Soccer Stars
Copyright/Publisher: Empire, Release Year: 1990,
Genre: Football/Soccer, Number Of Players: 1 to 8

I can't help feeling Empire have scored a spectacular own-goal with Soccer Stars - any computer football buff keen enough to buy four soccer games in one compilation is bound to have a couple of them already. Still, they haven't done too bad a job of choosing the games - Soccer Stars features two of the best footy games ever released on the 64, one reasonably good game, and one dud that only sold on its licence.

Basically, there are two types of soccer: the Kick Off-style, overhead-view type and the 3-D 'view from the terraces' ones. Emlyn Hughes International Soccer (90%, Issue 43) is as good an example of the latter as you could wish for.

Ball movement is astonishingly realistic and the host of extra features and options don't slow down gameplay at all. Emlyn Hughes is a game you can play at any level, from the most basic kick-and-run bash to a complex strategic game.

Far too many sports sims that emphasise options pay a high price in terms of playability - not so with Emlyn Hughes! An excellemt menu system makes them instantly accessible, making it one of the most addictive and enduring footy games on the Commodore.

On the negative side, the graphics aren't anything to write home about and the sound effect are totally useless. But these quibbles didn't stop it from scoring a Sizzler in 1988, and it hasn't really dated since then.

Another Sizzler, Micro Prose Soccer (90%, Issue 46) is played on a vertically scrolling pitch viewed from above. Again an options extravaganza, this one can be played by up to 16 players at a time! Thankfully, it also has a Save Game option for when you can't finish that long tournament before bedtime.

In addition to basic tackling, passing and dribbling you can volley the ball forward, chip it backwards over your head, and even perform banana benders! The menu system isn't as friendly as Emlyn, but graphics and sound are far superior - given the choice I'd rather play Emlyn Hughes, but that doesn't stop MicroProse Soccer from being the best overhead-view soccer game seen on the C64.

Kick it off
Alas, at this point the compilation goes downhill. Kick Off 2 isn't a bad game in its own right, but even though it was released over a year later than MicroProse, it makes no real advances on its illustrious predecessor.

Ball movement is far from realistic, with the scrolling pitch often failing to keep up. Coupled with the unintelligent computer-controlled players who run away from the ball as often as towards it, this makes for a very frustrating game.

Presentation is good, with a whole host of options, but there's nothing here that grabs you by the throat and screams, 'play me'. If Kick Off 2 is a good game that falls flat against a better one, Gazza II is an unmitigated disaster that would be the unwelcome duffer in any compilation.

Featuring similar but inferior, gameplay to MicroProse and Kick Off, Gazza II incorporates an idiot management routine, boring tactics controls, and very sluggish movement.

If that wasn't enough, the lack of a league severely limits its long-term appeal. I can't say that I enjoyed the sideways approach, much prefering a vertical pitch. On the plus side, the computer-controlled players are reasonably intelligent and the kicking power-mater is fairly friendly, but this doesn't stop Gazza II from being the worst in the pack. Perhaps they named it after Gazza beacuse it'll bring tears to your eyes.

I can't understand why Empire would want to release a compilation like this. If each game put a different perspective on computer soccer, fair enough, but three of the games feature almost identical gameplay. Besides, only two of the four games put in first-team performances, with Kick Off being a reasonable substitute. Gazza II wouldn't even make the reserves!

If you already have Emlyn Hughes and MicroProse Soccer, Soccer Stars is a complete waste of time. If you only have one of them, buy the other as a full-price game. If you have neither, it just MIGHT be worth buying this compilation.