It's time for a very brief article about a very brief piece of Commodore 64 tat, because that's the kind of game I've been craving recently. I'm not sure why. I suspect it's because I've been playing too many genuinely good games in my non-VGJunk time, and as the human body might cry out for nutrients it is desperately lacking so does my mind yearn for computer games that probably shouldn't exist to provide grist for the mill that is writing about old games. Today's meagre kindling to be thrown on the VGJunk bonfire is the 1990 sports "game"Penalty Soccer, written by David Bradley and released by Clockwize Software!
Released on several home computer formats but presented to you here in glorious Commodore 64-o-Vision, Penalty Soccer is referred to just as Penalty Soccer on the title screen but Penalty Soccer Simulator on the cassette cover. Which is the correct title? I don't know, but plain old Penalty Soccer is definitely the more accurate. This is as much a football simulation as The Sims is an accurate depiction of home ownership.
"A game of skill and reactions," it claims. This is not true, because there is no skill involved unless you're willing to accept "moving a cursor" as a skill and if so I really hope you're the next potential employer to read my CV. Reactions? Well, just about, although they're far less important than you might expect.
Penalty Soccer then explains what'll be happening if, for some unfathomable reason, you decide to proceed with playing the game rather than doing something more interesting like breaking into a bank vault by licking through the steel door. You play as a goalkeeper, and you have to save the penalties that are being fired towards you. There is nothing else to the game. That's right, Clockwize Software took every football fan's least favourite part of the game - the penalty shoot-out - and turned it into a videogame. Except that wasn't quite dull enough for them, so they excised the shooting from the penalty shoot-out, leaving you with nothing but an extremely basic version of one-half of the worst part of football. That is a truly impressive feat of badness. Simply by existing, Penalty Soccer reduces the world's Joy Quotient by several points.
You can choose a difficulty level by selecting which of these (mostly British) football players you want to face off against, from genial, bearded crisp-peddler Gary Lineker to Peter "Quasimodo's Doppelganger" Beardsley and even everyone's favourite cocaine-snaffling, mercurial-talent-having recipient of multiple gastric bands, Diego Maradona. Personally, I'm pleased to see Chris Waddle on the list, because he was one of my heroes when I was a young boy, and one-half of the reason that I always played football with my shirt untucked (the other half being slovenliness). It's interesting that he's on the higher end of this difficulty chart, because probably Chris Waddle's most famous moment in an England shirt was when he missed a penalty in the 1990 World Cup semi-final. I guess we know that Penalty Soccer was made early in 1990, then. One last note on Chris Waddle, because it's such a great story even if you're not a football fan, is that he rode to his first job interview on a moped but couldn't get his crash helmet off and so had to conduct the interview looking like the Stig. He got the job. What a pro. I'll won't be starting with Chris, though. Saving penalties is a tough task for any goalkeeper, so I'm going to ease myself in by facing Kevin Keegan.
Here's the game's one solitary screen, so get used to seeing it. At first it seems like a perfectly normal footballing set-up, but the closer you look the more flaws you see. For starters, your keeper doesn't have a relaxed, ready-to-pounce stance, nor is he trying to make himself look big. Instead, he looks like his shorts are too baggy and he's having to hold them up. The lines on a football pitch are generally painted white, not blue. The goal is nowhere near large enough to meet the FA's size requirements. The keeper was so intent on showing off his biceps that he's gone for a non-regulation sleeveless kit, which makes him look like he's walked in from a side-scrolling beat-em-up. Most bizarre of all is the crowd. Take a look just to the right of the goal. That is a human arse. There's a human arse watching me take penalties. In fact, the whole crowd seems to be made up of buttocks, a fleshy pink sea of rumps who have come to cheer on their team, presumably by farting along to the tune of "Cwm Rhondda" or something. I'm sorry for the descent into crudeness, but it's difficult not to be crude when presented with more arseholes than a UKIP party conference.
I think this animated GIF adequately captures the essence of Penalty Soccer. The balls move towards the goal - with, credit where credit is due, some pretty good sprite scaling - and you have to get in their way. The joystick moves the keeper, pressing the fire button makes him jump. It is very rare that you will need to jump. Save ten shots before the striker scores ten goals and you'll win the round. That's the entire game, folks. Yes, Penalty Soccer was a budget title originally priced at £2.99, but even in 1990 that was about £2.89 too much. About the most positive box blurb you could write for it would be "works as intended," which admittedly puts it above a fair few other computer games of the time, but as I said it does boil down to nothing more than moving a cursor shaped sort-of like a goalkeeper.
Oh, and the game expects you to do this nine more times in order to become The Supreme Goalkeeper. Because each set of penalties only takes about a minute to get through, I thought sure, why not? It should be easy enough, because I've already figured out Penalty Soccer's most glaring flaw.
As depicted in the above image, the computer has the overwhelming tendency to take this shot to the left of the goal, even if the goalkeeper is standing right there. I even left the score counter in this GIF just so I couldn't be accused of showing a loop of the same shot. No, I really did just make the goalkeeper stand there while the computer pinged shots into his brawny upper arms, building up a commanding six-point lead without having to move. This doesn't just happen on the easier difficulties, either, it runs right through the list of strikers all the way to Maradona. Eventually the computer will put a shot somewhere else - I don't think you can win, not consistently anyway, by simply parking the keeper and going off to make a cup of tea - but Penalty Soccer seems to always get stuck in this pattern at least once per round. That's how I knew I'd be able to beat the game on the highest difficulty, so I think I'm definitely ready to make the step up and face Maradona.
Maradona tries to claim victory by constantly taking shot after shot, regardless of whether the keeper is ready or not. This, of course, is cheating, but then Diego has form on that front, doesn't he?
In the end it is of no consequence, because even Maradona can't break himself out of the kicking-it-slightly-to-his-left cycle that has trapped all the other strikers, to the extent that I'm beginning to wonder whether my keeper doesn't have some kind of mostly-useless telekinetic ability. With the five or six guaranteed saves that result from this flaw, I soon managed to claim ten victories and become The Supreme Goalkeeper. With no footballing worlds left to conquer, the keeper moves on to appearing in advertisements for bathroom sealant and condoms, before his ultimate adventure in 20XX when he defended the Earth from alien invaders that couldn't help flying their UFOs slightly to the left.
Penalty Soccer is an absolute nothing of an experience, as though someone digitised a sigh and slapped it on a C64 cassette, but the ending text redeems it somewhat through the sheer force of its sarcasm. I suspect the creators of this game knew full well that it was not exactly built to set the world on fire, and it should be obvious that this is not something that's worth playing. I didn't hate it, but only because there wasn't anything there to hate and hey, it was nice to see Chris Waddle mentioned. So, I'm going to do as suggested and go tell people that I play for England in my spare time. With the current crop of players, it's becoming more believable every minute.
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