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Retro Reflection: International Superstar Soccer

I can’t play this game. I just can’t bloody play it. I’ve tried and I’ve failed… I’m sorry.

I’ve put hours and hours (hence the late review) into International Superstar Soccer (ISS) on the SNES, only to be driven into fits of rage the likes of Christian Bale would be jealous.

I have to be honest; it isn’t because the game is terrible – it’s not – but I can’t get into it. By that I mean I can’t score at all… ever – a fundamental part of football games I’m sure you’ll agree. It doesn’t matter what I do, the ball won’t go into the net. It doesn’t matter which team I pick either. I’ve picked teams that have thrashed me, seemingly with 11 Lionel Messi’s on the pitch, but under my control the team apparently consists of 11 Emile Heskey’s heading down blind alleys, bumbling over the ball and generally missing the space between the goalposts.

It was going quite well. ISS includes a training mode that instructs you in the basics, albeit without many instructions. I’d completed the level one training with flying colours – it included tutorials on passing, dribbling, and shooting. It was pretty basic, to the point where I decided I didn’t need to do any more. How hard could it be? I was ready for an actual match.

I went with England because I’m patriotic like that. My patriotism obviously got the better of me and I, like all other Englishmen, assumed I could beat any team because… well, because we are En-ger-land ennit. In my moment of arrogance, I chose to face Brazil.

Ah, who can forget real England stalwarts such as “A Regis”.

I’ve spent hours endlessly watching England’s Euro 96 penalty loss to Germany as it is less painful compared to what Brazil inflicted on my team of made up players. I lost 6-0 and recorded all of zero shots on target and zero shots off target. My proudest moment arrived when there was an opening between the Brazilian defence, which sounds far more appealing than it really is – I wish it was a euphemism, but unfortunately not. I went for the shot, only to press the lob button and kindly offer the match ball to a distant fan.

There is a lot to like about ISS. It’s a throwback to an era when arcade-like football games were the norm, but ISS tries to lean towards simulation… a little bit anyway. There are nice touches, such as the photographers lining the advertising boards around the pitch, and the teams are based on either offensive or defensive tactics, but additional tactical changes can be made. I can see the ambition from the developers in these early iterations and clearly the passing mantra instilled into the sequels was in place from the start.

All sim-like qualities, though, disappear faster than Kerry Katona’s dignity in the presence of alcohol when the words “GOOOAAALLL!” bellow out from the TV and flash across the screen. It gets quite annoying after the sixth time in a row – I’d rather hear Cliff Richard’s “Congratulations” on continuous loop; oh wait, that’s Frankie & Benny’s when it’s someone’s birthday.

ISS does look good and plays surprisingly well. The isometric view was a necessity to give the impression of depth and it’s zoomed in quite close to the pitch, meaning no skimping on player models or animations, which are quite smooth.

That’s about as much as I can say about it though. I get so frustrated with this game I’ve begun generating enough heat to warm my entire house. I play it much the same way football fans watch their team – everything is going wrong for me and it’s all going right for the opposition… oh, and the ref’s an arse and doesn’t know what he’s doing. The other team players seem to run at me, spin my midfielder round and are then let through by my defenders like they’re employed by the French military. I try to do the same, run past a couple of players, spin around needlessly and lose the ball. The enemy (this is how I view “them” now) tackles are timed to perfection, whereas they instinctively know when and where I will tackle. It’s unfair.

On a basic level, I think that’s what I find frustrating. I know I’m losing because I’m rubbish, but it doesn’t feel that way – it feels like the game is working against me in some way. If the computer did not score at every opportunity and mess up every now and then, I might be pacified. But I’m not. I’m left feeling I need to watch Jeremy Kyle or Big Brother to make me feel better about myself.

Plus the build-up of samba-like drums when either team approaches the opposition goal is hardly helpful. They fuel this horrible build-up of emotions and pressure as I edge nearer the goal, like there isn’t enough pressure already. It’s almost as if the game is willing me to lose the ball, saying “Nearly there, nearly there. Just a bit furt…ohhh you’ve lost the ball, that’s a shame”. Bloody thing. I spent £4 to be tortured and toyed with – local Peterborough “establishments” offer better rates for the same service.

Still, the drumming noise is better than anything Andy Townsend can come up with.

I’ve been spoilt by the recent FIFA games, particularly FIFA 10 onwards. The level of realism and unpredictability is amazing – it’s something we forget because we’re so used to it, but recreating the beautiful game is a huge challenge. I thought I could look beyond that though and get stuck into ISS as I grew up on FIFA 97 onwards. However, it wasn’t to be.

I really wanted to like ISS. I gave it every chance and it’s not the fault of the game. The blame lies with me, but there’s only so many friends I’m willing to lose as a result of my stress-induced outbursts. I thought the change of pace would be welcome compared to the simulation heavyweights of today, but sports is one genre where more power really has meant better games. Unlike other retro titles, where gameplay elements can put some current games to shame, football is one of the few exceptions.


  1. Danny Morgan

    Thanks a lot. I have tried a couple more times since, but I get frustrated and then longingly look at FIFA. Shame really.