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International Superstar Soccer 64 Package Art
GENRE
Sports
DEVELOPER
Major A
PUBLISHER
Konami
NUMBER OF PLAYERS
1-4
CONTROLLER PAK
yes
RUMBLE PAK
no
RAM PAK
no
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International Superstar Soccer 64

At last year's Shoshinkai Show, game designer Shigeru Miyamoto (Mario, Yoshi's Island) was asked whether he thought third-party games could live up to the high quality of Nintendo's in-house titles. His answer (I paraphrase): "Yes they can. And some are even better." Miyamoto's enthusiasm was sparked by long-time Nintendo-developer Konami's first N64 title, a Japanese soccer sim called "J-League Perfect Striker."

Now, half-a-year later, Konami finally releases the popular sports title in the U.S., with tweaked AI, western players and a slew of options that has no equal among all currently available N64 games. The name of the game: International Superstar Soccer 64. The verdict: The best on any system.

visuals

Don't let the rather jerky intro camera fool you, this game looks great! The N64 is ideal for 3D games that show terrain graphics at an angle, since the hardware allows for smooth ground textures with no visible pixels. The attention to detail is typically Konami: There are a number of selectable stadiums that distinguish themselves with different tribunes and advertisements, and even the way the grass is mowed. For example, in the African Stadium, the grass pattern is circular, whereas in a European one, it shows the familiar stripes. The tribunes are packed with people that wave the flags of the playing teams. The audience is created with animated bitmap textures, and it generally looks pretty good (unless you're really up-close). Again it's in the details: Shoot a goal and your fans will go nuts waving their flags.

The basic stadium graphics really shine when you get treated to the different play conditions (you can change them manually before the match, too). My favorite is playing a night game in the rain (there is also snow). All players will have multiple shadows, and the whole field will look as if was really illuminated by overhead floodlights. Again, Konami's attention to detail (maybe only few players will notice this, but I got a kick out of it): If you're playing in a stadium with floodlights on all sides, your teams members will cast four shadows -- play in a stadium with two bands of lights on only two sides, and there will be only two shadows. Yes!

To create a sense of depth, developer Major A even employed a tiny bit of fogging (not to hide pop-up, mind you) for a more realistic look. The camera always keeps up with the game, but can look a little jerky when you change directions. It would have been cool, if there was a little bit of a buffer to smoothen it out -- but it works well, and doesn't disturb the game. There could be a couple more camera angles, though.

Animations: And then there are the player animations... If you thought Acclaim's motion capture looks good, wait until you see the ISS64 players do their warm-up stretches. Konami did a truly brilliant job here. The players run around the field like real people, turn their heads to look for the ball, slide and fall on wet grass, help each other up, complain to the referee, run backwards, roll around the ground when injured, carry out feints and dribbles and raise their arms in victory, perform dances and flips and all those little things you would expect to see in a real game when someone scores a goal. Squint your eyes and you would think this is a real FIFA broadcast. I swear, you will get a kick out of seeing the other player's defender being called to the referee, who angrily pulls out a red card and procedes to write down the offenders name, inspite of that player's gestures and complaints. There are some minor "jerks" when the players transition from one animation pattern to another (e.g. from a kneeling cheer to turning and running).

audio

ISS64's sound is pretty good, with different levels of crowd roars and cheers (and boos), complimented by some drum patterns and horns coming from the tribunes. The kick/ball noises are all 100% authentic, as is the "clang" when you hit the goal post. The players themselves don't shout (which I think is an oversight in all current socer games), but the super-detailed animation more than makes up for it. The lack of a dolby-surround license is definitely disappointing for owners of surround systems. Don't worry, there is still stereo and rear-speaker separation, but it's not on par with FIFA 64's stand-out crowd cheers and chants (that game's only high-point). And there are even some decent South-American midi tunes that accompany the selection screens and the training mode.

ISS64's announcer really casts a favorable light on the speed of a cartridge game. The guy never really shuts up, almost all the voice calls are on time, and the samples are clear and easy to understand. There is enough variation to keep the running commentary from getting annoying (there is, ouf course, an option to switch it off), but some lines do seem to appear more often that others. I think I could do without a "he may use this to send men forward..." once in a while. Some of the narration can sound a bit unnatural at times, too. It seems that Konami recorded the narrator saying each country's name in three different ways, e.g. "Wales," "Wales!!!" and "Wales?" The different intonations are used where appropriate, but some country names do sound out of place at times. For example, if you can imagine this: "Wales? .. desperately needs a goal now." In the Japanese version, the programmers had it much easier since the intonation of the Japanese language is much more flat and straight than English. But it's easy to overlook these little imperfections. Switch off the commentator once, and you will see what a big difference it makes to shoot a goal without the announcer screaming ecstatically "Goooooooaaaaaal! Goaaal!" It's just not the same. Overall, definitely the best use of voice in any N64 game next to Star Fox 64, and definitely faster and much more on-time than in CD sports titles.

gameplay

Yes, this is it the most-playable, best looking, and most responsive soccer game yet. ISS64 follows the basic association rules, with eleven players on one team (plus reserves), three player substitutions per match, free- and penalty kicks for fouls, offsides, yellow and red cards, extra time and penalty kick shoot-outs.

ISS64 offers six game modes and it's all pretty easy to get into: Select your team, select your stadium and you're ready to go. But to really get the most of the game, you should also determine your attack strategy, formation and look at your player stats (players may have yellow cards and show varying levels of condition, like stamina, injury and fatigue) and carry out substitutions if necessary. The strategy selection can really make a difference and adds a whole new level to gameplay. During a match you can implement a selected strategy by pressing the Z-Trigger together with the C-Buttons. This way, you can pull off the dreaded "offside trap," have all players run forward on command or even swarm on the enemy in possession of the ball.

Just like in real soccer, ISS64 uses overtime. When there were a lot of fouls in the match, the referee will let the teams continue to play for a while, even after the official playtime is over.

The sheer number of moves and kicks the player can pull of is truly remarkable. And then there is the responsiveness. There is no lag time like in FIFA 64, no stutter (only in the most crowded goal scenes will you feel slight, negligible slow-down). Everything moves as fast as in an arcade sports game, making ISS64 one of the most playable games on the N64, and the number one choice for multiplayer fun.

Control: Rather than simply sticking to the 16-bit style digital control, Konami gave ISS64 full analog support. Push your stick a little, and your player will run slowly, push it all the way and he will run, press C-Down and he will sprint. The range of motions is perfect. The control stick lets you do quick turns and such great dribbles that you feel like constantly patting your own shoulder (if you had a hand free). Take a look at the basic number of moves you can do (since many people don't know soccer terms.

How the hell can you remember all this? Well, that's the beauty of it: ISS64 is so playable, beginners won't have a problem getting a hang of the basic controls. Once you are getting better, you can try and learn some of the more professional play (step overs and bicycle kicks are sweet!). Remember, all those kicks and techniques are just for the regular field player's use.

multiplayer

Multiplayer modes: You can play all modes with up to four players (teamwork). The open game also lets you play 1 vs 1, 1 vs 2, 1 vs 3, 2 vs 2, 2 vs computer, 3 vs computer, 4 vs computer and even computer vs. computer. You can imagine what a ball you'll have when sitting with four of your friends in front of one screen and kicking some major grass. It takes some time to get used to the fact that all players have the same colored indicators (but in different shapes), but once you got that down, there is no stopping. As far as multiplayer games go, ISS64 has replaced Mario Kart 64, Star Fox 64 and Wayne Gretzky as the ultimate gameplay experience. Way head of Hexen, and a whole halftime ahead of FIFA Soccer 64

overall

With International Superstar Soccer, Konami has even surpassed their own line of soccer games on the SNES in most aspects. The graphics, play control and the addition of inspired features such as the "through-pass" make this one of the most versatile soccer games ever created. The only real complaints I have are about the inadequate manual (they don't even explain some of the stats displays, such as the players' color meters that show how good they are at defense, attack, etc) and the just above average crowd cheers.

But apart from those minor quibbles, this is easily the best third party game for the N64, and has no problem standing right up there with the Miyamoto classics. From the ultra-realistic graphics to the addictive multiplayer championships, Konami has made an entry into 64-bit gaming that will not be forgotten for a long time. And they did it with such style and an eye for detail that there is almost nothing that ISS64 doesn't do better than any other soccer title on any other system. If you are a sports game fan and were waiting for a reason to buy an N64 look no further. If you are a developer working on an N64 soccer game: Boy, are you in trouble now!

final score 9.8/10





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Staff Avatar Peer Schneider
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