Retrospective64 – World Cup 98

The Nintendo 64 was my first console. It’s many cartridges, trident-like controller, and countless classics were the foundation for my video game experience. As quarantines and isolations continue to keep many, including me, at home, I’ve decided to look through my catalogue of N64 games and explore how they’ve stood, or fallen to, the test of time.

Box cover for World Cup 98. Courtesy of EA Canada.

Note: To prepare for this, I played through the World Cup 98 campaign, which reconstructs the group stage and knockout stage of the tournament, with Romania. I chose Romania above all because they were a medium ranked team and provided a nice challenge. I’m happy to say that I took them all the way and won the final 1-0 over England.

World Cup 98 is, to put it simply, a wonderful slice of nostalgia. While modern FIFA players may find themselves horrified by its lacking mechanics and pixelated look, I can’t help but think of countless experiences playing the game with family, friends, and just myself over the years. The game was made by EA Canada and is one of the few games I’ll be discussing on here that isn’t made by Nintendo or a company closely affiliated with Nintendo.

Despite feeling quite different from EA’s more modern interpretations of the beautiful game, a lot of the basic controls are still there. The joystick of course directs motion. The A and B buttons give your basic passing, tackling, and shooting. The C buttons provide a range of tactics, including sliding tackles, through passes, and purposeful fouls. All in all, it’s a slightly more complicated and spread out version of the FIFA controls you use today.

Overall, it’s really the physics, not the mechanics, that differentiate the games. There’s a strange feeling to how the ball moves in this game and every time you took a shot on goal it seems like the game has decided every attempt has to look like a screamer, with even the most basic shot rocketing across the screen. The passes can be a bit frustrating to target and often a slight error in how your facing will result in a ball being cannoned across the pitch to a random opponent. This isn’t helped by the camera being quite close to the player with the ball, instead of a more zoomed out look as we often see now. I like the intimacy of the zoom in, but it does make it harder to navigate the pitch.

I, as much as I love this game, have to also mention that there’s a sort of delay in many of the commands that means you’ll often think you’ve planned out a great run and shot, only for the player to dribble it a few feet further because you pressed B too late and the keeper just comes and grabs it.

(music/sound) The sounds of this game aren’t all that different from most modern football games, in fact the crowd cheering sounds oddly similar. The menu has a nice tune but otherwise it’s pretty straight forward. The one bright light, albeit a strange one, is the inclusion of Chumbawamba’s hit(?) “Tubthumping” as the intro song. In comparison to the repetitive pop tracks that populate most games of the genre now, it’s a welcome risk, even if the song isn’t your (my) cup of tea.

If nothing else, World Cup 98 is a great bit of nostalgia. You can relive a great World Cup of the past on an already old school console and even get to play as some classic players. Playing it for this reminded me of the endless fun I had with it as a child, including goofing around with a friend to see how many players we could get red cards by slide tackling the head ref.

If you’re looking for a great football game, this probably isn’t it. It’s not especially realistic and frankly is probably more work than just picking up a modern alternative. That being said, if you have it or love yourself some nostalgia and have money on hand, I would highly encourage you to consider giving it a shot.

In a footballing world that’s more and more about clean new modern marketing, it’s nice to just enjoy a slap stick version of the game with some pixelated all-stars. It’s nice to remember when football was just a game played between some kids, that’s a memory football fans shouldn’t let themselves forget. 7/10

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