Swimming always troubled me. Up till the age of eight I couldn't do it at all, and every afternoon had to flounder about in the shallow end with children much younger than me, and the chlorine stinging my eyes. I tried to do it, I really did and did just what it said on the posters around the walls. But while everyone else floated, I just seemed to sink.
My arm bands were getting righter every year, and my nose clip had long since stopped preventing the icy water from filling my nostrils. And afterwards, when the rest of the class had gone home, I'd sit in the changing rooms and weep, the tears flowing down my legs and trickling into the drain the floor.
Until finally, one day, at the age of eleven, I managed it. I had to hold on to the side a bit while the teacher wasn't looking, and afterwards be pulled from the water exhausted, but I finally managed to swim from one end of the pool to the other. Now I swim 50 lengths before breakfast every morning, but the day I lined up in front of the whole school, oblivious to the way I towered above the children next to me, and received my one length swimming certificate from the headmaster was one of the proudest of my life.
And this is the other one.
POWER All-Time Top 100 and the AMIGA
I stand before you today, noble readers of AMIGA POWER, holding a copy of Sensible World of Soccer, the greatest computer game ever created. It is, basically, Sensible Soccer - which still reigns supreme at the tops of both the AMIGA POWER All-Time Top 100 and the AMIGA POWER Readers' All-Time Top 100 - only with a whole load of management options that open up whole new vistas of potential. (Er. Am I rising to the occasion okay here?)
Now, we've written far too many reviews of Sensible Soccer to go through it all again from the beginning. So if you're in need of a recap, the original review in AP15 wasn't too bad, if a little short, and there was a one-page review of Sensible Soccer 92/93 in AP21 which'll bring you up to the date on the current state of play. Oh, except for International Sensible Soccer, but we didn't bother doing a review of that because they'd just put a referee in and that was about it.
So, think of International Sensible Soccer, except with a small rotating 'S' and the time at the top of the screen (if you're playing on a 1200), a stadium around the edge of the pitch (which actually improves the atmosphere immensely), a stats-screen after each match with details of possession and so on, the players each having individual strengths and weaknesses (more of which later), the tactics altering the way the game feels slightly (more of that later too), and there being a bit more control over tackles and headers (in fact, there's more on all this later), and that's the football playing side of SWOS. It's still great, and by a long way the best football game on the Amiga.
Then - and this is the biggie - there's all the management stuff which has been heaped on top.
Regular readers may realise that I'm not the most avid devourer of football management games. So I've enlisted the help of Paul and Steve, who relish football management games and who, through me, will explain how SWOS fits in to the general football management scheme of things.
Is it just an ordinary football game tarted up a bit with a rather more extensive-than-usual set of front-end menus? Or is it, bu neatly straddling the management and arcade football genres, about to turn the games world on its head, devastating entire continents with rivers of molten lava as it crushes the likes of Premier Manager 3 and Tactical Manager with one hand and Football Glory and Goal with the other?
Well... that might be going a bit far. SWOS has lots of management-style options, but it doesn't quite go in to the detail of a dedicated football management game. It doesn't have the financial jiggery-pokery of something like Tactical Manager - you don't get the opportunity to count up gate receipts, or improve your stadium. You have to worry about major stuff like transfer fees, obviously, but even then it's done in a rather clinical manner, with little opportunity of picking up a bargain through careful battering.
And there's none of the human element that makes On The Ball World Cup Edition so successful, with its eschewing of stats in favour of players' girlfriends and your own home life.
Instead, SWOS gives you an extraordinarily detailed, intense level of control over match tactics. More so, even, than in Premier Manager 3, the virtues of which Steve was extolling a few pages ago. For example, as well as instructing an individual player to move out of position when the ball moves to certain areas of the pitch (12 areas in PM3, 35 in SWOS), you can go on to specify the direction in which he should run if the ball is then kicked from that spot to another.
So you could have overlapping full backs in a 4-4-2 who would run round a midfield winger with the ball and provide him with another passing option, just as in real life. (The only thing you won't be able to do is engineer an off-side trap - Sensible have always excluded the off-side rule from their games, disapproving it on the grounds that it's a bit silly).
Probably notice once they've ploughed
In a way, by looking at options available in SWOS, you can begin to understand why Sensi was such a good game to begin with. All this stuff has always been intrinsic to the way Sensi players behave, explaining why the game feels so much like real football. It's just that now you have the chance to fine-tune it all for yourself, and watch the results in action.
And then you've got a simply staggeringly array of teams to amuse yourself with. SWOS, in fact, includes about 1,500 teams from all around the world, encompassing over 36,000 players, and Sensible have hyped in the stats for every single one of them. And they tell us everything was up to date as of approximately 15 minutes before the game went of to be duplicated - even for the really obscure foreign teams.
All the teams are arranged into their own cups and leagues - 146 in all, ranging from the FC Cup to the Taiwanese Premier League. And, of course, you have the option to customise the teams in any way you see fit, and devise your own competitions. Phew.
The first thing Sensi veterans will probably notice once they've ploughed through all the menus and got a match started is that the players don't respond to the ball as readily as they used to.
There's nothing wrong here - it's because you really need to play around with the tactics editor before your players will start to move about properly (at least, we think so, although Sensible claim you shouldn't notice any difference) - but it does make the game a little less accessible.
You'll appreciate the time being on the screen all the time, and possibly be slightly irritated by the spinning 'S'. The stadium's good, as are the new crowd chants, which vary depending on where in the world you're playing. I can't honestly say I noticed the new way that tackles and headers work until it was pointed out to me (now, if you tap the fire button lightly as you go in for a tackle or header, you can nudge the ball gently rather than booting it for miles), but the facility's there if you want it.
But now, as you're playing, you can think: "Hmm, I could do with my defenders coming forward a bit more when the ball's up the other end". And then you can actually go into the tactics editor and sort it out. This is undoubtedly A Good Thing.
Alternatively, you might be approaching SWOS as a seasoned football management games player. And you might be a bit skeptical about the omission of stuff like gate receipts and stadium improvements.
Our Steve, for example, is a committed On The Ball fan, precisely because it goes into so much detail about all that kind of thing. He enjoys keeping tabs on his players' love lives (in a strictly professional sense) and getting home to find his wife's left him because he's been spending so much time at work. He also likes all the badly-drawn pictures of men in sheepskin coats. Steve is the sort of person SWOS will find it hardest to appeal to. However, Steve thinks SWOS is the greatest game he's ever played.
Paul, on the other hand, plays Championship Manager '93. He laps up its reams of facts and figures, and doesn't miss the plot stuff of silly pictures one bit. Paul also thinks SWOS is the greatest game he's ever played. Although it helps, of course, that he also likes Sensible Soccer a lot.
The brilliant thing about SWOS if you're playing it from a manager's point of view is that, once you've picked your squad, sorted out their formation and fiddled about with all the tactics, you can then sit back and watch the results unfold before your eyes in the form of the best football game on the Amiga. It's stacks better than a textual match commentary, or even Premier Manager 3's graphical display, the sole drawback being that you don't know what the players who aren't around the ball are up to because you can only see a small portion of the pitch on the screen. And you can interrupt the match to give the players new instructions based on the tactics you came up with before the match, and make substitutions and everything. And, of course, if you're a player/manager you'll be able to join in the game as well.
The ultimate way of playing SWOS would be to follow through an entire career as a player/manager, which throws up some quite terrifying theoretical numbers. A career lasts 20 years, and if you're really good and get through to all the finals and everything, you can expect to play a maximum of about 70 games per season. At a minimum game-length of three minutes, plus a couple of minutes per game on the menus, that's a total playing time of, er, (3+2)x70x20 = 7000 minutes, or 117 hours, or nearly five days, playing day and night without even stopping to go to the toilet or anything. Blimey.
Your career will be further enlivened by an achievement screen, which updates you on your progress, and the possibility of being offered an international management job if you do really well.
While there'll always be room for quirky rivals like Empire Soccer on the one hand, and On The Ball on the other, Sensible World of Soccer does, basically, destroy all its direct rivals in an explosion of apocalyptic dimensions like that bit in Star Wars where the Death Star blows up Princess Leia's planet. No matter how many football games you've already bought, this is better than all of them.