With the XBLA version of Sensible Soccer just around the corner, it's time to take a short break from compulsive finger-crossing and cease those dubious offerings to dearly-beloved dark deities.
We must simply trust to fate that the new release will maintain the exceptional quality and reputation of the series. Judging by past performances, there should be no need to fear - even the demo versions of Sensi that were gleefully distributed to various magazines throughout the 1990's could often be found to possess memorable touches of flair, and this tendency to go the extra distance on coverdisk promotions deserves some sort of special homage. A special homage a bit like this one, for example.
Someone at Sensible had a pleasingly developed sense of the absurd. It was Amiga Action who provided a coverdisk platform for one of the most bizarre metamorphoses of the game ever witnessed, under the revealing title "Unsensible Soccer". Though traditionalists could satisfy themselves by playing a gripping encounter between Norwich City and Manchester United (with all just and righteous persons leading Norwich to glorious victory), it was the curious alternative match that provided the gateway into an unknown programmer's damaged subconscious. Inside which, surprisingly, lurked a love of silky-skilled fruits.
Who would triumph in a match between anthropomorphised apples and oranges? That eternal question could at last be answered by this strange demo. A nation of fans was thankful for finally being given the chance to battle out this ancient five-a-day grudge to any number of gripping conclusions. Green vs Orange. Pomaceous vs Citrus. Bensons vs Del Monte. These are the fixtures of which dreams are made. Err .. yes, anyway. A few other questions were still raised, such as why both sides had elected to play pears in goal. Presumably pears are famed in the sentient fruit community for their agility and cat-like reactions.
The weirdness didn't end there.
Gravity Gets Me Down
Another Amiga Action giveaway, "Sensible World of Moon Soccer" took a tentative look into the crystal ball of football. Not content with forming a breakaway group in Europe, the mysterious G14 organisation of this dystopian future society had evidently expanded their vast empire of greed to reach intergalactic levels. Armed with the ability to sell broadcasting rights to the entire universe, rotund chairmen had constructed fabulous stadia across the solar system and purchased a vast array of alien talent to bolster already over-inflated squads. Meanwhile, arguments raged on Earth as to whether it was entirely right and proper that the team should be led into the forthcoming Universal Cup by a two-headed gentleman from Outer Andromeda.
Essentially, this was a limited-play demo of the original Sensible World Of Soccer - with the added quirks of strangely blood-cell-shaped craters littering the pitch and player names straight out of the "no vowels please" school of Role Playing Games. The function of the craters became pretty clear the first time a hopeful punt from nippy winger X'nnthzvbn landed in one and spun off in a random direction, encouraging all kinds of attempts to beat the 'keeper with wacky moon-pox-aided ricochets. Oddly, the ball never drifted off into space when booted too hard.
Don't Mention The Football
In celebration of England's tumultuous love-hate relationship with the fixture, the mighty beings at Amiga Power provided a special "England vs Germany" coverdisk triple-header, with each encounter featuring a slightly novel twist. Admittedly, the twist for the 1966 match was just that it appeared in black and white, but that did make the game look ever so classy and slightly arthouse (albeit without any existentialist trauma about whether the ball crossed the line, or spontaneously melting players ruminating upon their futile existence). 1993's pairing left the surprise aspect up to the player - namely, could you make Graham Taylor's England function as a successful footballing unit? Of course, in each of these games you could also turn to the Germani side in an effort to reverse World Cup history or slay Taylor's tigers with your ruthlessly stereotypical efficiency.
Easily the most interesting, though, was the not-at-all-jingoistic chance to play a game in 1944 - a sly and subtle reference to some popular war or other. In this exciting engagement, the usual Sensi chaps were replaced with the little blokes from Cannon Fodder (another Sensible Software classic) and the ball appeared to be a touch more explosive than normal. As well as a touch more grenade-shaped. Those things were possibly related. Today we can interpret this mini-game as a satirical comment on the perceived "softness" of modern football and, indeed, it's quite likely that a violent grenade-induced death would produce more than just a free kick from the referee these days. Interestingly, this was not the only time that Sensible's two crowning achievements would temporarily merge for coverdisk purposes.
Under The Gun
What better way to honour Christmas than with a deadly combo of football and machine guns? Amiga Format certainly thought this was a winning idea and merrily distributed "Cannon Soccer" to the world. Whereas "England vs Germany" had been a case of Cannon Fodder gate-crashing Sensi, this coverdisk was pretty much the opposite. Organised in two chapters, the first saw your plucky band of marines dumped on a familiar green surface and facing a seemingly never-ending horde of ultra-enraged footballers (diabolically cloned from Duncan Ferguson's DNA, one must assume). The next mission took the fight directly to the enemy, as your band of brothers sought to infiltrate and destroy their top secret Arctic training camp. Or something.
In a similar vein, the Public Domain games "Sensible Massacre" and "Sensible Massacre II: Bulldozer Butcher" mined the rich Sensi-Cannon Fodder crossover seam in a totally unofficial fashion. Clearly upset with England's inability to reach World Cup '94, the author of these titles decided that someone had to be punished. Curiously, he decided to blame Holland rather than rubbish tactics - which is why the original "Massacre" sees your brave goalie fending off a veritable army of Dutch strikers in the style of Missile Command. By the second he'd apparently lost his mind completely, giving the player control over a bulldozer and orders to maim and mangle as many (this time anonymous) opponents as possible. All good, clean, wholesome fun.
Last Train to Transcendental
Slowly chuffing its way past each and every Sensi variant though was thi ... what? What do you mean "Sensible Trainspotting" had nothing to do with football? Some of the trains were full of fans heading to away matches, obviously. An entertaining mini-game given away by those gentleman scholars at Amiga Power, this was, unfortunately, nothing to do Irvine Welsh. That disappointment aside, it was far more fun than a trainspotting simulation really had any right to be. Functioning a little like a graphical form of bingo (except with balls shaped like gigantic steel contraptions full of people) it was the players task to spot the correct trains and tick their numbers off a list within an allotted time limit. Premature ticking was harshly punished with a clock-bothering penalty. There were no sinister aspects like horrible teenagers being splattered into bone-mush by zooming engines - this game was just as it appeared, a charming farewell from Sensible Software which, like everything mentioned here, seemed to personify their approach to "the industry" and the agreeable attitude they had towards their fans. Bless 'em!
Now, let's all go and furiously practise our aftertouch technique.