The past can be such a sullied, thankless place to go and visit, especially during a blazing hot day in June. If you're not already minging with clammy anticipation, by the end of the experience you're spitting feathers with unquenched nostalgia, wondering how the passage of time could be so remorselessly disrespectful to our memories.
The key to the past is knowing where to look and what to look for. In videogaming circles, reverence for its history is never a straightforward thing to signpost to unwary travellers eager to find out what they missed or to rediscover the things they once loved. It's a Gordian knot of emotions, personal associations and - very often - misguided popular opinion.
But if any opinion deserves to be popular, it's the long-cherished notion that Sensible World of Soccer remains untainted by the passage of time. A true classic that remains as beautifully playable today as it did over a decade ago.
The past can't come soon enough
That's no dewy-eyed recollection, either, because a couple of weeks back I was fortunate enough to be one of the very first people outside of Codemasters to play an "almost finished" build of the game, based on the definitive 96/97 version that was the result of five solid years of tweaks and refinements to the already wonderful 1992 original.
Wisely, the game looks, feels and plays absolutely identically to how you remember it - which is no surprise when you realise that the game is built using the same codebase used for the 96/97 version. Rather than try and cobble together an approximation from the ground up, this is as close to the the real deal as humanly possible, complete with the same fonts, same visuals and even the same menus, sound effects and music. It's such a perfect tribute to the brilliance of the original that you'll want to pull your shirt over your head and run around the room screaming with pure joy.
As with many Xbox Live titles, the game comes in classic and 'enhanced' flavours. But what's surprising is how much the enhanced version looks like the game you have in your mind's eye. Rather than try and mess around with the graphics too much, it's an extremely respectful update that captures the essence of the original's deliberately simplified visuals.
Big heads come in handy
Those coming to the game for the first time might stare at the screen with a look of bemusement that something like this can still cause so much fuss after all this time. The cute but utterly rudimentary little men parading with minimal animation across the pitch are endearingly hilarious in the light of today's uber-realistic players, but no less capable of banging in spectacular goals after a 15-move passing extravaganza. As ever, all you can do to anyone who thinks it looks like a pile of old crap is hand them a pad. And a pizza. And a few cans of beer. Your Friday nights might never be the same again. (Unfortunately the build shown to us wasn't functional in the classic mode, but we were assured that the visuals were left exactly as they were in the Amiga version if users really want to play it as Jon Hare and co. intended.)
Now, just as it was then, any lingering doubts about how such a simple-looking game can be any good generally melt away once the controller's in your hands. The ease of passing, the satisfying ability to cross and lob at will, and the wicked aftertouch quickly contribute toward its being one of the most satisfying interpretations of football you'll ever see. Interpretation is a key word here, because it's a game within a game: true fantasy football come to life and more fun, in my opinion, than any simulation has managed since.
After a few minutes of readjustment to the nuances of the Xbox 360 pad, you'll be jinking around, threading passes with swift fluidity, pulling off frenzied sliding tackles that seem to go on forever, and lofting curling cross-field passes straight to your on rushing forward to do a ludicrous diving header on goal from 15 yards out. No-one would ever suggest it's realistic, but it's pure, uncomplicated fun.
Over too soon
Having only managed to squeeze in two five-minute games before we were whisked away elsewhere within Codemasters' labyrinthine complex, it's fair to say we can't expand upon the finer details of the game. What we did manage to discern, though, is that the game appears to feature the exact same menus available in 96/97, just as you'd expect. Nothing that was in that game appears to have been arbitrarily taken away, so there's no need to ask us "is that funny team in there?" or "can do the editing and management stuff" because the answer will almost certainly be yes. It's the same game, with the same menus, the same fonts, teams, options and gameplay. In simple terms it comes with an enhanced graphical makeover, plus the ability to play one-on-one online. That's all it needed to do to satisfy most fans, we're sure. Whether there are more options yet to be revealed, we'll find out soon enough.
Meanwhile, the most important piece of information you'll want to glean is "when's it out?" and "how much will it cost?". At present, it's looking like a late July release via Xbox Live Arcade, with a PC release planned for later in the year - possibly September, but more likely later. As revealed previously, PC and 360 gamers will be able to face-off online, which should be fun. Other details like Achievement points and such like remain unconfirmed at present, but a press event scheduled for next week should reveal all.
Join us on the next page as the game's original design guru Jon Hare faces a grilling from the forumites.
Having finally played this excellent remake, we collared the game's original designer Jon Hare and threw over some questions from the forum. Over to you, Jon...
Eurogamer: Can I have managers, ball boys, players warming up, cameramen, photographers, etc?
Jon Hare: It is like the Amiga 96/97 version of SWOS. If you play against someone online then it is like the Amiga 96/97 version of SWOS with two joysticks plugged in. So, no to everything except management.
Eurogamer: What's the date of release please?
Jon Hare: Erm, later this year...
Eurogamer: Is it going to have the full edit mode like the Amiga version?
Jon Hare: You can make all the teams you want, just like the good old days.
Eurogamer: And will it have the daftly named teams and players too?
Jon Hare: I jolly well hope so. Kebab Shop and Essex Girls do it for me every time.
Eurogamer: Will Norwich City still be the devastating force they were in the Amiga incarnations and capable of beating everyone?
Jon Hare: Of course, just like they will be next season...look out Scunthorpe!
Eurogamer: Will there be updated (current) leagues, teams and rosters for the Xbox Live version as downloadable content?
Jon Hare: Not officially no, I don't think so.
Eurogamer: Will there be multiplayer tournaments organised?
Jon Hare: Oh yes I hope so...there are already many around the world on other formats.
Eurogamer: Are you a FIFA man or a Pro Evo man at heart?
Jon Hare: Evo.
Eurogamer: Will it be just one-on-one? Is two-on-two possible?
Jon Hare: Only one-on-one...don't be greedy now.
Eurogamer: Has this opened the door for some more Sensible works? Cannon Fodder perhaps. Or even Sensible Golf?
Jon Hare: Cannon Fodder would be great; Sensible Golf I have always had my reservations about.
Eurogamer: Will there be that cool hidden bit where Engerland played West Germany and the screen goes black and white ala 1966?
Jon Hare: Erm...No!
Eurogamer: Will you do SWOS for PSN as well?
Jon Hare: Sorry, I don't think so.
Eurogamer: How difficult was/is it mapping the control mechanism to the 360 pad, as SWOS is all about precision?
Jon Hare: It has mapped really well. It's not so different from old console and '96 versions - now a DS would be harder!
Eurogamer: Will I be able to play as apples and oranges again?
Jon Hare: If you screw your eyes up and paint your telly.
Eurogamer: Do developers feel any sense of responsibility for putting out quality products on XBLA, or is there a sense that anything will sell?
Jon Hare: Good games will always sell, hardware is just hardware.
Eurogamer: Did the recent Xbox/PS2 version influence what you left in/added to the original, core game?
Jon Hare: No not at all; this is a straight port, probably what we should have done in the first place.
Eurogamer: Were lessons carried over to this project?
Jon Hare: Yes, there is no point in reinventing the wheel.
Eurogamer: Will the Cannon Fodder style mod be included somewhere as a bonus?
Jon Hare: Sorry no...I mean yes...I mean no.
Eurogamer: Will we ever see the true return of Sensible Software along with some brand new IP?
Jon Hare: Like The Who headlining Glastonbury? Extremely unlikely at the moment - who wants to buy new IP?
Eurogamer: Any other versions being released? I can play SWOS using UAE on the PSP so how about a proper version for it?
Jon Hare: What do you want a proper version for when you already have the rip-off one? Good idea though, and it does translate well.
Eurogamer: Will it play at the same speed as the Amiga version? That was the main issue with the PC release; it was too fast in comparison.
Jon Hare: Like I said before it is a direct port of the Amiga version so yes, this is the best ever version of SWOS or Sensible Soccer brought to life again by XBLA.
Eurogamer: How much personal involvement have you had in the port?
Jon Hare: I have had very little input; this is a faithful port by my friends at Kuju Sheffield and the graphics have been done by my other friend, ex-Sensible artist Stoo Cambridge.
Sensible World of Soccer 96/97 (SWOS) is coming to Xbox Live Arcade and PC via Codemasters later this year. The cost remains unconfirmed.