Let me get straight to the point: Nintendo World Cup is a football game that allows you to kill other players. You do this by performing a Super Shot at very close range, and it's effective roughly eight times out of 10. Push the magic buttons, watch while the ball performs some loopy multi-coloured firework display, and then wince gratefully as it thuds into your rival's stomach with a sound effect that invokes the Incredible Hulk slipping on a stray rollerskate at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
Ouch: your foe's eyes will bulge from their skull, and their wretched body will fall to the ground and litter the playing field until somebody does something dull like actually scoring a goal to reset both teams. Persistent corpses, eh? Kudos to Technos Japan for showing us the terrible consequences of violence. Not quite so much kudos for showing this to us in a football game.
Granted, maybe those fouled players were meant to be sleeping, but in our house we liked to pronounce them dead straight away.
Killing aside, of course, this really isn't a particularly proficient simulation of football. Actually I'm not really sure the developers knew that much about football at all. Nintendo World Cup plays as if a few key members of the design team had once heard a description of the beautiful game from a time-addled drunk in a noisy pub. They'd written parts of the garbled description down on a napkin, perhaps, crossed out all the paranoid ramblings about Noam Chomsky and saxophones, and then used the napkin to mop up some spilt beer. After that, they'd travelled the world for years righting wrongs until, one day, they rediscovered that tatty, disintegrating, semi-legible napkin in a pair of old cords. That's the point at which it became their design document.
Football, Nintendo World Cup-style, then: A game of two halves, in which two teams of six players inflict brutal injuries on each other until someone runs a score up into double figures and the whole thing grinds to a bruised halt. 36-12? Good match, Cameroon. Sorry it had to end in bloodshed.
In place of the traditional rules of the sport, the developers at Technos Japan piled on the options. Cool options, like assigning AI behaviours for your team-mates to subsequently ignore, and weird options, such as a choice of playing surfaces. Alongside good old grass and clay (I don't know football that well myself, as it happens. Do people still play on clay?), you can schedule matches to take place on rubble-filled deserts or frozen lakes. An ice level! In a football game! I'm guessing the Technos boss was shopping for bunk beds on the day this particular concept document powered its cheery way through the appraisal process.
Beyond the pitch, things don't get that much more traditional. For starters, the sprites in Nintendo World Cup don't appear to have been designed with football games in mind. Players walk around with their fists raised - with good reason, obviously, since they could quite easily die during a penalty - as if they'd rather be harassing some uber-mulleted pork chop in one of the primitively-rendered back alleys of River City Ransom or Double Dragon. (St. Wikipedia tells me that some of the sprites were actually used in River City Ransom incidentally, as it was another game in the company's infamously loveable kunio-kun series from which Nintendo World Cup was born. I think the Super Shot effect, meanwhile, makes it into at least two of the possible endings in Heavy Rain.)
Another thing that's a little odd is that you're cast in a specific role on the pitch, and then you stay in that role for the entire duration of the match. None of this Quantum Leap-style hopping from one body to the next as the game follows the ball across the grass (or ice, obv). No concessions to playability at all, in fact. Instead, the developers wanted to explore the loneliness, perhaps, of the defender who gets left behind - even if that meant that he ended up off-screen for much of the game. They wanted players to experience what it felt like to power through a condensed 90 minutes of football action with the football itself making only the most fleeting of cameo appearances, like Marlon Brando turning up for the start of Superman.
Okay, it was probably more like Steven Seagal popping in for the first 15 minutes of Executive Decision. Nintendo World Cup wasn't an A-team effort, I'm guessing. That said, its thuggish quirks lend it a lot of violent character that I've tended to miss in other, better football games. It was the sole reason for me to dust off the NES's four-player adapter, so I could catch occasional glimpses of a ball singing past my head in the company of three friends, and it was included on a combo cartridge my console came with, wedged in alongside Tetris and Super Mario Bros, so I had to wring as much fun from it as I could.
Even back then, my sister and I were able to detect that Technos' game didn't entirely belong in such rarefied company, but we played it all the same. We played it because that's what you do when your combined pocket money will probably allow you to purchase another videogame somewhere around the year 2056, and when you know you still won't be able to agree on what to buy when that day comes anyway. We played Nintendo World Cup because it was one of three options we had, and because we very occasionally got tired of the other two.
I'm grown up now, of course, and I can buy all the games I want, but it's still nice to bust out Technos' bizarre sporting effort on occasion. Joseph Heller once said - I'm paraphrasing - that it's a tragedy that literature students tend to go through three years of university reading nothing but classics, because it means they never get to put those great works in context by ploughing through a few choice duds as well. All its other charming oddities aside, then, Nintendo World Cup is a delight because it's exactly that: it's a choice dud that makes the genuine masterpieces of the 8-bit era seem even more astonishing.
And it lets you kill the other players.