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International Super Star Soccer 64 Review

Publisher - Konami
Developer - Konami
Platform - N64
Type - Sports
Score - 8/10

Sports games have been in short supply for the Nintendo 64. And the games that are out there haven't been stellar quality either. Konami has changed all that with International Superstar Soccer 64, the first real success in a sports game on the N64. You may wonder why the Nintendo needs another soccer game after FIFA Soccer 64. The answer is that International Superstar Soccer 64 (ISS) is everything that FIFA isn't.

Let's start with the graphics. This game is sharp. The players running around the field look like soccer players running around a field. They're detailed and realistic. But the impressive thing isn't the way they look standing still. It's the way they move. The animations of players running, jumping, shooting, and celebrating are flawless. It's possible to catch some transitions between animations, but only rarely, and even those aren't jarring. What really makes this game a wonder to look at is the variety of animations. ISS doesn't give you one animation of running, one of shooting, and one of jumping and stop there. The animations are highly varied. Passing includes forward kicks, heel kicks, kicking the ball with the side of the foot, and sliding kicks. And they extend well beyond the basic set of motions. It's worth playing in the rain just to see players wiping out on the wet grass. The variety extends to the celebrations and looks of defeat when goals are scored and even to players warming up at the side of the field.

The graphics don't stop there. ISS gives you five different stadiums, three weather conditions, and your choice of day or night games. The cool thing about night games is the shadows. Different stadiums have different patterns of overhead lights, causing the players to cast a variety of shadows. Unlike basic dot shadows that some games have, these shadows animate to match the character's motions, and the detail extends to varying the intensity of the shadows based on the position in the stadium.

Incredible graphics are nice, but they don't count for a whole lot if the gameplay isn't there. And this is where ISS leaves FIFA Soccer in the dust. The control is responsive and precise. When you want to pass or shoot the ball, you pass or shoot it. You don't wait until the game gets around to it. The controls are complex, but they give the game realism. It doesn't take long to learn basic passing, shooting, and stealing, leaving you to learn skills like putting curve on shots, feints, and ball manipulation tricks when you see fit. For an added layer of complexity, you can also take control of your team's overall strategy.

ISS has good options as well. Player creation comes through, letting you create players, substitute them in for players on existing teams, and save them to a memory pak so you can play against your friend's customized teams. After you pick the position for your player, you can adjust his stats to your liking, choose a head, (there are no cows or aliens like in NBA Hangtime, but there's a healthy variety of realistic choices) and you're set to go. You can save around 20 players to one memory pak, and distribute them among the teams as you wish.

An additional plus is the scenario gameplay mode. Rather than always playing full games, you can pick up a variety of games in midgame. These give specific challenges, and by virtue of starting partway through the game, they might be a good choice if you're a little short on time. The scenarios are in addition to the basic gameplay modes, including open games, tournaments, and seasons. It's an extra that extends the play value of the game and provides another reason to look at picking another soccer video game up.

There are some limitations to the game, however. While the crowd noise and sound effects are excellent, the announcer suffers from a lack of phrases. He sounds good and reflects the action of the game, with some occassional lag, but there's only so many times you can listen to him say "There are several opportunities available" before you just want to turn him off. Fortunately, the game gives you that option. The music, which only plays during selection screens, also gets annoying quickly. The booklet reads like it was translated from Japanese and suffers from numerous typos, and doesn't bother to explain some gameplay elements. (I still haven't figured out exactly what the smiley faces next to the players' names mean.) ISS doesn't have a player license, so it has approximations of the players rather than the real international superstars. Finally, although the replays are cool, they tend to end a little abruptly. None of this is serious enough to wreck the game, but it does detract from the overall presentation.

If you're looking for a soccer game for your Nintendo, there's only one way to go. In fact, if you're looking for a sports game, ISS should be high on your list even if you aren't a soccer fan. International Superstar Soccer 64 is the best sports game available for the Nintendo 64 system. Period.