccer that returned to a side scrolling perspective for the playfield. This game made use of the crowd noise and added elements like slide kicks while sticking to the basics. Nintendo would release Vs. Soccer in 1986 for their PlayChoice but I’m not sure if there is anything notable with that title.
Kick And Run (Taito, 1986) – Despite the cartoony look, Kick And Run gave a good run on providing soccer fans with something a little closer to the real thing at the arcade. It combined elements of soccer games from the previous couple of years, fine tuning things like the isometric scrolling camera, player animations and movements which would become very common in soccer games down the road. This is also notable for using foot pedals on the cabinet to activate the kicks; it also returned to the four player format.
While a lot of soccer games try to recreate the actual game in some form, sometimes they go off in a different direction. That was the case with Free Kick (Merit/Data East, 1987) where they attempted to combine soccer with Arkanoid, which was hot at the time.
Fighting Soccer (SNK, 1988) – This is pretty much Exciting Soccer 3 but with much improved graphics and sound.
Last Striker (East Technology, 1989) – Not a lot of information is available on this one but from the KLOV page it shows guys and girls playing against each other which was a first.
World Trophy Soccer (Arcadia, 1989) – Arcadia Systems was in the business of bringing Commodore Amiga games to the arcade format. From what I can see this introduced the “behind-the-goalie” game mechanic that would pop up when you went in for a goal kick. Perhaps it just looks awkward but worked fine in the actual game.
World Cup ’90 (Tecmo, 1989) – With it’s easy to learn moves, this was the opening salvo of how soccer games would be done in the early 90s. It received a sequel in 1994 which supported up to 4 players.
With that we leave the great 80s. Scroll back up and click on the 90s tab for the decade where soccer games really gained momentum.
The 90s are often remembers as the decade of fighting games and rhythm games but they would be the decade of the soccer game as well. One issue is that early on the “style” of the genre was defined to where a lot of games would just follow those same conventions and not innovate further. Fortunately not everyone did that and it filled the genre up with some fun titles.
Hat Trick Hero Series – Also known as Football Champ/Euro Football Champ / Taito Power Goal, depending upon the version – (Taito, 1990-95) – This was quite a way to start off soccer games for the 90s. Taito was busy with other types of games after Kick And Run but with their return to the sport they had to do a little showing off. This game uses a lot of scaling effects but it ticked the realism up a notch by allowing players to kick, punch or grab their opponents to take control of the ball. If the ref doesn’t see it then you are good to go. I also think this is the first soccer arcade game where it made a big celebratory deal out of getting a goal.
With HH’93 (released in 1992), the graphics were given a bump up to have a 3D playfield although the players were still represented with 2D sprites. They took a more anime approach to the players in this one. They also added in a Super Shots and Hyper Shots, the latter being an unstoppable shot. In HH’94 they bumped the graphics up a little more and finally with HH’95 (released in 1994) they went with the digitized characters look. Overall the series is revered by players so if you were looking for a place to start with soccer arcade games, this is a good pick.
World Soccer Finals (Leland, 1990) – Looking over what I can find on this one, it doesn’t sound like it did anything special, especially in light of Taito’s Hat Trick Hero. Most people remember Leland for Ivan Stewart’s Super Off-Road, not for this.
Soccer Brawl (SNK, 1991) – This is another example of when a developer attempted something outside of the mainstream. This was a futuristic sci-fi soccer game that pulled some inspiration from Atari Games’ Cyberball. Play the game as 5-on-5 bionic/cyborg people.
Seibu Cup Soccer (Seibu, 1991) – While you can see the influence that Hattrick Hero had on this one, they added some facial reaction animations to the players from both teams when a goal is scored; they also added a “dynamite kick” special feature, that allows the player to fire off a very over-the-top sort of kick.
Super Sidekicks Series (SNK, 1992-96) – This would be SNK’s answer to Taito’s Hattrick games and thanks to the spread of Neo Geo in Latina America, this is probably one of the more recognizable soccer games in those regions. To stand out, SS would offer more teams to pick from, stats that made the teams differ Super Sidekicks had some ideas similar to one I have seen in fighting games where not only does each team have certain stats but they also have Offense, Defense, Technical, Balance “Types” that you can choose from. This also might have been the first soccer game to include built-in multi-language support. Here is a video of the last SS released in the series which also went by the name Ultimate 11
Big Striker (Jaleco, 1992) – Aside from showing your team in the box on occasion cheering you on, I’m not sure what else this does different.
Grand Striker Human Cup (Human, 1993) – I’m not sure if the emulation is the fault or if the game just had some weird distortions going on but this looks like an attempt to do some sort of 3D view but using some 2D techniques. A sequel came out in 1996 where the effect was certainly better, judging by the videos. Not sure if there are any other unique mechanics here.
Premier Soccer (Konami, 1993) – This was a little rough graphically (it looks dated to 1989/90 levels; this shows especially if you compare it to another 1993 Konami sports game like Run And Gun) but provided 4 different field views to watch the action on.
Dream Soccer ’94 (Data East, 1994) – In this game you can choose your team formations before starting a match. It also had an overhead map to show player positions and was for 1-4 players. And to top it off, you could knock over the cameramen on the sidelines, destroying their cameras or catch on fire.
J-League Soccer V-Shoot (Namco, 1994) – Usually if a soccer game would have a roster they would just generalize it to a country but this game went for specific teams in Japan.
Stone Ball (Art & Magic, 1994) – What if cavemen played soccer? This was at least one thought behind the unique and unusual Stone Ball. Pick your village then kick a rock around the field, hitting it with your club on occasion for the power hits. The sound isn’t the greatest but the animation and fresh concept make it worth noting.
Super Visual Football Sega Cup (Sega, 1994) – Right before Virtua Striker for Sega, they had Super Visual Football. This made use of digitized sprite animation and other clips integrated into the game.
Soccer Superstars (Konami, 1995) – Also a psuedo-3D game, the playfield itself uses a 3D effect with a camera that was teasing what could be done in a full 3D game.
Ultra Sports (Konami, 1995) – Since we’re on Konami here, they also released this game in 1995 which was a cocktail cabinet to feature two sports games. One was hockey, the other was Five A Side Soccer. It wasn’t technically impressive but fun, designed to cater to sports bars in particular. Which also explains the use of the ladies on the sideart.
Virtua Striker Series (1995-2006) – Starting in 1994, Sega gave the “virtua” treatment to soccer with Virtua Striker. Using the 3D graphics platform that powered games like Dead Or Alive, players could now experience the game in a way that a lot of the previous entries were trying to convey with extensive scaling effects. I also think it was the first soccer game to feature real world ads, one of the early games to do this in general. The fluid animations from VS would prove to be superior to a lot of the 2D competitors, in fact it hasn’t aged as poorly as many other 3D games from the mid-90s. Where Hat Trick Hero could be see as a genre defining game for 2D titles, Virtua Striker would define the genre from there on out. It would get you hot!
(Video shows Virtua Striker 3)
Super Football Champ (Taito, 1996) – It doesn’t look like this one got a very wide release although it would technically be a part of their Hat Trick series. Here Taito made the transition to full 3D but I’m not sure what the thinking was with that enormous overlay map on the bottom.
Back Street Soccer (SunA, 1996) – If you didn’t have the ability to compete graphically with others, offer a different twist on something to turn heads. Back Street Soccer goes the street soccer route but oddly uses international teams like other soccer games would.
Pleasure Goal: 5 On 5 Mini Soccer (Saurus, 1996) – Another soccer game on the NeoGeo MVS hardware.
Tecmo World Soccer 96′ (Tecmo, 1996)- Tecmo doing their part to provide a soccer title on the NeoGeo MVS as well.
Versus Net Soccer (Konami, 1996) – Konami makes the transition to 3D soccer, this also promoted different language options
Capcom Sports Club (Capcom, 1997) – Capcom avoided soccer arcade titles for the most part but did offer soccer as one of the three sports in this cartoony game.
Kick-It! (GlobalVR, 1997) – The late 90s saw a push for more simulator type games as opposed to traditional joystick/button titles and Kick-It is one game that I remember seeing all of the time at arcades. It is focused on the penalty shoot-out, where you had to kick a ball into the sensor net at the bottom of the game cabinet. There was also a Jr. model.
Eleven Beat World Tournament (Seta, 1998) – A 3D soccer game where the players look like kids; this used Nintendo 64 based hardware.
NeoGeo Cup ’98” The Road To The Victory (SNK, 1998) – Another MVS soccer game showing that there was still a sputter left in making them in 2D.
Tecmo World Cup ’98 (Tecmo, 1998) – Tecmo obviously enjoyed making soccer arcade titles, this was the first to go 3D for them, using Sega Saturn based hardware. The playfield was large and the game allowed for some super move attacks to speed things up a little.
World Kicks (Namco, 1999) – Namco generally produced baseball games but when they did soccer, they made World Kicks. This was a 4 player game with a ball mechanism at the players feet that they would use to “kick” the ball in the game. This also is the first soccer game to allow cabinet linking for 8 player matches, that I could find anyways.
And with that, the 90s come to a close, head over to the 00s to wrap things up!
At the beginning of the 2000s, video arcades had a downturn and thus the focus began to move more towards certifiably safe games like drivers/light-gun games as opposed to just about everything else. Granted, in areas where soccer was/is popular, soccer games could still do well but it meant that development dollars were scaled back from where they had been in the 90s. In some instances, major soccer titles stuck to European or Japanese releases. This makes some of them hard/impossible to find depending upon where you find yourself.
Football Power (Galeco, 2000) – Along the lines of Namco’s World Kicks, this would have been just another 3D soccer game but they used the arcade hardware advantage providing a real ball mechanism at the player’s feet but in a different way than that game. Galeco released a sequel to this with redesigned hardware in 2002.
Sports Jam (Sega, 2000) – Almost like Track & Field, this was a multi-sports, multi-event game that included two soccer related events, the Long Goal Competition and Goal Shoot Out. That one lady who years ago claimed that you couldn’t do sports games in an arcade should have been forced to play this game for an entire year, non-stop.
World Club Champion Football series (Sega, 2002-present) – Wanting to give players more of a technical way to play, what is know as WCCF introduced a system of using player cards placed on a large card reader on the front surface of the arcade cabinet. That way players could not only collect cards but create teams based upon their attributes that you could switch around. Setups like that have primarily only found success in Japan although some versions of WCCF have received some support in Europe. This video sums up the concept pretty well:
Winning Eleven / Pro Evolution Soccer Arcade (2002-present) – I would call this Konami’s answer to Sega’s Virtua Striker but if I am wrong about that, feel free to correct me. It came from the PlayStation home console, adapted enough for arcade play. Some versions allow you to plug in a PS2 controller to use if wanted. In 2006 this was the first soccer arcade I have found that offered online features through Konami’s e-Amusement network. Konami still releases new versions of this today, where they had floated the idea for doing a run in Europe for a while but I am not sure what became of that.
Premier Eleven (Sammy, 2002) – A 3D soccer game powered by the Dreamcast-based Atomiswave.
Soccer ShootOut (Skee Ball, 2002) – With the downturn in video, I have to go to purely mechanical games to fill this out just a little, like this cage cabinet focusing on the penalty shoot out.
Virtua Striker 4 (Sega, 2005) – I mentioned Virtua Striker already but this is notable because 1) It’s one of the few soccer arcade games to come along in the past decade 2) It took the realism up a notch by offering real player names, team rosters and it allowed players to “manage” their team thanks to the player cards. Here is a video of the last revision made to the game in 2006.
Kick-It Pro (GlobalVR, 2006) – GlobalVR returned to their Kick-It game with this model which added to non-soccer related mini-games to play
Today: Well that’s been about it. Konami and Sega keep the sport in mind over in Japan with their aforementioned series but beyond that there isn’t anything to discuss in the video market. I assume that the conventional wisdom is that any effort on making such a game would bomb in North America and receive lukewarm support elsewhere but it seems to me that conventional wisdom also wouldn’t place a golf game at the top of the list for the arcade marketplace either. MY son received a FIFA game for Christmas, which he hasn’t really touched. I gave it a spin to see what the fuss was about since FIFA games are usually at the top of sales lists when they come out and I dunno, the management simulator portions that they obviously put a ton of work into, isn’t really my thing. One thing about most of the games above is that they are very fast-paced games so the chances of having a 0-0 match like you can get with real soccer happens less. Resisting the temptation of turning it into a management game, I imagine that a soccer arcade done now could be fun, perhaps enhanced by something like an ultra-wide screen display. I’m actually surprised that no one tried to use the Darius multi-monitor trick to give you a wider field of view and the larger characters.