European Football Champ logo

In a packed field of quality football games, you've got to be a bit special to stand out. But is this?

Of the seven different footy games clamouring for your support this summer, Domark's Euro Football Champ is the chirpy, rather silly Gazza of the bunch. A comedy referee, diving headers, back heels and over-the-head bicycle kicks give a good indication of the game's rots - a high-speed, ever-so-sightly tongue in cheek Taito coin-op.

Domark haven't released a comedy single to accompany their entrance into the Amiga's very own summer soccer play-offs (yet), but with the standard and number of computerised contestants at an all-time high, they might just find they need one to get noticed.

A quick glance at the screenshots will tell you the game's layout: a horizontal-scroller with big sprites. Thanks to Kick Off, most people reckon a vertically scrolling pitch is the most reliable way to present a good footy game these days, but there's no proof a horizontal one can't work, and Domark are determined to prove the point.

One of their tactics is to make sure they include all three gameplay options of the coin-op: two players can play head to head (the best way to do it - taking on a buddy at any game is always good for a laugh), on the same side (a complicated affair in which all intentions of cooperative teamwork get thrown out in pursuit of individual goalmouth heroics), or, more simply, one guy can take on the Amiga.

Whichever mode you play, the action is at least fairly fast and furious. The coin-op version featured some pretty heavy-duty graphic scaling as the game 'camera' zoomed in and out of the action, highlighting special moments like free kicks and kick-offs. As was the case with Pitfighter, the Amiga's interpretation of these graphical gymnastics leaves a lot to be desired, but at least it tries. It can't help but be an odd sensation, however, when the couple of hugely overgrown sprites who take the kick off suddenly lurch into the middle distance as the 'camera' retreats to normal game mode, while the illusion of reality is further shaken by the generally jerky and over exaggerated animation of the players.

Ah yes. The players. Each guy has two controllable moves at his disposal - while he's got the ball, a player (indicated by a big sign over his head) can tap the fire button once to strike the ball along the ground, or twice to hoist it up and under - there's no after touch, so the ball will inevitably end up about ten yards away in the direction you were facing when you hoofed it.

Similarly, the same one or two tap trick is used when you haven't got possession - a single tap executes a bona fide legal attempt to tackle, while two of them sends you into Vinnie Jones mode, punching or kicking at your opponent. This illegal stuff can get you sent off, but as the comedy ref actually spends most of the time rolling around on the ground (he's fat and falls over a lot - it's really hysterical for the first three seconds) there's a good chance you could get away with it. (That said, I still managed to get five of my men sent off in my very first match...).

If you think this all ads up to a simple, but possible quite fun, soft of game then you're probably right. This is simple, and stays that way. There are trick shots, but they're executed automatically (your player just happens to be at the right place in relation to the ball at the right time), while fancy stuff like the zooming in and out of close-up serves no useful purpose, a comic referee can't remain funny forever, and there's very little scope for developing an individual style of play.

Add to this the fact that there's no fancy shot targeting, no leagues, no skill levels, no substitutions, no extra time, no set-piece construction, no goalkeeping duties to perform (except choosing to dive left or right if facing a penalty), no player analysis and no sign of any championship to win, and you get a game that goes on but never seems to get anywhere. (It hardly seems sporting at this point to mention that two of the nine teams you get to chose between - Brazil and Argentina - weren't part of Europe last time I looked).

Here's the weird part, however. Having said all that, Euro Football Champ still isn't a gameplay disaster. In two-player mode it can be a lot of fun and Domark have managed to make player-switching and passing almost instinctive - you only tend to notice these features if they're bad, and I can't say I've spent any time worrying about them at all. The real problem is that there are so many better titles around at the moment. Everyone goes on about Sensible Soccer, but my personal advice is to check out Striker - now there's a footy game that really kicks.

European Football Champ logo

Rick Haynes enters Europe as part of Domark's rather violent line-up...

Never ones to miss out on a good marketing opportunity, countless software publishers are flooding the market with Soccer games to coincide with this year's fiercely fought European championship. This is Domark's offering. It's only claim to fame, apart from originally being a tame Taito arcade game, is that European Football Champ is brimming over in extraneous on-pitch violence. Provided the fat old referee doesn't see your players do it, they can get away with illegal sliding tackles, punches and jump kicks.

Apart from that spark of 'genius', though, there's nothing particularly special about the game. It plays better than some and looks worse than others. I don't expect Dino Dini will be making any drastic changes to Kick Off 3 (Goal!) in order to counter this low level of competition, though.

In the days of Rage's Striker and Sensible Soccer, isn't the old horizontally scrolling footie game way past its prime? Worst of all, there's this toady little close-up sequence in European Football Champ, which, in a very crude interpretation of the coin-op's fine performance, zooms into the successful striker as he runs in front of the adoring crowd of spectators. Except you can no longer see them and the pixels definitely need to attend a meeting of Weight Watchers and slim down. A rather tame Europop soundtrack and the odd spot effect make up the feeble audio contribution.

With so many soccer sims entertaining the fray, end of review football cliches are coming thicker and faster than ever before. So, I'll try asking one simple question instead. Why on earth did Domark bother releasing this poor effort? Comparing this to, say, Sensible Soccer is like comparing Grimsby to Brazil! European Football Champ? More like chump if you ask me.