Thursday, January 13, 2011

At Random: Goal! (NES, 1989)

Sports games don't get a lot of love from retro gamers or collectors -- the qualities that make a sports game fun to play don't change much over time, so as the technical state of the art moves on, so generally does the gaming community.  There's really no reason (beyond pure nostalgia) to go back and seriously play an old Genesis version of, say, Madden Football.  Still, I have a number of sports titles in my collection, and my latest completely-at-random pick has come up with Jaleco's Goal! for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System.

Jaleco found American success on the NES with Bases Loaded, a baseball title that aimed for greater realism than the cartoony R.B.I., and a similar design approach is evident in this 1989 soccer title.  The game features full teams of 11 members each, with small sprites to suit the hardware's capabilities, and an isometric playing field, which improves visibility and also reduces the number of sprites likely to end up on the same horizontal line.

According to the box copy, each player is rated in 7 different skill categories to lend some simulation-style realism to the action, though as far as I can determine there's no way to view or modify these stats.  There's a World Cup mode, and a full tree-based tournament mode, with real cities but no licensed teams -- oddly, the European version features the same American cities as the U.S. release.

It's easy to forget that in 1989, professional soccer was still struggling for recognition in the US.  The North American Soccer League went defunct a few years earlier, and the game box does its best to promote the game in decidedly nationalistic terms, mentioning chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" and calling it "America's favorite new sport, soon to become your favorite new home video game, thanks to Jaleco!"  The box cover of my beaten-up, used video rental store copy (apparently a promotional edition) also promises to kick in fifty cents in the buyer's name to support the U.S. Soccer Team and Youth Soccer Association (Details Inside!)

No, I did not actually pay $9.95 for this game.

As an 8-bit NES game, the game gets a little chuggy at times, with the framerate dropping substantially when too many players are active onscreen.  But it plays well in general, and the cartridge is large enough for some impressive illustrative animations -- soccer victory laps, with a nice "blurred" depth-of-field effect:

Detailed referee calls (though how the computer team managed to get OFFSIDE, I'll never know):

And a small complement of halftime cheerleaders wearing wholly inadequate skirts:

The game plays fair by using the same AI for the player's teammates as for the opposing team -- maybe too fair.  In fact, I found that I could put the controller down altogether, and my team would still defend fairly competently, keeping the ball out of our goal and somehow managing to dodge flurries of inept steal attempts by the CPU-controlled team.

Of course, this is no way to win; I got better at defense as the game progressed, but never managed to score a goal of my own, ending my first game with an embarrassing 4-0 defeat:

There's also a simple goal-shooting competition mode, which features larger, more detailed sprites than the main game:

Goal! is one of those games that, from today's perspective, simply exists.  It was a decent soccer title in its time, but despite a sequel and a 16-bit SNES version, the franchise died out before 3-D hardware and the FIFA series came to the fore.  It's a very typical 8-bit soccer game -- competent, and fun, but unspectacular.

Easy to come by, easy to afford, if you're in the market:


  1. I owned this one! It provided a early glimpse of generational differences accompanying new technology. I beat my dad, and he promptly accused me of not telling him all the rules.

  2. O encroaching age, that leads us to plead ignorance rather than admit reduced capacity. :)