It's the Euros, the next iterations of Pro Evolution and FIFA are weeks away yet, and you're itching for a new kicking simulator to kill time between matches proper over in France. You flick left to the PlayStation Store and there it is, on the front page, the very best section of any online shop's available real estate: Kick Off Revival.
Eight bucks. That's alright, isn't it? You can't buy a couple of pints for that money, most places. So what the hell: you get it. You remember 1989 Kick Off, and its sequel of the year after, for the Amiga. Sure, they weren't up there with Sensible Soccer, but they came out before that still-reigning champion of top-down soccer established its grip on retro-gaming memories. For the time, though, the Kick Offs were amongst the best out there. The ball control was something of an acquired taste—there wasn't any, really—but the second game was bright and clear visually, frighteningly fast, and provided a palpable sense of competitiveness, especially when played against a frothing sibling doing his bit to represent the very definition of a sore loser. The praise it received in the games press always seemed at odds with the experience of playing the damn thing, but if so many experts were onside with it, surely a ten-year-old in his bedroom was just doing it wrong?
Kick Off Revival, though, does everything wrong, and you're not going to find any reviewers out there right now who'd argue otherwise. When Kick Off's creator, Dino Dini, announced Revival was heading to PlayStation 4 and Vita, back in October, old farts like me who remember what soccer games were like before FIFA basically became all soccer games (near enough) were made up. There is a gap in the market for a decent Sensi-like arcade kick-about game, and while there are a couple waiting in the wings right now, or in the locker room I guess, yet to take their place on the pitch—keep your eye out for Sociable Soccer and Super Arcade Football—Kick Off Revival's so-very-21st-century "FIRST" status has given it an advantage, likewise its release during a major international soccer tournament (two, including the just-wrapped Copa America). But it has completely squandered the opportunity to bed in and become a mainstay of couch co-op and quick-fix single-player satisfaction. On account of being unmitigated shit.
Dini made a few promises in October. "You can shoot the way you want; aiming and swerving will be 100 percent under your control." "The spirit will be that of the old games, but designed with modern hardware in mind." Then in May, when confirming the game's release date, Dini wrote: "The series' lightning-fast game-play is as fun and challenging as ever."
I could cry.
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Kick Off Revival gets nothing right. Not one thing. It is abjectly awful. Unforgivably so. It's so obviously unfinished, and there is no way it should have come out like this. As it stands, unmatched, this is the worst soccer video game I have ever played—and I've played a lot of them, from the 8 bit days to the FIFA that isn't out yet.
Kick Off Revival is littered with game-destroying bugs—players can submit ones they've found to Dini via a public Google Doc—and mindless omissions. There are no yellow or red cards, meaning you can simply hack the opposition to your heart's content. Although perhaps this is a good thing, on account of the over-the-top tackling system, slide challenges leaving long streaks in the turf, and players crumpled in writhing heaps (a fun aside to trying to Actually Trying to Win a Match is to spell out swear words on the grass: I've got as far as a rudimentary "FUC" so far, but haven't quite slipped a "K" in there).
The game modes are paltry: friendlies or a basic European Championship, that's all you're presented with on the title screen. Okay, there's a practice mode too, but it's entirely pointless, asking the player to score goals from certain positions on the pitch without explaining how. I selected the mode expecting to find some kind of tutorial; all I got was a bunch of targets on the sidelines and circles to chip a ball goal-wards from. (Seriously, there is no guide to the game's controls in the game. Which is just, I can't, even. So bad.)
'Kick Off Revival,' launch trailer. I mean, just look at this hot mess.
At no point does the game explain how to control the players on the pitch—all of whom have names, not that you can select a formation, or a style of play, before a match commences; or make substitutions; or choose to have your keeper play a short ball to a wing-back (they simply auto-boot it towards the center circle); or come anywhere close to replicating a real game of soccer. The only button you need is X—Sensi-style, it claims to do everything. But it does it all so incredibly badly.
It triggers those superhuman slides, and a double tap when the ball is airborne produces a meek header. Hold the button while in possession and your player will sort of get it under control, but at the expense of speed. Go hell for leather and the ball will easily come away from your player's feet, and any opportunity for attack will likely pass as an opposing defender simply sweeps up the awful mess. And then they'll run the ball backwards, towards their own goal, before playing it forwards, because the AI is terrible.
When the ball goes out you can hold that X button again and tap left or right to change formations; but when there's no offside, and forwards can just loiter near the opposite goal without being punished for it, what's the point of thinking tactically, at all? Get a shot on target only for the keeper to save it, but in doing so they accidentally carry it into the net, and, well, that's a goal, right? Not in Kick Off Revival: if the goalie's got it in his hands, wherever he's stood, it's still in play, apparently. The Russian Linesman Patch had better be coming, and soon.
The problems go on but VICE Gaming isn't in the habit of running reviews and I don't want to get any deeper into the nitty-gritty as to why this game sucks so very much. I do feel that it's important to highlight it as a seriously-do-not-buy-this sack of crap, though, because due to its timing, the "classic" name attached, and the general demand for an old-school soccer game on modern systems, it feels hideously exploitative. An update for the game introduces the option to save during the Euros, several bug fixes, more teams, actual keeper control, bookings and red cards, corner flags (I didn't even notice there weren't any), and extra time and penalty shootouts to decide knockout ties. But these are basics. They had to be in there at launch.
The game-play isn't fun or challenging—it's broken. (Guys, when you need flow charts to explain how to play a soccer game, you've done something seriously wrong.) You cannot "shoot the way you want" because even getting a shot away is a chore. The modern hardware hasn't been taken advantage of in the slightest—the visuals and the sound of Revival are disastrous, even considering its quite-deliberate throwback vibes. Put a shot just wide and the crowd makes a noise like a Rottweiler being crushed under a ton of gravel, but as heard from a mile away, across an open field. It's fast, sure, but certainly far from thrilling, as during a match the support is practically silent, outside of goals and fouls. The player models constantly cross over one another, and automatically drag themselves into position, their legs not moving, at dead-ball situations. Throw-ins barely function. The stadium (and crowd within it) looks like it was made in an afternoon. But I said I wouldn't go on, sorry.
Do not buy Kick Off Revival. It is the worst soccer game of all time, based on all the ones I can remember at least (and I'm counting Fever Pitch and that one on the Master System). Sorry, Dino. With the utmost respect, no amount of updates and patches is going to salvage this shit show.
But if you still want to know more about Kick Off Revival, visit its Facebook page.
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