There’s a place in our heart for the B-list football game. When FIFA and PES strive for accuracy and a corporate sheen, sometimes you want the opposite: a game that plays fast and loose with the rules of football. You’ve probably got your own list, but we’ve loved the triangle heads of Olympic Soccer, the viciousness of RedCard and the ball-juggling of FIFA Street. That’s before we get to the sublime Super Kick Off and Sensible Soccer.
Thanks to the sheer dominance of FIFA and PES, we don’t see so many of these also-rans nowadays. It makes a certain kind of sense: after all, you can pick up a FIFA for 20p at your local CEX, and suggesting ‘Super Arcade Soccer 2021’ after a night at the pub is a massive ask. There’s no official sponsorship, no Ultimate Team, no up-to-date kits and no current line-ups.
Super Arcade Soccer 2021 does abide by one of the rules of B-list football games, though: it has fun changing the names of teams and players. There’s no Manchester United or Chelsea here: it’s Devilster and Bridgest. Harry Kane and Lionel Messi are Hyrra Kena and Loinel Misse. The player names feel like they were generated by an algorithm, rather than hand-chosen, but we’ll take it. It hammers home that FIFA are paying millions to have the vowels in players’ names in the correct order.
There are five leagues’ worth of clubs on offer – Spanish, Italian, German, French and English – and twenty or so international teams. It’s not a huge haul (Scottish players will probably snort at the lack of Scottish Premier League), but our expectations were already lowered for a £5.79 game. Teams are in their 2019-2020 state, so they’re a little stale: David Silva is still running out for Man City, Watford are in the Premier League, and Danny Rose is a mainstay in the England defence. If there’s anything a budget ‘baller should be able to do, it’s update their anagramised teams before launch.
You can play a friendly, league or cup. There’s no customisation to the league and cup outside of the duration of matches: you are playing in an established league like La Liga (named Spain League, ofc). Unusually, you can automate matches in the league mode if you’re feeling the attrition of a full season, but we found that even the Barcelonas of the world only win 50% of the time when skipped, so it’s not an easy path to achievements. Meanwhile, the tournaments are modelled on Wimbledon rather than existing football tournaments, as Super Arcade Soccer 2021 has opted for the easy-to-design tournament brackets.
Up to four players can play locally, but there’s no online capability, so don’t expect to play remotely. That’s about what we expected to be fair, but it would have been nice to share the joys of Super Arcade Soccer 2021 with randos, to see how the rest of the world were handling the controls. Still, the four-player works well and does what it says on the tin.
Right, into the meat of it: what is Super Arcade Soccer 2021 like to play? We know this is a budget release, we know it’s a one-person dev team, so we’re giving special allowances here. But even so, if FIFA and PES are the Ronaldo and Messi of football sims, Super Arcade Soccer 2021 is Andy Carroll. It’s mostly broken and crocked, ungainly to play, looks about forty years old, and is built around long balls, without an ounce of skill or panache to be found. Sorry Andy.
Super Arcade Soccer 2021, for a start, isn’t very arcade-y. Down that path it might have been more fun. With a FIFA Street or Super Mario Strikers approach to football, we might have pulled off something that was worth a replay. Instead, Super Arcade Soccer 2021 is more of a sim, and it has added the ‘Arcade’ tag as an excuse for not getting all of the sim stuff right.
There’s no offside, for example. Sounds fine – at least there’s no VAR stop-starting the game – but it means that defenders sit hilariously deep as default, squatting in the six-yard box, and there’s a massive gap between midfield and defence. Forwards sit in this gap, so the automatic, optimal strategy is long balls. Goal kicks become your special weapon, howitzering it up to Rebort Lawendiwsko so he can have a clear shot on goal. Through balls and long balls are the same, particularly as goalkeepers don’t bother to come off their line and the player-switch button is awful, taking ages to change focus and always opting for the nearest player, rather than the defender that the attacker is approaching. Long balls and through balls become such an obvious cheese strategy, so you’ll probably want to house-rule them in some way for local matches.
There are lots of these weird quirks that make it football, but not quite. Goalkeepers are complete enigmas. Sometimes you feel you have control of them, but most of the time you don’t. They take a leaf out of Man City’s book and play out everything from the back, even if your defenders are man-marked. They refuse to rush out, as mentioned, and they love to throw balls at heads rather than feet, causing a pinball situation that probably won’t play to your favour. They vary wildly from incompetent to Gordon Banks-like, saving everything you throw at them.
Set pieces are bonkers. It’s roughly 50/50 whether a throw-in will be called correctly, and the computer AI has a fantastic habit of throwing the ball into the stands, then running to collect it and dribble to goal themselves. Free kicks are given erratically – sometimes you will get away with a scything tackle way off the ball, other times you will get a red card, so consistency is an issue – but, if you fail to score from one, you are guaranteed a corner kick, whether it hit the wall or not. See what we mean about that ‘Arcade’ tag? It’s only arcade in the sense that the rules aren’t working like they should.
It doesn’t feel abysmal to play, but it’s not great. It goes the route of precision and requiring skill from the player: you have a pass that has no auto-assist, so you have to both aim and use a power bar to get pinpoint accuracy. That’s fine, and plays to the more hardcore crowd. The problem comes from how it reacts to other issues. If you pass to a player’s feet, then it will bounce off them. Switching characters has a latency, so you’re often playing it in front of a player but waiting for them to come under your control. You will have plenty of good ideas, but you’ll only occasionally pull them off.
Shooting is similarly freeform, but there’s really only a pass or shot into the goal, and we didn’t find a meaningful lob shot. The same goes for headers: there’s no high ball into the box, so you will rarely be nodding the ball in. The result is that most goals look the same. They follow the pattern of long-ball and then slotting it into a corner. Rebounds are a pain in the proverbial, as Super Arcade Soccer 2021 takes focus away from the player that just took a shot, so if it comes back to your player, you won’t be able to pull off a quick split-second reply.
There are two tackles, a slide tackle and a hustle, but the hustle isn’t fit for purpose. You’ll get the ball less than 10% of the time, regardless of timing, so you’re best sliding into opponents and rolling a dice on a yellow or red.
Then there’s the bugs, both visual and gameplay, which come thick and fast. If you score, you’ll stand and pump your arms into the air, while your team-mates shuffle you about like you’re a curling stone. Goalkeepers will save the ball and merrily walk it into the net, but without a goal being awarded. We scored just before the half-time whistle went, but the goal was disallowed as the celebration took too long. Super Arcade Soccer 2021 can be a craic with friends, as weirdo glitches stop a goal, but you won’t always feel that dismissive.
Making a football game as a solo developer must be a hell of a challenge. FIFA have thousands of people dedicated to incrementally improving their flagship, and they regularly get it wrong. So, to that end, credit should go to Ruben Alcañiz for seeing if a solo developer could make one.
Whether or not we actually needed Super Arcade Soccer 2021 on the Xbox Store, though, is another matter. It commits the cardinal sin of a B-list football game: it’s just not fun. There’s nothing that would warrant the ‘Arcade’ moniker, and certainly nothing approaching ‘Super’. Alongside the host of glitches, it barely holds together as a game, and you’re left wondering more about Xbox’s quality standards than where the next goal is coming from.
They say that football is a beautiful game, but Super Arcade Soccer 2021 is just a rainy night’s football in Stoke.
You can buy Super Arcade Soccer 2021 for £5.79 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S