In the late 80’s and early 90’s Dino Dini was a well-known name in the world of game development. The most well know franchises were the “player-manager” games and the “kick-off” series. Starting with the original Kick-Off for Atari and Amiga consoles in 1989, the franchise developed a number of sequels on multiple formats. At one point Kick-Off had its own version of a console war as gamers fought over whether it or Sensible Software’s Sensible Soccer series was the greatest simulation game. Now almost 28 years since the release of the first title, Dino has revamped the series with “Kick-Off Revival.” Being the resident Brit on staff, and jumping on retro and revival titles since joining, I agreed to give the PC port of this a look.
The only violence seen is during slide tackles in game. More often than not these are punished by the referee.
There is no language when playing the offline game. I was unable to test the online functionality and can’t comment if there is a voice chat option.
The game implies a reward for perseverance.
I have played a number of soccer simulation games in my life and in fact played Super Kick Off when I was younger. Combined with my on again, off again relationship with my chosen soccer team, I have just enough concept of soccer to know the meaning of the offside rule at least. The key features of Kick-Off when it was first released was what the developer considered to be a realistic approach to the game. It maintained this through the use of yellow and red cards for fouls, referees with different temperaments, and the inclusion of tactics and other attributes that genuinely made some aspects of the original game feel like the real thing. Whether the revival maintains this, however, is something to be decided.
First off, let’s discuss the aesthetics. The look of the game is beautiful. A lot of effort has gone into upgrading the original graphics without compromising on the original look. It is clear that you are playing a retro title and yet it manages to improve the look with clearer edges as opposed to blockier sprites. This is complemented with traditional early sports game music i.e., it adds a sense of excitement but without any lyrics—there’s the feeling that you may come across this tune on your next elevator ride. The in-game sounds are actually quite realistic and do add to the overall experience. The crowd cheers at the appropriate moments, you do get the impression that there are opposing fans at times, and there are even periods of time where the crowd will sing along to encourage you. Added to this are the obvious whistle and goal sound effects that ultimately give you a pretty encouraging simulation.
The gameplay, however, is where we enter the controversial and disappointing territory. One of the biggest selling points in the early titles was the realism of the game. This included the ball being in constant movement rather than the more modern idea of having the ball at a player’s feet at all times. This has been carried over into Revival but with the combined use of an analog stick. The two combined do not work well together. For example, the amount of force applied to the stick will dictate the strength in which the ball is kicked; this is horrendous when attempting to move in the same direction.
The same can be said for the use of the “one button” function. The game literally uses one button to control all kick actions. The combination of stick position and length of button press dictates the strength and direction of passes, shots, and other motions. The game expresses this sentiment at the start, encouraging you to spend time in the training levels before playing any match time and in fairness, the controls fall under the “easy to learn, difficult to master” category. Seasoned veterans and people who want to sink a number of hours into the game will rise to this challenge and enjoy the sense of accomplishment when the ball crosses the opponent’s goal line. The more casual player will simply be put off at the thought of not being able to pick up and play the main game. Indeed, it took me a good 10 or more hours before I started to feel more confident on the pitch, and for more modern gamers, this is a considerable amount of time to build on the learning curve for a sports game.
Other aspects of the gameplay aid to the realism of playing soccer in reality. The use of tactics isn’t present in this update, but the distribution of red and yellow cards to punish players who wantonly crash into opponents, which happens more often than you think, is. Again, this aspect falls foul to the controls mentioned earlier. Despite playing for a considerable time, it was difficult to see if the referees had different temperaments as mentioned. The referees and players do, however, have their own individual names mentioned. In order to avoid copyright, they have clearly reworded versions of famous players where possible which makes for humorous reading when you are playing with company. There is also a realistic tournament mode made to replicate the European championships tournament structure with group stages followed by a knockout stage. There is also an online game mode, but I was unable to find a match while playing so could not test the feature further.
Playing Kick-Off Revival, I found myself easily frustrated at first. In an age where we have developed the use of multiple buttons and more realistic physics engines, part of me wanted the game to bridge the gap between the originals and the modern. However, it’s clear that the focus of this game was to provide a modern love note to a bygone era. There are people who will clearly love the feel of the classic game and will sink hours into it to develop that learning curve. But for most, this is a game you should avoid.