Kick Off ’97

It’s easy to get into Kick Off ’97. And easier still to get tired of it

Snap83You may not know it, but the soccer sim genre owes a tremendous debt to the old and almost forgotten Kick Off series. Debuting on the Atari ST way back in 1988, Anco’s humble little scrolling arcade game changed the face of computer soccer with a fast and instinctive play style, unassuming graphics, and innovative control. Indeed, it was the first soccer game ever to use the idea of “aftertouch” — the ability to curve or bend the path of the ball in flight by continuing to make control adjustments after it had been kicked.

The game was a huge success, as was the sequel, Kick Off II. Problem is, the series had pretty much run out of steam by that point, but that didn’t put off the publisher. Anco, a company that had never had a big hit before and was determined not to let this one slip through its fingers, milked the Kick Off name for all it was worth with countless subsequent incarnations, each inevitably weaker and more creatively bankrupt than the last. Nine years later, they’re still pumping ‘em out, now under the Maxis Sports label.

Kick Off 97, a purely arcade game, doesn’t look bad. It tries to dazzle us with 3D graphics, multiple camera angles, multimedia. Everything except the smart control and intense gameplay that Kick Off games used to represent. Of course, the impressive-looking close-up 3D views on the back of the game box aren’t much use during play, but the game does at least give you some useful straightforward views to choose from – as always, the best is a slightly elevated side-on perspective like the one used for TV coverage.

Snap70The control is the standard arcade set-up, using two buttons for shooting or passing on offense, and for varying types of tackle on defense. Fancier moves can be pulled off using a combination of the same basic controls, with some context sensitivity – for example, if you’re on part of the field known as the “cross in zone,” a pass will play the ball into the penalty area, while headers, overhead kicks, and volleys can all be played if you’re in the right position relative to the ball. It’s simple enough to learn and, for the most part, it works.

The AI in Kick Off 97 is notably weak. None of the tactics employed in real soccer seem to work here, resulting in constant streams of utterly unrealistic plays, particularly when the defense has once again failed to do its job and left the two opposition strikers completely unmarked. Then it’s up to the goalkeeper to save your neck, but unfortunately he’s got virtually no common sense whatsoever. He’ll make a spectacular dive when it’s least called for, refuse to come off his line even though he should, fumble the ball or fall over.

On the plus side, there are plenty of options, and it’s exceedingly easy to get into — but then it’s exceedingly easy to get tired of, too.

System Requirements: 486/66 CPU, 8 MB RAM, 50 MB HDD, Windows 95

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