Kick Off 3 logo

Can Kick Off 3 challenge Sensible Soccer as the best Amiga footie game?

There is an industry rumour which claims that when Anco decided to dust off their acclaimed Kick Off concept to produce a sequel, they spent a serious amount of time wth their chins firmly planted on their fists, weighing up the quality of the current opposition. And apparently, they conceded that Sensible Soccer had things wrapped up from an overhead-perspective. So, rather than play Sensi at its own game, they decided to reinvent themselves. And the result is Kick Off 3.

But what sort of result is it? Well, it's a fairly mixed big. The overwhelming feeling which hits you is that it lacks polish. For example, there are numerous occasions when the players' behaviour is just plain odd. Often when the ball is kicked high in the air, a computer-controlled player stands under it, and instead of waiting patiently for it to return to earth, frantically jiggles back and forth as if he had enjoyed a pre-match pep up with little Diego.

I've even witnessed a computer player run for a third of the pitch with the ball seemingly glued to his head. Charles 'Charlie' Charles (of Harry Enfield fame) would be proud of that.

The game's soundtrack, too, is questionable, being one of the most poorly-realised I've ever encountered. OK, so football supporters aren't renowned for their powers of articulation, but these guys struggle with just one chant. And it's rarely in context with the on-pitch action - often a goal is scored to no reaction whatsoever!


The game seem like a rush job to coincide with the World Cup

Also, for some inexplicable reasons I couldn't get the practice mode to work straight from booting up - I had to play a proper match before it would operate. This is a frustrating, hair-tearer of a point because most people will naturally home in on that option at the outset.

As a whole, the package smacks of being a rush job to coincide with happenings Stateside this Summer. And that, coupled with the sheer ambition of the project - heck, versions for five formats have been developed simultaneously, with one guy at the helm - has produced a game which doesn't begin to match other efforts in its professionalism.

But now for the good stuff. KO3 plays a fairly solid game of the old kick-it-between-the-sticks with plenty of scope for tremendously satisfying moves and thumping volleys and headers - all wrapped up in a surprisingly workable viewpoint.

The 'special' players really make you approach things in a different fashion, making the squad set-up a much more managerial exercise. There's also a full complement of cups, one of the widest range of player moves yet seen (made possible by the use of a joystick with two independent fire buttons, natch), and that lovely little practice section.

But if you're really gagging to get away from the Sensible Soccer viewpoint you'd be better advised to wait for FIFA International Soccer rather than opting for a flawed semi-finalist such as Kick Off 3.
Sure, Kick Off 3 has its moments, but that won't be enough considering the company it will be keeping. Kick Off 4 anyone?


SKILLS AND THRILLS

One area where Kick Off 3 really out-scores the opposition is the emphasis which it places on Key Players. Nine varieties of Key Player are included, five of which are particularly interesting and bring some novel abilities to Amiga footie games:

PLAYMAKER
A Gazza-esque midfielder with flair, a reasonable turn of speed and strong passing skills. Oh, and he's probably a bit handy with a large bowl of pasta too.

SWEEPER
Working from just behind the defence, the Sweeper is both the last line of defence and the player who instigates counter-attacks, from deep in his own half. He has excellent passing and unparalleled distribution skills.

LIBERO
Rare in British football, a chap who plays just in front of the defence, but is always looking to push upfield.

TARGET MAN
The player to pick out with corners and other set-pieces where you throw a ball into the box. He has power in the air but is equally dangerous with his feet. A very valuable player.

GOAL MAKER
As a variant of the Playmaker, use this attacking midfield player to move the ball around up front and link with the strikers. He also has scoring ability himself.

ON THE TRAINING GROUND

Whereas most Amiga footie games simply offer you the option to remove the opposition from the pitch as a practice mode, Kick Off 3 goes the whole hog and gives you a range of training-ground possibilities that Big Jack himself would approve of.

First up is the dribble and shoot section which places a row of cones for you to dribble round between your sole player and the goal, and later even in the goalmouth. It's just like the methods they use in training at real football clubs - except that the Kick Off 3 players don't have mobile telephones. Or agents. It's tremendous fun though.

You can also brush up on your bendy, swervy banana shots at set-piece free kicks before entering the game proper, with cones simulating opposing players in a wall formation.

The third and final training mode arrives in the form of two team mates practising crosses and shots. Taking the striker's role, you've got to pick up both lofted and low balls pumped in from the wing and stuff 'em away in an appropriately onion bog-bulging sort of way.

Unfortunately, your provider is less than perfect in the crossing department and sometimes he even launches the ball over the goal before you even get the chance to reach it! Overall, though, this is a welcome extra section and one worth spending time with.


Kick Off 3 logo

Bereits die erst im letzten Heft angetretene AGA-Version dieses Drittaufgusses des Soccer-Klassikers konnte nicht restlos überzeugen - wie mag da erst die "Normalfassung" aussehen? Nun, besser als befürchtet!

Wie am 1200er ist auch hier ein Joystick mit zwei unabhängigen Feuerknöpfen erforderlich, außerdem müssen sich altgediente Off-Kicker wohl erst an die horizontale Scroll-richtung gewöhnen. Im übrigen halten sich die Neuerungen jedoch in Grenzen: 32 unterschiedlich begabte Mannschaften werden von maximal vier Spielern in WM-, Pokal-, Liga- oder Freundschaftsspiele gehetzt, wobei höchstens zwei Leute gleichzeitig agieren können.

Besonders komfortabel ausgefallen ist das Training mit seinen vielen übungsmöglichkeiten (Dribbeln, Elfmeter etc.), für das sogar eigene Highscores bereitstehen. Für Ecken und Freistöße sind darüber hinaus 30 vorgefertigte Spielzüge vorrätig, was ja auch kein alltägliches Feature darstellt.

Bei Anco ist man angeblich sehr stolz darauf, diese Konvertierung überhaupt hingekriegt zu haben; wir wollen uns über die anscheinend unvermeidlichen Einschränkungen gegenüber der "Vollversion" also nicht allzu sehr aufregen: Die ursprünglich 32 Farben hat man halbiert, die Animationen beschnitten, und wenn im Arbeitsspeicher "nur" 1 MB steckt, läßt das Spieltempo des öfteren empfindlich nach - und vor allem klappt der (Steuerungs-)Wechsel zum nächsten Balltreter dann nicht mehr so verzögerungsfrei, wie es eigentlich sein sollte.

Aber sogar bei 4 MB RAM muß man sich mit einem äußerst kurzen Replay, wenigen FX und einem verkleinerten Bildausschnitt begnügen.

Immer noch gut sind dagegen die Funk-Musik, die erträglichen Ladezeiten und natürlich das zeitlose Spielkonzept. (mm)



Kick Off 3 logo AGA Amiga Computing Bronze Award

Fouled by football? Want to give soccer a sending off? If not read on as Tina hacket referees the latest contender in the computer football world cup.

INTRODUCTION

The Kick Off series set new standards in football gaming as we knew it. Boasting top-quality graphics and superb playability they amazed the games-playing public. Then Cambridge-based software house, Sensible Software, came along and started off what can only be described as a fierce battle between these soccer legends and their hot new offering. Sensible Soccer. And now, when all the wounds are barely healed, the war is about to start up all over again with both companies intending to bombard the shops, promising even bigger and better games. Kick Off 3 goes into battle.

SIMULATION

Kick Off 3 gives you the choice between a fast arcade kick-about or a more realistic simulation. In this mode you will find all the rules included and very aspect of the real game closely adhered to. Many moves can be achieved, from the usual headers and tackles to the high kicks and after touch, resulting in a satisfying playing style that is close to the real thing.

All the countries involved have their own playing methods and each one brings its unique national character in to the game. Players also have different attributes. Some may have vision - players who will read the game and do long passes into space - whereas a player with high flair will take the ball towards the opposition half instead of passing it and will also tend to shoot at the goal from distance.

Different levels of difficulty can be chosen so both the expert and nove are catered for. The ball control setting, for instance, determines how easily you can turn with the ball. At international level you'll need a fair amount of experience to do this.


 

FLASHBACK

Would you be at all surprised if I mentioned Goal and Sensible Soccer here? No, you probably won't so I'll go ahead and compare Kick Off 3 to these footy greats. What more can be said about Goal though, it has everything - atmosphere, playability, great graphics and high addiction levels.

Sensible Soccer has all this and I'm afraid Kick Off 3 is the sweaty sock among this collection - it doesn't conjure the atmosphere, and it certainly isn't as instantly playable or as addictive.

Playability-wise it does kick some of the other recent releases we've seen lately in to touch though, and if you want to go and fork out on a two independent button joystick then you will get a pretty fine footy game with a wealth of options that could teach other footy games a thing or two.


 

SOUND

Abysmal is one of the more polite words I could use about the sound. The poor excuse for a 'crowd noise' is hardly worth mentioning - unless of course to stress how atrocious and annoying it is. There is no cheering when you make a break with the ball and when you actually score it is met with stony silence.

One crowd chant is used throughout which is pretty much indecipherable and is merely a half-hearted mumble. And as for the necessary sound effects that should convince you that you've given the ball a good wallop, or that you've skidded at full pelt down onto the pitch, well they too are a sorry case.

Enough said, I think. Buy it and play with the volume switch down by all means but then you'd miss the essential atmosphere, the build up of match tension, the euphoric cheer of the crowd as your shot hits the goal...

20%

 

GRAPHICS

Anco have really developed a good-lookign game and with regards to pitch view and sprite size they have come up with a winner. Viewed from a side-on, slightly elevated position, the game is clearly seen with none of the action being missed.

Sprites are in proportion to the ball and the stadium, giving an overall impression of realism. There are some nice animations, such as when a player scores, and the crowd and stadium are very detailed and nicely drawn.

73%

 

OPINION66%

A game of many, many options, Kick Off 3 really is exceptional in this respect. You can change almost anything and unlike some similar titles, these options really do alter the game. For starters, there's a Simulation or Arcade mode, ideal for either the serious followers of soccer or for those wanting a simple kick-about. There are Game Speed and Ball Control options and a great tactical element is brought in by changing players according to their abilities, deciding formations, and even playing manager by issuing team talks throughout the match. Practice mode comes in very handy for improving your skills and you can even have an overall assessment made of your abilities. Test your nerve in a penalty shoot-out or practice your dribbling around a set of cones and then shoot at the goal.

The many competitions you can take part in will ensure lasting appeal. Play in an international friendly, the World Cup, Anco Cup, Anco League, or test your playing skills in The Challenge. You can also replay some of your finer moments and see the match facts to accurately keep track of your progress.

This is a more than proficient footy sim but you should bear in mind that a two independent button joystick is essential and if sound effects are high on your list of priorities then it may not be for you.



Kick Off 3 AGA logo AGA A1200 Speziell

Wer auf dem grünen Digi-Rasen zu Hause ist, weiß, daß Kick Off-Vater Dino Dini das Anco-Label verlassen und für Virgin "Goal!" gemacht hat. Aber von wem stammt dan dieses Game? Und vor allem: Was taugt es?!

Die erste Frage läßt sich naturgemäß schneller beantworten, denn Dinos ehemaliger Spieltester Steve Screech legte hier selbst Hand an den elektronischen Ball. Für die Antwort Nummer zwei müsse wir etwas weiter ausholen:

Im Grunde hat der gute Steve einfach das alte "Kick Off"-Spielprinzip genommen und in die horizontale Scrollrichtung verlegt. Etwas zuviel der Ehrfurcht vor dem legendären Urahn, denn wer wirklich modernen Digi-Fußball spielen will, wird sich wahrscheinlich an einen der Konkurrenten halten - schon weil Kick Off 3 auch in puncto Spielbarkeit ein wenig antiquiert wirkt.

Und das, obwohl man hier natürlich schon auf eine Reihe neuer Features stößt, allerdings von recht unterschiedlichem Nutzwert. So dürfte dies das erste Amigaspiel sein, für das man unbedingt einen Joystick mit zwei voneinander unabhängigen Feuerknöpfen benötigt! Wer einen dieser raren Knüppel besitzt, kann dann allerlei Soccer-Aktrobatik vom Flugkopfball bis zum Fallrückzieher vollführen, was nach etwas Einarbeitung auch wunderbar klappt.

Damit die Kunststückchen am Screen entsprechend schön rüberkommen, haben die fleißigen Grafiker über 2.000 Einzelanimation gezeichnet, und die Musik übertrifft das hohe optische Niveau sogar noch. Die laschen Sound-FX vermögen indessen nur moderate Begeisterungsstürme auszulösen, genau wie die miese übersetzung der Bildschirmtexte.

Bei einem Teil der auf der Packung groß herausgestellten Leistungsmerkmale handelt es sich schlichtweg um Banalitäten, so ist "die gefürchtete Ballkorrektur" nicht anders als das heute praktisch überall mögliche Anschneiden des Balls, etwas für Bananenflanken.

Auch die Anzahl der 32 Teams stellt eher einen Negativrekort dar, und daß die Brasilianer dabei anders spielen sollen als die Engländer oder Deutschen, erkennt man nur bei sehr genauem Hinschauen.

Positiv bewerten muß man dagegen die 30 verschiedenen Spielzüge, die hier bei Ecken und Freistößen möglich sind. Ebenfalls nicht verkehrt ist die Wahlmöglichkeit zwischen Arcade- und Simulationsmodus, wobei dann entweder fast gar keine oder wirklich alle (Abseits-, Rückpaß- etc.) Regeln gelten.

Bloß der Vollständigkeit halber sei noch erwähnt, daß natürlich auch die altbekannten Standards wie WM-, Pokal- und Ligamodus oder gezieltes Einzeltraining der Kicker enthalten sind.

Unter dem Strich hinterläßt Kick Off 3 den Eindruck solider Hausmannskost, denn bei Spielbarkeit und Optionsvielfalt haben die Kollegen von "Sensible" bzw. "Wembley" doch die Nase vorn. Und daran dürfte sich auch bei den angekündigten Umsetzungen für A500 und CD32 kaum etwas ändern, so daß für die dritte Auflage des berühmten Genre-klassikers leider bloß ein gute Mittelplatz drin ist.



Kick Off 3 AGA logo AGA

By now, everybody in the world knows the rather sad story behind the belated release of Kick Off 3. Apparently, Anco decided that the computer press couldn't be trusted not to copy the game and distribute it to their piratey friends. Pah! Looks like an end to that particular lucrative financial venue then. The next thing you know, we'll have to start writing games reviews for a living. Where would we be then, eh? We'd probably have to tar ourselves with some kind of an alternative 'lack of integrity' brush.

BODIE & DOYLE
Don't worry. We're professionals at AP. We don't let insults like Anco's influence us one bit. If the game's a goal scorer, we'll say so. If it's crap or lacklustre, expect us to point that out in as fair and and logical a manner as possible. Ain't we top, guys?

The first thing that should strike you about this review is that it's on one page. Generally, that's an excellent pointer to the importance we attach to the game. It was hardly awaited with baited breath or raised expectations. Dino Dini doesn't work for Anco any more, and this Kick Off offering, unfortunately suffers for it.

It's a sie-view game a la Wembley International Soccer (AP39, 85%) and John Barnes Football (AP14, 74%). It suffers from the usual malady associated with this style of computer footy - you can't see enough of the pitch. To compensate for this, a scanner is provided. So that's all right then. (Sort of).

The other typical hitch of side-view games is here as well: large, stiffy-animated sprites. When the footballers run full flight, side-on, they look remarkably like the Blue Meanies from The Beatles' animated extravaganza Yellow Submarine. It's a staccato motion that looks awkward and tends to play up the (subliminally quite nauseating) jerkiness of the scrolling.


You can't see enough of the pitch

PUNT
The gameplay isn't so much off colour as not quite on song. Kick Off 3 successfully defeats the 'pinball' feel of the previous games, but has a stupid fault of its own. In this version, you can only utilise full control of the game with a two-button joystick: the second button takes care of pinpoint passing. Badly. You can play using a single-button stick, but you'll have to cope without the passing feature.

Haven't Anco heard of options screens where you can choose between single- and two-button joysticks? Brutal Sports Football's got one, and Wembley International Soccer automatically detects what sort of controller you've plugged in so that you don't even have to toggle an options screen.

It's a ridiculous 'feature' and one that reeks of marketing arrogance and myopia: the same arrogant myopia that accuses games mags of being frontmen for pirates. And don't think that I'm playing this because I'm upset at my integrity being questioned.

Consider the following. The game comes on two disks, but, you can guess, doesn't recognise a second disk drive. Does this strike you as the sort of programming that pays attention to detail? Thought not. Furthermore, there are crowd chants and the like throughout the game. But when you score, the silence is deafening. It robs you of the sense of achievement, and that is most definitely a Bad Thing - I'm taking three percent off for that transgression.

EXTRA TIME
If you're in the market for a side-view football game, go for Wembley International Soccer. It has more straightforward controls and far more options to help customise the gameplay and tactics. Avoid Kick Off.
It's a bit of a Duncan Ferguson, the over-priced Rangers striker, in the gameplay stakes: i.e. a waste of money.



Kick Off 3 AGA logo AGA

Anco are out to prove that they don't need Dino Dini to create a good arcade soccer game. Tony Dillon squeezes into his old school shorts.

Kick Off - the game that started it all. Up until the release of that most classic of football games, people were happy to kick the ball in a single style in eight directions and call that soccer. When Dino's first product hit the shelves, the reviewers hated it and the public loved it.

The amount of control over the ball you were offered had never been seen before, and the unique 'top down' view which gave you a far better view of the action were all the trademarks of this game and all the clones which followed in the years after. Kick Off 2 appeared, and the world went ga-ga. Then Dino left the Anco stable and created Goal! for Virgin, which to all intents and purposes was recognised by the public as Kick Off 3, and Anco were really left by the wayside.

Until now. Finally, after literally months of hype and guesswork, Kick Off 3 itself is finally available, and I can honestly tell you that a lot of people are going to be very, very surprised. Gone is the top view. Gone is the scanner. Gone are the extremely fiddly ball handling controls, and in comes a game that is far more traditional in terms of soccer gameplay than the previous two Kick Off games.

From the outside in, the first thing you are confronted with is the choice of games to play. You can either work through the standard friendly or league matches, or take part in The Challenge where you go against 30 other teams, one by one, until you reach the Anco All Stars at the end of the game. Plus, just to be a little topical, you can take part in the World Cup, from the qualifying rounds onward.

Once you have worked through the various menus, where you can lay out your tactics, decide which team you are going to be, which of the three speed levels you're going to play the game on, which of the three game levels you are going to play with (the easier levels make it much easier to control the ball, and in the hardest level you are really going to have a problem when it comes to kicking the ball straight), you can actually get into the game itself, and this is where most people are going to be really, really surprised.

As you can see from the screenshots, the game is viewed in the classic 'side-on' view - a view that was previously dropped, if you can remember that far back, because it didn't give the player enough information about where their players actually were on the pitch. A step backwards perhaps? Maybe, but then if the game was viewed from the top you wouldn't have the stylish animation this game possesses. Although the view might be dated, the game looks great, with large, well-drawn players and animations for every occasion. My favourite has to be the point when a player gets a yellow card and then stands with their arms away from their sides, shaking heads incredulously.

The question is, of course, how does it all play? The answer, I'm afraid to say, isn't a positive one. The practice mode, where you can perform exercises to improve your playing skills is a great idea, as it makes the game that little bit easier to get into, but at the end of the day the controls are just too sluggish and the actual movement of the players too slow to make the game really playable.

I really wanted to like this, as I'm a big fan of the first two, but it really just doesn't come up to scratch. It looks great, sure, but it just doesn't have the responsiveness needed for a really frantic soccer game.

The key to the first two games were the fact that they were incredibly smooth and responsive - you really felt like the players were under your control. With Kick Off 3, you seem to spend most of your time fighting the controls rather than flowing with them, and that just takes all the fun out of it.


TWO BUTTONS ARE BETTER THAN ONE

Possibly the most unusual thing about Kick Off 3 is that it requires a joystick with two or more independent fire buttons or a four button console joypad to play. Instead of having to learn various twists and patterns with the joystick to perform moves like bicycle kicks and banana shots, you need to use separate buttons at different times. Although this makes the game more playable in the long run, if you don't have a dual-button joystick, you're stuffed. Oddly enough, there is no support at all for single button joysticks!



Kick Off 3: European Challenge logo

Steve Bradley dons his Leeds United strip, firmly ties his bootlaces and leisurely strolls on to the pitch. But is he on the winning side?

Way back in the Summer of '94. at the height of World Cup fever, Kick Off 3 was released to a somewhat mixed reception. Despite the plethora of other football games hitting the shelves at that time, the strength of the Kick Off name ensured that it would be a high profile release. Anco, obviously deciding that Sensible Software had the top-down view perspective game firmly sewn up, opted for a sideways-viewed pitch and the results were, while aesthetically pleasing, rather patchy.

Kick Off 3 returns, this time wearing the cap of European Challenge, the package including five countries' premier sides and a miscellaneous bunch from a variety of others. Oh, and 24 international teams, too, as well as league and pre-set cup competitions. Again, Anco in their wisdom are releasing a game when the competition is at its strongest - this time, nicely coinciding with Sensible World Of Soccer's airing.

So, what's new? Well, the overriding feeling is that of a game which has undergone minor tweaking and not much else. The players now sport a delightful ring around them when in possession of the ball, they appear to move with more fluidity than their predecessors, yet their behaviour remains as erratic as ever.

A scene: ball rolls off toward corner flag with not a player in sight. Desperately, you keep your thumb on the pad/stick, in the vain hope that one of your men will scurry after the ball, and while this only takes seconds, it seems an age. In general, the game lacks polish - who is this team that plays in England called City? And why can't they get the colour of the kits right?

Team work
Interestingly, one of the options is the Team Talk. During the game, you can pause the action and offer the lads advice. One suggestion is that they 'sit on it', while others include, 'get stuck in' and, 'relax'. Quite how their behaviour is affected remains unclear. Must be me, I guess. Alan Hudson sat on the ball on his England debut against the Germans - my lads were not so controversial.

Graphically, it's a pretty affair. The sprites are huge and well-animated - one major plus point is that the players wear Charlie George-esque sideburns with aplomb, and this is surely the only footer game where every participant bar the goalies sport sweatbands.

But Kick Off 3 finds itself on a crowded shelf - the competition has wised-up since Kick Off ruled the Amiga and although this is by no means a bad game, it wavers in the face of Sensible, Empire Soccer and its rival, FIFA International Soccer.



Kick Off 3: European Challenge AGA logo AGA

Just how hard should I kick then?

Back again, eh Mr Off? Some games never learn. You may recall scheming Celt turncoat Steve McGill reviewing the original version of Kick Off 3 in issue 40, complaining that all manner of problems in the game detracted seriously from the amount of fun that could be had, and roasting the sound and controls in particular before awarding it a respectable-but-flawed 69%.

As with the A500 version of Bubble and Squeak last month, it appears that software publishers have taken note of our criticisms. With Kick Off 3- European Challenge, Anco have altered the sound so the crowd road appreciatively when you score instead of reacting with silence.

They've added some more control options so that people with a CD32 joypad can enjoy pressing loads of buttons. And on top of all that they've even decided to throw in all sorts of new leagues and competitions as well. For as well as playing in England, you can take your team to Germany Italy, France or Spain. A truly 'European' motif, there.

PILES
Scheming Celt turncoat Steve liked the 'pinbally' feel of the Kick Off series and, while I did like Kick Off 2 when it first appeared in 1990 (or thereabouts), Kick Off 3 loses the sense of accuracy and urgency that you should get when playing a football game.


All over you within a couple of minutes

As far as I'm concerned, football games are supposed to flow from move to move, leaving you in no doubt that you're in complete control of all the action. When, say, your centre forward plants a cultured volley into the top left hand corner as the result of a beautifully lofted cross from your winger, you have to be sure it was a result of your gaming skills.

With Kick Off 3 (European Challenge or nt) you'll be lucky if you manage to time a tackle correctly, or even get the ball clear of the defence. In an attempt to master control of the ball I tried every conceivable mixture of options, using each of the joypads scattered about the AMIGA POWER office in turn and even slowing the game down to novice level and investing much time on the practice screen. It was all to no avail.

You can't apply the right amount of power to a pass, and the time delay between pressing a button and the intended move actually happening is ridiculous. Also, the computer opponents always seem to know exactly what their fellow players are doing and so are all over you within a couple of minutes.

But the worst part about all of this is that although I felt I had almost no control over what was going on and very little chance to change the outcome of the game I still managed to score consistently. In each match I put away at least a couple of goals, and at one point managed an impressive 4-4 draw against Blackburn while playing as Manchester.

So then. This 'new and improved' version does indeed take the original version and 'new and improve' it, and it's refreshing to see a company responding to criticism, but the real problems with Kick Off 3 go much deeper. It's the game itself that's at fault, and no amount of new options can disguise that.



Kick Off 3: European Challenge AGA logo AGA

Price: £29.99 (AGA) Publisher: Anco 01322 292 513

Rik Skews mysteriously finds an envelope stuffed full of Kick Off 3 European Challenge disks in a motorway cafe and suffles away for a closer look.

It's hard to believe football games were once something of a rarity, good ones even more so. Released over four years ago now, Anco's original Kick Off changed that, and proved it was possible to put together a decent footy game which not only bore a resemblance to the real thing, but played well thanks to an intuitive control method.

This was followed by Kick Off 2, and is still reckoned by some to be the definitive footy title, both games created by Dino Dini and Steve Screech.

The dream team was split up mid way last year though, when Dini left for Virgin where he was since created Goal! for the Amiga, and more recently Dino Dini's Soccer for the consoles, both of which were well received by reviewers and the public alike.

This left Steve Screech to crack on with Kick Off 3 which was originally released four months ago. Taking a gamble, Anco abandoned the revolutionary top-down view in favour of a side-on TV-style horizontally scrolling view.

Sadly Kick Off 3 was merely an average title, not living up to the pedigree its predecessors had created. Apart from anything else, one of the main complaints was that the game was unplayable, without a two-button joystick, which meant that unless you owned either a Mega Drive or CD32 controller, the game was no go.

Flaws are gone
Kick Off 3 European Challenge aims to iron out the original flaws and introduce new features. It's now possible to use a standard one button joystick for instance. Most of the menu options are the same though, giving you the option to change everything from in-game tactics to game speed.

The choice of game speed is important, as this varies the amount of control you have over the ball, from glue-foot at the slowest speed to almost zero at the fastest.

Matches can either be friendlies, part of a league programme or the Euro '96 qualifying campaign, as opposed to the 1994 World Cup offered by Kick Off 3. Many of the greatest world and league teams are represented, but sadly the player's names are mis-spelled to avoid legal repercussions. As a football fan, that's something I found rather irritating, though to be fair there is an option to edit the names. I's difficult to fault Kick Off 3 European Challenge's options as they are amongst the most comprehensive around, in a soccer game or otherwise.

Is it any better?
As before though, once in to the actual game, disappointment begins to seep out of the monitor. One of the most obvious changes is the improved audio, but to be honest it still sounds poor. It would seem as though only small samples have been used because the stadium rumble continuously loops, while scoring a goal results in some amusingly high pitched chants that sound more like a car changing gear than a celebratory roar.

Graphically it's more polished though, with smoother scrolling backgrounds and improved animation on the players, although they're still not in the same league as FIFA's devilishly sexy player sprites.

These cosmetic touch ups have made little difference to the gameplay though. From watching the pre-match kickabout it's clear the players have a wide range of moves available to them. It's a real shame then that the only one that can be pulled off by anything other than complete fluke is a 50 yard punt on goal.

Controlling the players is definitely easier with a one button stick than the original joypad option, but again pulling off the move you want is too difficult. And this is Kick Off 3 European Challenge's main failing. Control is the most important factor in a soccer game, and this one has too little of it. It still feels sluggish and unresponsive, even when the fastest speed is selected.

Kick Off 3 European Challenge is not a bad game, just average, and with the likes of Sensible World of Soccer around it hardly warrants purchase.

It's a shame really, because there's the makings of a good football game here, and compared to the similar looking FIFA Soccer I felt more in control of the proceedings. Perhaps a Kick Off 4 will manage to blend more successfully the realistic perspective that this game offers and combine it with the classic gameplay of its top-down predecessors.