I was expecting an homage to Sensible Soccer, and that’s exactly what I got. Super Arcade Football is the beautiful game boiled down to its most extreme basics, a pick-up-and-play, lightweight approximation of a kickabout, and what it attempts to do, it does very well.
It looks, sounds and feels like something you’d have played in the 90s using a black joystick with enormous red buttons, and if that description hits a nostalgic note for you, this might be worth a go. There’s a ‘Career’ mode where the hero of the narrative - ‘Martin’ - buys failing club ‘Balarm F.C.’ for £1 from the old manager, and proceeds to lead them back to the big time. It’s… not a story that’ll stay with you for long.
Gameplay-wise, one button does nearly all of the heavy lifting. You can switch between players manually, but passing, shooting, and tackling are all done by hitting ‘A’ at the appropriate moment. As with every game since the dawn of time that has attempted to map multiple, contrasting functions to the same input, this goes wrong frequently, and is always mildly irritating.
Movement is hectic but responsive, players mostly go where you tell them to, and even the classic aftertouch technique (tweaking the stick just after your shot to change trajectory) is consistent once you get the hang of it. As you might expect, this is a classic case of 'easy to pick up, difficult to master', and for my money OutOfTheBit have pitched the difficulty level just right.
Due to the practically non-existent AI and old-school bluntness of sliding tackles, you’ll be on the receiving end of some pretty random refereeing decisions. A mistimed lunge through multiple opponents, teammates and even the referee will see you run away with the ball laughing, but a perfect last-ditch steal will result in a yellow or red card just as often. Sure, this type of injustice isn’t unheard of in modern FIFA and PES games either, but can be a nuisance - particularly when you’re trying to hit one of the three objectives (% possession, # of shots/cards, etc) set at the beginning of each match.
The up side of this inconsistency, if you choose to see it, is that you've got a 50/50 chance of getting away with some truly awful challenges. My advice: make the most of it.
Outside of career mode, there’s a decent selection of national teams, artfully mislabeled clubs (Baston Ville, Lisbanana, Real Merengues), and entirely fictional squads (including nods to other retro games, Final Fantasy characters, etc), as well as a few chuckles to be found in the player names too. The Gunners’ number 9 “Harry” and Devils United’s number 7 “Backom” feel strangely familiar, for instance, but this is not the fully-licenced stat-fest we’ve become accustomed to nowadays. For better or worse, whoever you choose to play as in Super Arcade Football, your ability is all that matters.
That is, unless you count the frankly bonkers selection of ‘modifiers’ made available to spice things up a bit. In quick matches and multiplayer you can choose any combination, but throughout the main game these tend to appear once in a while and in moderation, thankfully. They range from obstacles like oil slicks and meteorites, to adjustments like bigger/smaller nets, turbo boosts and sleepy keepers. Out of curiosity I turned them all on at one point, chose snowy weather to really push my luck, and within about 20 seconds of kick-off the game had crashed. Lesson learned.
Super Arcade Football is fun in small doses, as it was no-doubt designed to be. The gameplay is familiar and forgiving, local and online multiplayer add a smidgen of replay value, and it’s clearly a game that was created with love and respect for an all-time classic. If you’re old enough to share that Sensi soft-spot, this is a bargain at £10 and an absolute steal at its current sale price of £5.