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games: sensible soccer 2006
Football crazy.Given that a certain football event has colonised the TVs, pubs and minds of much of the country (nay, world) at the moment, it's probably only right that we turn our attention to the digital versions of the beautiful game.
Thing is, while FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer may have dominated for years – indeed, they're both still sitting pretty in the games charts with their latest instalments – it's Sensible Soccer that I'm enjoying. It's just more accessible and broadly appealing.
Back in the early days of gaming, anyone so inclined could pick up a game and play it. But as the medium has evolved, games have become incredibly complicated and genres highly specialised. Even an experienced gamer, when faced with a mainstream title outside a genre they've been following over the years, can be boggled. If you've mostly played role-playing games, trying a Real Time Strategy, for example, could be boggling (especially if the instructions aren't clear or the game lacks a comprehensive tutorial).
Football games – and basically that means EA's FIFA and Konami's Pro Evo – are a case in point. They have been a mainstay of console gaming; take a straw poll of men in their 20s and it's likely that those who don't consider themselves gamers, but are football fans, will own a PS2 and use it pretty much exclusively for FIFA or PES. They're a group of people who very likely have grown up through sundry franchise instalments and know the games’ very particular rules and variations closely. They've got a strong relationship with this strain of sports game that has increasingly been about providing a very elaborate, detailed simulation experience, with leagues and player likenesses.
But you know what? Some of us can't be bothered with all that. Some of us aren't interested in digital players that closely resemble Rooney or Crouch or whoever. Some of us really can't be bothered with the convoluted esoterica of the FIFA and PES approach to digital footie.
While Mario Smash Football did offer great pick up and playability, without complex rules and too many variables, for many it was just too cartoony, too unrelated to the realities of actual football. Which is where Sensible Soccer 2006 comes in. This revival of the classic franchise offers an alternative both to the all-out silliness of Nintendo's title and to the potentially alienating intricacies of FIFA and PES. It's fairly easy to pick up and play without extensive knowledge of contemporary football videogames, and while its design involves cartoony big-headed players, its play finds a middle ground between the obsessively "authentic" approach and the goofily casual.
The control scheme is basic but fairly effective, the play is dynamic and lively and the whole package is refreshingly accessible. It's not flawless (the controls can frustrate, the camera movement distract), but then Sensible Soccer 2006 feels much more like a half-drunk knockabout in the park with mates than a high-stakes professional match.
Sensible Soccer 2006 is out now on Xbox, PS2, PC and mobile.
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