It took me longer than it should to realise that 90” Soccer meant 90 Second Soccer, rather than 90 Inch Soccer. 90 inches is just over two metres, so I thought it was football for lanky people. But no, this is a football match shrunk down to ninety seconds. I was almost disappointed.
When it gets down to it, 90 Second Soccer isn’t actually that much of a selling point. Sure, it’s quickfire football, but it’s also a timeframe you can’t change. You’re locked into ninety seconds and have no option to change it. As a defining feature of a game, it’s not actually that appealing. But I was game to play it regardless: there’s something I find fascinating about playing different people’s takes on football. You can almost always find something quirky in there.
The first thing to note about 90” Soccer is how downright ugly it is. This isn’t the arcade crispness of Sensible Soccer or Kick Off. You have to go back to 1988 and Microprose Soccer to find something that looks quite like this, which places 90” Soccer at roughly a Commodore 64 level. The players are round heads with some shaggy pixels stuck to them, and the players grow to about double the size and turn into seagulls whenever they celebrate a goal.
As soon as we got on the sticks and started playing, we could almost hear Alan Hansen’s commentary. “Shocking”, he’d say in his thick Scottish accent, shaking his head. Because 90” Soccer is some of the least fluid football that we’ve ever played. This isn’t tiki-taka football: it’s a rainy night in Stoke.
It’s hard to communicate just how stodgy the gameplay is. Pass the ball to someone, and the game literally stops. It’s like an invisible loading-bar, tracking down, as the players all try to adapt to the magical and unbelievable situation that a player has passed to another player. The same goes for a tackle. Manage to nab the ball away from another player, and everyone stops in awe for about a second’s time. It reminded us of early Championship Manager, where the football matches only vaguely look like football matches. But here you have to play it.
I soon stopped bothering to pass. The passing isn’t the most accurate anyway – there are no soft lock-ons, and you can only really move in the compass directions – but when the game heaved to a stop every time I switched to another player, then the experience was far more free-flowing if I didn’t. It’s not as if someone was going to tackle me: the game doesn’t know what constitutes a good tackle, so it flips a coin to determine whether I am successful. Be prepared to score a lot of goals with your defenders, as you dribble all the way from the back.
Scoring goals isn’t too difficult, but there are definitely rules to be followed. Hold the shoot button for more than a millisecond and your ball will loop over the crossbar. Or, more precisely, it will hit the crossbar, as the goalposts in 90” Soccer are roughly the width of Harry Maguire’s forehead. It’s easier to hit the bar than not. And like most football games, particularly the cheaper ones, there are hotspots on the pitch where you can almost guarantee a goal. In 90” Soccer, it’s a shot on the penalty spot. The goalie doesn’t have time to react and almost always bungles the ball over the line. And if that doesn’t work, then a vertical shot off the inside of the post will work wonders.
And those quirks we mentioned in the intro? 90” Soccer could fill a stadium with them. Know that we have roughly ten times what we’ve listed here.
The goalie has a habit of saving the ball on the line, but next to the post. The resulting goal kick will cannon off the bar, sending the ball in entirely the wrong direction. The ball also has no friction applied to it: you’re basically playing in space. So, miss a pass in defence, and the ball will travel all the way to the opposing player’s goal line. You won’t score from your own penalty area, but you’re going to have a lot of accidental shots on target.
There are no penalties, so it opts for golden goal instead – and, ironically for a game called 90” Soccer, the games can last hours and hours, as the golden goal period doesn’t end until someone scores. Penalties aren’t the only things not included: there are no halves, no player names, no fouls (no yellow or red cards) and therefore no free kicks, no substitutions and no through balls. There’s the merest of after-touches, so there’s no Sensible Soccer-like banana goals, and even throw-ins and corners are rare enough that you’ll be surprised when you see them.
It doesn’t leave 90” Soccer with much. You certainly can’t change the length of games to have a longer bout. But there are a few options to soften the dour matches you are going to be playing. There’s the option to play two-vs-two locally and online, although we didn’t manage to get a single game while we were reviewing. Helpfully – and other games should really do this – you can be matchmaking in the background as you play other matches, but it never surfaced with a viable player.
Arcade Mode offers a strange take on a tournament, as you work through a list of teams until you are the only one left. A League Mode does much the same but over a season. And a Versus Mode lets you pick simple one-off matches against other international teams. You can’t choose the teams you play against in Arcade Mode or League Mode, and there are no player names, so the joy of picking England and seeing Hurry Kone or Jock Graylish isn’t there. But there are probably enough ways to play 90” Soccer. Mainly because you’ll tire of the main game well before you exhaust the game modes.
I’ve played plenty of duff, budget football games on the Xbox and 90” Soccer isn’t the worst. But it’s definitely the least free-flowing, and probably the slowest. When each player does a system restart whenever they get the ball, you know something’s wrong. The 90 seconds is less about the length of matches, and more about its shelf life. You’re going to retire 90” Soccer faster than you can say Jack Wilshere.