Football! Eh? Don't we all love football! The way they kick it with their feet, the lovely round shape of the ball, the haircuts. It's a game of at least two halves. And have you seen when they score a goal? Gosh, everyone gets so excited about that. What a time.
OK, look, I have to admit something. That first paragraph - that's not really me. That was the result of hours researching the subject in an attempt to pass myself off as a connoisseur of the sport. But as convincing as it may have been, I can't keep it up. I know about as much about foot-to-ball as a gnat comprehends of string theory. Which is something I have in common with International Superstar Soccer 64.
Some of you may have noticed that the World Cup is taking place at the moment. Perhaps you'll have heard it mentioned on the television, read an article about it in a newspaper, or been outside with your eyes open.
As the entire county drapes itself in the brutal flag of the English crusades, apparently in the belief that this peculiar display of faux-patriotism in their cul-de-sac will have a significant impact upon the success of a team of players on another continent, this sporting event dominates all senses. (Yes, things even smell of the World Cup.)
For those of us who don't suddenly develop an interest in a sport that we otherwise find tedious, just because it's played on an international scale, there is no escape. It is omnipresent, and not to care is to be a pariah, hounded from towns like a paedophile wolf.
So by opting to write about a football videogame I realise I'm not exactly helping. But during this time when football is as loud and monotonous as the vuvuzelas that accompany it, I found it interesting to recall the one time I've enjoyed the sport. And that was university days playing ISS 64 with my housemates.
I loved playing it. And while I've played various incarnations of the FIFA series over the years, none has ever brought me a great deal of pleasure. There was something about Konami's cartoon creation that seemed to evade concerns about realism, and instead focus on being an arcade game. In other words, I didn't necessarily lose every game I played.
I've returned to it this week, having found a copy for the N64 that has mysteriously appeared beneath my television. (Theory: If you put enough old consoles in one cupboard - Dreamcast, Megadrive, PSX, GameCube, and Xbox - eventually an N64 will manifest.) And I really couldn't be much more pleased to discover it's even more bee-in-a-tumble-drier insane than I remembered.
ISS 64 seems to have about as tight a grip on the rules of football as I do. I'm aware of the basics, I can even take a good stab at what the offside rule is. (For those who don't know, it goes something like: "If there are three men stood within seven metres of the opposing goal line, when the goalie is touching his knees, then a ball kicked in an arch of more than 55 degrees has to bounce twice before a player can run faster than 10mph.")
I know that you're only allowed to kick another player in the face if the referee isn't watching, and that if you lose possession of the ball in a tackle you must collapse to the ground, rolling back and forth, holding your shin and crying. A rough outline of the game. And ISS 64 knows this.
But as for how many players there are on a team... It seems a bit shakier here. Brilliantly in the match set-up screen you can choose between 7 and 11 players, where 11 is described as "many". I'd argue that 11 was perhaps "normal", while "many" would be maybe 23 a side, and a game I'd watch.
Get into the game and things seem relatively normal. The controls are a bizarre jumble that is just complicated enough that randomly stabbing can often be effective. The basics tend to work too - A to pass, B to shoot. Then the yellow buttons promise complicated things they rarely seem to offer.
Tackling is a little random, players often gliding through opponents' (I keep wanting to write "enemies'") legs. Sometimes this can result in a foul, but more often it has the commentator (oh, we'll return to him) exclaiming in surprise that the referee (and thus the game) didn't react. It's like having live, disgusted coverage of the game's bugs.
It doesn't seem to have the first idea about how matches are timed. Hilariously so. Now, in my brief experience of watching soccer-ball, I'm aware how massively corrupt the entire system is with extra time. Despite a match not having a moment's pause, minutes can be added on at the referee's discretion. Have a countdown clock, you cheating bastards.
But ISS, despite instituting this obviously sensible idea, takes this to a whole new level of barking mad. The seven-minute matches can last almost double that long because of the completely arbitrary addition of time once the clock's reached zero.
And then, even better, it has no concept of what state the match is in when it randomly decides these bonus stretches shall come to an end. At one point my opponent had the ball literally rolling over the goal line as "TIME UP!" was declared, game over, goal unscored. It's delightfully bonkers.
The commentary is by far the maddest thing. Obviously limited unique lines could be stored on an N64 cartridge, and it was already bursting with the claimed 18,000 motion-captured animations you can't see the players do because they're so teeny. But perhaps some effort could have been put in to at least have the words not be the precise opposite of what happens on screen.
My favourite, by a stretch, is the frequent declaration in the instant of a kick off (is it still called that after a goal? I don't know) that "HE STILL HAS POSSESSION!" Yes, Mr Commentator, yes he does. Because the only way he wouldn't would be if he'd turned and run off in the other direction, pulling his shorts down and poking himself in the eyes.
Other highlights include booming that Scotland (or whichever) need to do something quickly to recover, while about five goals up on their opponents. Or screaming "THAT COULD HAVE DECIDED IT!" after a missed goal attempt by a team seven goals behind.
Also rather lovely is the way commentary gets stacked up behind the events. And this invariably happens during goals, such that after the ball's gone in the net you hear. "THERE'S A CHANCE HERE!.. AN EXCELLENT TACKLE!.. left... GOOOAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLL!"
(The inclusion of a quiet "left" at peculiar moments probably makes me laugh the most.)
Also, ISS rather famously didn't have any official licences, so instead opted for almost spelling players' names correctly, escaping getting in trouble with UEFA or FIFA or whoever. You can go in and edit them, but it's a lot more fun to leave things as a strange parody of player names you might remember from 13 years ago.
So I decided to use this game as a means of escaping from the noise of the World Cup. Some people may have heard that last week England had a match against the titans of Association Football, Slovenia. Apparently they had to win this game to qualify for the next round, or face the ignominy of going out of the silly thing in the first round.
However, a far better result was possible, and not widely spoken about. I discovered that if the USA would only agree to a 0-0 draw in their game, and England drew 2-2 with Slovenia's world-class players, then the progression of the US and Ing-er-land would be decided by the drawing of lots.
Which would have been bloody brilliant. England losing on drawing a lot would have caused every tabloid newspaper in the country to start printing in skyscraper-high 3D just to express their unending horror and disgust.
Instead, of course, after England won they exhibited jubilance and entirely uncasual xenophobia, celebrating the triumphant achievement of winning one game out of three, against the 11 people in Slovenia who've heard of football. (I should add that I'm writing this ahead of England's humiliating defeat by the Germans today. Please please please. Make the noise stop.)
Er, I got lost. So during the Slovenia game I decided to recreate the event in ISS 64 to see if my result would match the real one. Unfortunately the Japanese game doesn't include the Slovenes, so I had to opt for their former peasant revolting buddies, Croatia. I played England. We played in the S.A. Stadium, which while apparently standing for South America was good enough to represent South Africa for me.
Oh my goodness, what a game. You should have seen it. By half time the Croatians were 2-1 up, a naughty "K. Hoddle" somehow not given a red card for walking up to the opposing goalie as he was about to do a goal kick, and punching him to the ground.
In the second half England equalised, and the desired 2-2 outcome was on the cards. But then Croatia ruined everything by scoring twice more. But England pulled one back during stoppage time! A stoppage time which then carried on apparently interminably until it was 5-4. Could England get the draw they're so used to?
No. "TIME UP!" was bellowed with the ball in play. I then checked the score of the real game and saw it had rudely failed to follow my example.
So the only thing for it was to take Wales into the utterly berserk World League, in which you play 70 matches. Which revealed the horror of seeing the players celebrate a goal by forming a human caterpillar. And lose their first game 11-4.
For all its ludicrous ways, and in fact because of its ludicrous ways, ISS 64 is such tremendous fun. The so-bad-you-can't-switch-it-off commentary keeps you laughing and mimicking throughout, alongside screams of fury at the completely inept referee. Playing with a friend is, of course, by far the best way, and instantly the fun of those days in 1998 at university were recalled, yelling abuse at each other and falling about laughing at the game interrupting with half time in the middle of a goal scoring opportunity.
ISS 64 doesn't get football, and that's completely to its credit. It's the perfect way to consume the sport for someone who'd rather dig a hole in the garden, fill it with dog poo and concrete, and slowly slide in head first than watch a minute more of the World Cup.