There can't be many combinations of the worlds World Cup, Italy and 1990 that haven't appeared on computer games packaging in the last six months. US Gold has managed to slip two out of the three buzz words into its new footie sim. It also slips in a rather detailed manual giving a short biography of great players past and present. There's information on all 24 nations in the contest and the possible squads they'll be sending. There's even a World Cup Trivia Quiz, at which the ZERO team scored a miserable 30 points (Rating: Sunday League Player).
Having humiliated or impressed yourself with the quiz, it's time to get into the game proper. Your first problem is which national team to pick. Each squad is rated out of five for skill, speed, aggression and strength as well as having an overall rating. The lower your team's rating the harder you will have to work if you want to progress to the next round. Should you be patriotic and risk waving bye bye to the World Cup? Or should you choose one of the more skillful teams and boast your chance of success? Decisions, decisions, decisions. (Obviously Italian or Brazilian players will not be faced by such a dilemma).
Individual players, like the squads, are rated for speed, aggression etc, though they don't get an overall score. The various skills are reflected in performance on the pitch. The advantages of speed are obvious but strong players are equally useful since they can shake off tackles and plough through weak defences, scattering bodies all round them.
The length of a game can be varied from two to forty five minutes and after each match you can check up on how the other competitors are doing. The stages of the World Cup are all present and correct from the initial group system all the way through to the final, assuming of course that you get that far.
Paul: This game has a lot to answer for. Two nights running I missed my train home because I'd hung on at the office in a desperate attempt to guide England through to the final. The effort of winning the cup for Italy left me with such a swollen finger I had to give up tiddlywinks for a week. Much more of this and I'm putting in for a free Bryan Robson first aid kit.
It doesn't take more than a few pico seconds to get the hang of Italy 1990 gameplay which puts the emphasis on control. Running with the ball, the old one/two and sliding past tackles, there's nothing these boys can't do (except perhaps recite the complete works of Shakespeare in Serbo Croat). The lack of an on-screen radar (such as in Kick Off) does slightly cramp your style since you don't know where any of your players are unless they're in the immediate vicinity of the ball. This cuts out the possibility of long range passing and means you don't know where your opponent's defenders are until you run into them. Rather a pity because when you can see other players it's possible to put together some Hoddlesque passing sequences.
Where the game is a real winner is in its closeness to the real competition. Not only do you get all the squads, you even get each team's second colours. So when Scotland play Italy, it doesn't look like a Young Conservatives meeting. Being able to select genuine players adds to the feel of the game. It's very effective when you know who's on the ball, though it would be nice if the GOAL screen also gave you the name of the scorer.
The individuality of the teams and players in effect gives the game a variety of levels of difficulty. Playing England against Egypt presents no great problems; against West Germany you've barely noticed you've got the ball before you're tackled from about four directions at once. Play as Italy and your players will leave most opponents flat-footed on the wing. If you fancy yourself as the new Sir Alf then pick Cameroon and see how far you get.
The game is let down a little by a poor soundtrack: the ball sounds like a soggy paper bag and surprisingly there's no crowd noise. Anyone buying this game in Glasgow may be embarrassed to hear the music track. It's not a million miles removed from the anthem of a certain Ally's Army. "We're on the march..."
However, despite the wobbly sound, Italy 1990 shows signs that a lot of care and attention has been spent on it. The manual is informative and well put together; so is the game. This is easily the best World Cup game to appear in this year's 16-bit market.
David: There's something special about a World Cup, isn't there? I mean, perfectly normal people who may not in normal circumstances give a jot about football can be totally swept along by nationalist fervour and sit glued to the telly weeks on end! Take me for example, I mean much to the chagrin of Paul 'Walking Football Almanac' Lakin, I couldn't tell a Lineker from a Lou Beale. Still, along comes the World Cup and I'm bitten by the bug. I collected all the Esso World Cup Squad coins - I'm talking the 1970 squad(!), I even collected the whole set of 1970 World Cup stickers. Nothing else has ever inspired such religious enthusiasm in me, with the exception of Johnny Morris - I also collected the Johnny Morris' safari sticker collection (but that's another story).
Anyway, taking the multitude of Italia '90 games into account, (including Virgin's officially licensed one, hem hem) this has to be the most realistic representation of the World Cup machinations. All the teams, the squad members, the actual performance of individual players(!) even down to the manual which is a colourful and informative booklet on World Cup facts, teams, venues and fixtures are all beautifully presented here. So it's the best World Cup game so far (all the more commendable in the light of US Gold's previous footie fiasco - World Cup Carnival), but how does it fare as a football game?
Well, it plays very well. Perhaps in a head to head, I'd buy Kick Off first but it would be a very close thing indeed. The graphics re much better of course and the ability to pass to team mates (on screen) works well, but it falls down for me in a couple of areas. Firstly, it doesn't offer one of those radar type pitch insets that relates the ball's position to the pitch and all your off screen players. Secondly, it lets you control the goalie, which is nice in theory, but in reality he frequently switched as I was moving a defender off to the right i.e. exactly at the wrong time, goalie vacates net and moves off to the right! Okay, so this is my opinion, but what of the differences in the Amiga version? Well, there are very few basically, my sole remark would be that I prefer the ST sound.
These gripes apart, Italy 1990 is a smooth, accomplished football game, and the best of the games pertaining to simulate the World Cup. (Thus far.)