No, don't say it! This isn't 'just another footie game'! It is, in fact, a cause for celebration. You see, with crossed fingers and a bit of luck, it should be the last major soccer release we'll see for, ooh, ages and ages (I hope). Massive sighs of relief can be heard from everyone here in the YS office.
So. Adidas Championship Football. It is, of course, a World Cup game - a very late World Cup game, but a World Cup game nevertheless. Weirdly, and perhaps after a little chat with lawyers from official licence holders Virgin, it doesn't actually mention the words 'World Cup' at all, but goes on about an unnamed, Adidas sponsored 'knockout competition between 24 teams representing the best footballing nations in the world.' This slightly bizarre skirting of the issue hasn't actually damaged the game itself though - in fact it actually represents the real World Cup contest better than perhaps any of the current batch of games (with the possible exception, that is, of US Gold's Italy 1990).
The front end (as we say in the trade) is particularly impressive. First up you get the country names spinning around for random selection into World Cup groups (except of course it's not 'the World Cup' at all), quickly followed by an animated coin flick to decide whether you get to kick off or not. There are screens where you can save the current championship to tape, select the formation your boys are going to play in the upcoming game (not that it made too much difference to the outcome in my experience) and so on. Nifty graphical touches crop up in the actual footie bits too - windows showing the ref blowing his whistle, yellow cards, red cards and so on. Almost identical to the US Gold game is the animated sequence that crops up every time someone (usually the other side in my experience) scores - the word, erm, 'Goal!' bounces up and down frantically on a giant digitised scoreboard.
What isn't almost identical though is the gameplay. Instead of the usual side-ways on or forced perspective viewpoint everything is seen from directly over-head (like in MicroProse Soccer or Kick Off) with one team playing up and the other down the screen. Things scroll quite smoothly in all eight directions and everything is drawn in a 'nice' green monochrome - the little men coming in grey and, um, darker grey strips, though for all that they're actually quite easy to tell apart, the one you control being indicated by a little arrow pointer.
People who know the brilliant 16 bit game Kick Off will understand what I'm going to write next, but I'm afraid the rest of you will be a bit lost (sorry). You see, the version of Kick Off they released on the Spectrum was a bit of a mess really (especially visually) so there's still a whopping great hole in the market waiting for a true 8 bit replica to fill it. And - I'm happy to say - it looks like Adidas might be the game.
Y'see, while it might not be as fast or as smooth as the original, it plays in a very similar sort of a way. Things whip around the screen at quite a rate (though unfortunately it looks more like they're booting a big, wobbly balloon around than a football!) and you can change from defending frantically to making a goal-scoring break in a matter of seconds. Power meters show how hard you're kicking the ball (and a little arrow underneath helps to chip it or whatever) while tackles are fairly easy to execute too (keeping them clean is another matter of course). Unlike in Kick Off you even get (limited) control of your goalie during the game, and very necessary it is too - though switching to him quickly takes some getting used to.
This all makes for a fast and frantic game, and quite a hard one too - if you're not paying attention it takes no time for the computer controlled teams (if you're not playing in two player mode) to rack up an eight-nil (or whatever) lead.
Unfortunately though it has its faults, chief of which I found during my second or third match. From kick off you can simply dribble in a straight line up the screen into the enemy goal. You might get tackled a couple of times, but if you avoid the guy who stands directly in your way these'll all be from behind and thus bookable offences. With a bit of luck you'll be able to score without even kicking the ball (as such) once!
What else can I say about the game? Well, its 128K only (which we haven't seen for a while) and as such comes with a fairly hefty price tag, something not really justified by the packaging, which is nowhere near up to the standard of, say, Italy 1990 with its neat World Cup souvenir booklet. However (and it's a big 'however') initial batches do come with an extra cassette - a special 12" mix of New Order's World in Motion World Cup song, just the thing to get you in the footie mood.
So, to sum up. Well, apart from a tragic mistiming of the release so it fairly and squarely misses World Cup fever, Championship Football has a lot going for it. It's well presented, quite tricky, and (apart from a few annoying glitches) plays as well or better than most existing football games. Arguably the best of the current batch of soccer games, and well worth considering.
The nearest thing to Kick Off on the Speccy yet. (128k only though).
One of the nifty intro screens - Group 2 looks a toughie, doesn't it?
Oh no! It's a corner to Holland (and they're winning one-nil already!) But what's that guy going lying down at the bottom of the screen there? (Get up, you pouf!).
The ball's looking dangerously close to the net - I think Holland's going to score again. (Oh dear).
Uh-oh! Yellow card! (Player Three must think he's Vinnie Jones or something!)