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International Superstar Soccer 64 Preview

Publisher - Konami
Developer - Major A
Platform - N64
Release Date - August 26 1998
Type - Sports

Although there is no doubt about the fact that the N64 suffers from a shortage of games in almost every genre, N64 owners are spoiled when it comes to soccer. After a rought start with EA's FIFA 64, football fans were treated to two quality games -- one from EA Sports (Road to World Cup) and the other one -- possibly one of the best soccer games ever made -- from Konami: International Superstar Soccer 64.

Developed by the only in-house Konami team that carries a distinct name, Major A, the game soon captured the hearts of many and went on to million-selling status in Europe. In light of this year's soccer World Championship, it's no surprise that Konami is aiming for a repeat performance with the sequel, International Superstar Soccer '98. We were able to take a look at a 90% complete version of the game.

Although the improvements over its predecessor are not immediately visible (unless you count the cool, real-time intro), players will find the gameplay tweaked, more options, and an overall more mature soccer title. Unfortunately, the US version of ISS '98 does not feature an official players license like EA Sports' upcoming World Cup '98, but like its predecessor, you can edit player names and teams to recreate the authentic experience.

ISS '98 features six modes of play:

*Open Game: Play one match
*International Cup: Regional qualification matches
*World League: ISS '98's version of the World Cup
*Penalty Kicks: Shoot penalties with the patented "box" shot system
*Scenario: Pick from 16 pre-determined game scenarios
*Training: Hone your skills on the field

Players select from 64 national teams (you can also use your own edited data at that point) and play against real-life or computer opponents in any configuration. Like in ISS64, you can set your formation, edit your team, set up your defenses and set tactics. But this time, there are a few upgrades. For one, you can determine your team's captain -- and pick from a whopping 16 strategies (up to six per team) that can be accessed via the Z-Button (combined with the other buttons). The new strategies add greatly to the original's in-game strategy options. You can toggle the following any time during the game to set up your play and copy the exact style of your favorite team: All attack, all defend, side break, center break, Up front, counter attack, zone press, offside trap, make space right, middle, and left, opp. over, full power, save stamina, defensive, and offensive.

Although ISS still doesn't approach the stadium variety of EA's titles, Konami thankfully added new stadia to the lineup for a total of nine (Euro Center, Euro International, Asia, Tokyo, Africa, S. America, Saint-Denis, Paris and Lyon). Wheather conditions include sunny, cloudy, rainy and snow and you can play at three times of day (night, midday, evening) to bring out some of ISS '98's excellent environment effects.

Unlike World Cup '98, ISS '98 returns with a much needed edit and player creation feature that enables you to make your dream players, select a face, determine whether he is left-footed, ambi, or right-footed, allocate skills, and register him to play in the full leage.

Keepers have also been upgraded with various AI levels (from strong to weak), punch balls clear and appear more versatile than in the original. In order to help players place their kick-offs and penalty shots better, you can now adjust the height with the improved shot-arrow. Like in the original, it can be switched off to keep the other player in the dark. Controls are like in the original (B: Shoot, A: Bass, C-Left: Lob, C-Down: Dash, C-Up: Through pass, C-Right: One-two pass) and the excellent through pass and one-two pass system still works like charm.

The graphics are very similar to the original. Konami did add some new animations, especially for the fouls and victory celebrations, and players look almost life-like from far away since they turn their heads to look for openings and even raise their hands. Referees and linemen realistically move about, team members high-five each others, and players received first-aid after fouls. The camera received some slight improvements as well, with a new camera angle (vertical) and the ability to zoom out further, but the default settings are probably the most playable.

On the sound-side, Konami gave the game a little boost with better, less choppy narration courtesy of Tony Gubba and subtle but effective surround crowd cheers.

Of course, what it all boils down to is playability -- and there is no doubt that ISS '98 still reigns above all with its smooth gameplay, intelligent passing system, and ultra-responsive controls. But there are a lot of factors to consider when making the decision which soccer game to buy this year, World Cup '98 or ISS '98. No matter which one they choose, N64 owners can't lose -- at least in this genre.

Here is a list of features in ISS '98:

*Six Modes of play: Open Game, International Cup, World League, Penalty Kicks, Scenario and Training
*64 national teams (home and away uniforms)
*9 stadia from around the world, including three from France Night, midday and evening games
*Weather conditions: Sunny, cloudy, rain, snow
*Multiple strategies (center break, side break, offside trap, offensive, and more) -- up to six per team
*New camera angles (including vertical)
*Team motivation
*17,000 motion-captured frames of animation
*Better heading, passing and shot controls
*Height meters for corner and penalty kicks
*New player animations for injuries, changes
*Better goalies
*Up to four players -- any configuration
*Five difficulties
*Surround sound
*Commentary by Tony Gubba
*Referees and line-men on field
*New intro, menus and music
*Create-a-player and name edit (80 player faces)
*New victory celebrations
*Dynamic replay