The Evolution of Soccer Video Games – The Early Years (1980 – 1993)

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Soccer is a global phenomenon. There has been an explosion of popularity for the sport since the late 90s, and it has gone from being a regional sensation to having fans world-wide. There’s a limitless number of fans for Soccer from all around the world. However, there are none more in love with the sport than the people of Europe, South America, Africa, Central America and Asia. This is a far reaching and varied demographic in itself.

It’s virtually impossible to find places where Soccer fans do not reside. The impact of Soccer is tremendous on the world, in particular in Europe and South America. The tournaments fill people up in stadiums together. They also help in racking up business models that are untouchable by outside sources. If a popular Soccer player such as Christiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi are part of an ad campaign for a product, that product will sell tenfold. 

It is to no surprise that soccer video games have proved so popular worldwide. So, with that in mind, here’s a brief history of the early years in Soccer video games!

The Game That Started It All – NASL Soccer

NASL Soccer is the game that started it all when it was released in 1980. This was the first game to bring the side-perspective into play. It was the inspiration for the whole Soccer video game scene that came from it. The game was a massive hit for Mattel’s Intellivision home video gaming console, and was played by even those who weren’t fans of the actual sport. While NASL’s time ran out quite quickly, the side-perspective that NASL Soccer brought to the table was there to stick around. This is exactly the perspective that the most popular modern Soccer games such as FIFA 21 and eFootball PES 2020 utilize.

This came at such a perfect time, as the 1980s were known to be one of the darkest eras for Soccer as a sport. The 1980s saw an era of the ‘Hooligan Uprising’, which followed the 1980 UEFA European Cup. This was also a time where fantastic players and teams were giving it their all to succeed in the sport. These were revolutionary days for the team’s organizations, especially since they had world-class players onboarded. 

Diego Maradona was in his prime, Michel Platini won three Ballon d’Or trophies in a row and Zico was hitting the hardest to score goals in Soccer history. The teams back then were phenomenal too, with West Germany having won the UEFA 1980 European Cup and Liverpool ranking as the best European team. The 1980s in Soccer are also known for the ecstatic France vs Portugal match. This took place in 1984 and is still known as one of the greatest Soccer matches to ever exist.

Influential Soccer Games of This Era

Aside from Mattel’s hard-hitting NASL and the fantastic influence that this game had, there were other notable entries to the genre that truly spearheaded the Soccer video games scene. Atari’s Pele’s Soccer 1980 was an underwhelming rival to NASL. It had a top-down view and little game variety but it still had a huge fan following. Atari Soccer was a smash hit for the Atari 2600. It was a tougher game to master but it made its way into the homes of many players. Published by Universal, Indoor Soccer was one of the more influential games as well. It gave you a view of the whole pitch, which and scoring was much harder in a two-player game mode.

The most innovative game of this era was perhaps Realsports Soccer which was released in 1982 to global success and became one of Atari’s best Soccer themed video games to date. The game introduced several things. It had a camera that followed the player, it had sharp colors to let you know which side you’re controlling, and the movement was perhaps the most advanced at the time. International Soccer also released around this time, showcasing innovative graphical fidelity and art design that has managed to stay in Soccer games even now! Nintendo World Cup released in 1990 and added some more groundbreaking features such as sliding and tackling, which remain competitive features even today.

Eventually, the year 1993 came rolling in and with that came FIFA International Soccer,  by a ‘little-known’ company called Electronic Arts. After that, the sports game genre had forever been changed. This was a genuinely surprising game, it combined all of the elements which made games such as NASL, Indoor Soccer, Realsports Soccer and of course, Nintendo World Cup. 

The camera angles were adjusted for a proper user experience, it now followed the player which you controlled. It also combined mechanics such as sliding, dribbling, shooting and passing all into one control scheme. This made sure that players were able to perform whatever they wanted in quick succession. The most innovative and groundbreaking things that Fifa International Soccer added to the genre was multiplayer, which let you and another play-off against one another in friendly competition.

Looking at it from an objective view, the standout games of this era would have to be NASL, Nintendo World Cup, FIFA International Soccer and Realsports Soccer. These games brought so much to the table and they have lasting effects on games being released even today. Naturally, a sport so popular would definitely do well in the world of video games, so we’re glad to see that Soccer video games have become so huge!

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