From Pele's Soccer To FIFA 19: The History Of Football Games

Table of Contents

Embed from Getty Images

Every time a new FIFA game is released, it's big news. It has commercials everywhere, major sponsorship deals and the biggest stars in the world on the cover. YouTube channels gear up to host FIFA tournaments, and even professional clubs start to wonder whether it’s the right time to sign a new professional video gamer to represent them at tournaments. Premier League newcomers Wolves are the latest to make the move into that particular world. In a lot of ways, the hype that comes with a brand new football game is almost as extreme as the hype that comes with a major real life football tournament.

Those who want to play football games have a whole world of choice to select from in the 20th Century. There's the FIFA games which come out annually. Pro Evolution Soccer ranks as its closest rival in terms of games based on simulating a matchday experience. Millions of armchair managers eagerly await the latest installment in the Football Manager series every season. Gamblers logging on to online casino UK websites can play football themed slot games, where there are bonus features based on either football tournaments or individual matches, complete with selectable teams, crowd cheering sound effects, and familiar faces on the reels. Even though the actual sport isn't the total focus of the slot games, they still offer more action than video game players were faced with thirty years ago.

Football games as we know them started on a home console named the Atari 2600 in 1981, and it took a very famous name to get the idea off the ground. Here are some of the most famous ‘landmark’ games that got us to where we are today!

Pele's Soccer

This was the game that set the template for all that followed; make a football name, stick a famous face on it, and ship it to the market. Pele's Soccer was the first real attempt to bring the beautiful game to home entertainment. If you were hoping to play with a virtual likeness of the legendary Brazilian himself, though, you'd be disappointed. The game consisted of two teams of blobs; one red and one blue. They would run in formation up or down the pitch, trying to get to the opponent's goal area. The game boasted ‘realistic’ ball control and movement, which may have been a bold claim, but there was no comparison at the time! With no identifiable teams, play consisted of simply beating whichever three blobs were on screen at the time. It had different speed and difficulty settings, in an attempt to keep things interesting.

Football Manager
Real teams! Real players! Basic match simulation graphics! ‘Football Manager’ as a brand name may have spent a few years behind ‘Championship Manager’ before making a comeback, but it's as dominant within the management simulation field now as it's ever been. It's also one of the longest running series of games in the world, with the first being released for the ZX Spectrum way back in 1982. It was the product of one man working alone, and introduced many of the staples that football management games now rely on. Tactical selection, clever use of transfers, balancing the club budget; they're all here, over thirty five years ago. Particularly innovative was the fact you could watch the games play out on an isometric screen. For players of the time, it was a window into the future.

Kick Off
Long before FIFA dominated the landscape for football games, ‘Kick Off’ was the one that everyone wanted to play. It introduced concepts that would define the genre for much of the next ten years - a top down view of the action, referees with differing personalities, players with different attributes, and weather effects that could impact the game. There was even an attempt to make it feel like a World Cup game, with playable national sides, and a passable attempt at representing the kits of those sides in the game. All of this sounds basic now, but in 1989, when the game was released, it was big news. ‘Kick Off’ finally succeeded where ‘Pele’s Soccer’ had failed; it was an arcade style game that was genuinely fun to play, and actually looked and felt like a real game of football.

Sensible Soccer
At first glance, 1993s ‘Sensible Soccer’ looked a lot like ‘Kick Off’, and you might even have given the edge to the graphics of the older game. ‘Sensi’ (as its fans called it) had a huge advantage in terms of depth and gameplay, though, and blew ‘Kick Off’ out of the water with both. It had taken all the things Kick Off had done well, and built on the finer details. The game boasted 168 club and national teams, which was unheard of at the time, and an intuitive control system which made bending and lobbed shots easy to execute and incredibly gratifying to pull off. Until ‘Sensible Soccer’ games were either arcade style matchday simulators, or management simulators. This was the first game to attempt both at the same time, and it succeeded.

FIFA International Football
You'd never know it by looking at the original game, but the biggest football gaming franchise in history started with a cartoonish isometric title way back in 1994. It was the first game ever to boast an official license from football's world governing body, and it made the most of it, with accurate representations of national teams and kits, although oddly not the players. The first ever detailed simulated goal celebrations happened in this game, too, and for some reason it allowed you to run away from the referee when he was attempting to book you. It was a little crude, a little lacking in depth, and not half as much fun to play as ‘Sensible Soccer’ was, but it claims its place in history as the foundation stone upon which the whole series was built.

Pro Evolution Soccer
The only game that's truly rivaled the FIFA series for command of the football gaming world is ‘Pro Evolution Soccer’. It can trace its roots back to ‘International Superstar Soccer’, which can boast being the first truly 3D football game back on the N64, but the ‘Pro Evo’ series started on the next generation of consoles in 2001. Although it doesn't have even half the licenses and real teams that FIFA can call upon, it makes up for it in gameplay; a number of purists remain adamant that for all FIFA's bells and whistles, it's the ‘Pro Evolution’ series that remains the closest to actually playing a game of football. Just the fact that it's survived for seventeen years in a FIFA dominated world is remarkable.

Don't forget to join us on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Instagram