8-bit Heroes: INTERNATIONAL SOCCER - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Just seemed appropriate for the day...
Launched in 1982, the Commodore 64 dominated the low-end home computer market for most of the 1980s. In the UK, it faced stiff competition from the ZX Spectrum and often led to playground arguments over which machine was better. Both certainly had a lot going for them, and this isn't the place to discuss each one's merits, but whichever of these 8-bit home computers was your favourite the Commodore 64 won the sales war, and with somewhere around 17 million units sold it's listed in the Guinness World Records as the highest-selling single computer model of all time. Perhaps that's in part to the C64 seeing over 10,000 software titles made available in its lifetime; many classic releases like International Karate+, Impossible Mission, The Sentinel, Bubble Bobble, Wizball and today's 8-bit Hero International Soccer.

Released in 1983, just as the C64 was beginning to find a market, International Soccer was developed by Andrew Spencer and published in-house by Commodore. Marketed as International Football in certain European territories (although, oddly, in Britain it was still largely sold under the title International Soccer) and Cup Final in Sweden, it was a surprisingly advanced take on the game of football for the day, especially given that most home soccer titles at the time contained very little actual controlled matchplay - many being sims, like Football Manager - or had basic stick figure player representation. Yet International Soccer not only offered decent sized 8-bit graphical representation of players and a choice of team shirt colour, but also gave the option of playing against a real life opponent or a computer controlled AI. It absolutely became the football game of choice for many players, and gave a lot of other later, more graphically advanced releases a run for their money in its sheer playability.
And the genius behind that playbility is that, whether against the computer or in two-player mode, the controls and gameplay itself was a very easy to pick-up, with the rules of football simplified for all to understand - score more goals than your opponent! Each team consists of seven players (six on the pitch and one in goal), there is no offside rule and no possibility to foul opponents (and no penalty kicks). Each game is divided into two 200-second halves (with no overtime for draws), with the screen softly scrolling across the pseudo 3-d style pitch, displaying the area where the ball is. Control is very simple and intuitive, basically you're in-charge of your team member who is nearest to the ball, if you pass or shoot and miss then control will change to whichever player is now closer. The score is displayed on two banners among the crowds, and in your team colour, so easy to identify who is winning/losing.

The AI computer controlled opponent was surprisingly good for the day. Nine different difficulty levels could be chosen from, and they varied their game-style with both high and low balls, fake-out shots and varying abilities for throw-ins, headers and passing, plus different styles and teamwork formations when attacking goal. Remember, this was 1983 so this level of 'random' AI control was very rare for a home video game.
International Soccer was available on both cassette and cartridge, the latter offering almost instant load times. In a nifty little feature of target-marketing, recognising that a lot of Commodore 64 owners were younger people who were largely playing games via a second TV - often a black and white portable - Andrew Spencer added in a monochrome feature, allowing you to easily play the game in grayscale.

International Soccer was almost universally well received by both gamers and critics. Upon release Ahoy! magazine declared it was "a pure action game, but, oh, what action!", praising the graphics and game-play. InfoWorld went further, describing International Soccer as a "minimasterpiece", Commodore's best sports game, and also praising the gameplay and especially the animation.The following year, International Soccer was awarded a Certificate of Merit in the category of "1984 Best Computer Sports Game" at the 5th annual Arkie Awards.
Staggeringly, given the legacy of International Soccer and how so many people hold it favourably in memory, it was not one of the games included on the Commodore 64 Mini (although, of course, there is that gray area of uploading your own ROMs, but we won't go there today), but it can be played online through a variety of emulator sites.

Did you used to play International Soccer? Did you ever do that little cheat where you could catch the ball on your head and run it into goal? Did you ever have one of the pirate graphical mod versions than were distributed on cassette in the playgrounds up and down the country? Let us know your memories of this 8-bit hero in the comments below, and view all our 8-bit Heroes articles here.

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