Anco Kick off was a legendary game on the 16 bit platforms., but didn’t fair well in reviews on the 8bits. Especially the Atari 8bit version. The C64 version had multi colored players, and looked and played pretty well. The Atari 8bit version…not quite so much. But, I need to dig into the game myself and see if it is worth a play or not because the blue and yellow blobs that make up the players in screen shots I have seen don’t quite give me the confidence that it will be worth it.
Here is a video of my play session today.
After reading, then clipping out and putting the Atari User Page 6 Review into our Atari 8bit Game Article Database, I realized that I had never played this game before. I had booted it up on my 130XE, but because it it a PAL game, it was unplayable. The ST Version of Kickoff 2 and Kick Off Player Manager were two of my absolute favorite games on that 16 bit platform, so how bad could the Atari 8bit version really be?
The Historical Context
Well, given that the game sold for about $20 or 13 Pounds via mail order or a lucky find hidden behind some C64 cassettes in a local British shop, I didn’t have much hope for it. Anco was charged a premium price for a budget product and no one would carry this back when it came out. I Had never heard of anyone who had played it and didn’t even know it existed until today. The review in Atari User Magazine says that it is an OK game, but also paints is as a game that Anco even seemed to forget that it had produced when it was available for purchase. Such was the life of an Atari 8bit owner after 1985 and the review was written in 1990 for a game that was released in 1989 on a platform that only budget companies and Atari themselves were supporting with any regularity by that time. To put the game’s release in even more context, by the time the review was written and the game was supposedly on shelves the two most prominent Atari exclusive magazines (Antic and Analog) in the USA had all but closed up shop as Atari was focusing most of it resources on the UK, Western and surprisingly, Eastern Europe.
Atari 8bit Anco Kick Off is played on a horizontal rather than vertical pitch, unlike it’s 16 bit distant cousins. The in-game text doesn’t even seem to know this though because as you start a match, it let’s you choose to go “Up” or “Down” Pitch (if you win the coin flip), so I was certainly surprised to see both teams of blob-like players standing in a center circle of a horizontal play field when the game started.
What the game lacks in general aesthetics it makes up for in game play that starts out seeming sluggish, but becomes better as you play more. The pitch looks pretty good, there is no crowd, so the games seem to be being played in the age of Covid-19 Were Anco Prophetic or lazy?). Once the whistle blows though, I forgot all about that and had a pretty good time with the game. There are very few sounds in the game no music, just a few whistle and kicking sounds. There isn’t even a crowd noise to make up fir the lack of a crows on the screen.
AtariMania.com’s page for the game has instructions, the tape case and some other goodies, but I have played Kickoff before on the ST, why would I need those to get started? It turns out that I didn’t, not at first, at least. Once you get passed the overtly mediocre visual presentation of the game, you basically have a slower, horizontal version of 16 bit Kick Off. The single colored blob-like players have a nice set of animations and the AI for both the opposing team and your own players is pretty well programmed and designed.
When you start, you have many of the same options from the 16 bit versions and even a reasonable facsimile of the start screen.
Practice is pretty well done. It’s 11 on 0 and you can Free play on the pitch, practicing all of the moves necessary to score. I did this for a while, scring and passing, It was pretty fun to be honest. After the practice, I played then played a single test game. scoring a lone goal. This didn’t bode well for my upcoming 8 team season match against Argentina.
Sure enough I proceeded to get my ass kicked by Argentina when I played as England in a league match.
For my single game, I chose to play at the International Level and gave the computer the the lowest skill level. When I started, it took a little time to get used to the sluggish controls and the computer almost scored the first goal, but as I started to get the hang of the controls it became clear that 16 bit strategies could work in the horizontal 8bit version. I was actually having fun playing the game. There were a few quality wrinkles with the graphics glitching and at times I did get flash backs of Pele’s soccer on the 2600, but the 11 on 11 game is a real challenge. I have not played every Atari 8bit Soccer/Footie Football game available (yet), but this certainly was better than Thorn EMI or Atari Real Sports soccer at least as far as I remember. We’ll get to those in another article.
For the League, I chose to play as the English side e and set the computer to play as the rest. As you can see in the image below, each county in the league does have a different player (blob) kit color, and not just the blue or yellow from the single game mode.
So, the game isn’t as bad as the 3.5 / 10 rating it has on AtariMania, but it certainly doesn’t show off the power of the Atari computers at all. It’s not a complete failure, and could have been so so so much better if developer Cirrus had been given the time and $$ to make a proper version. That Being Said, I could never choose it over the ST version and I do have that choice, but I had fun playing this on my Altirra Emulator with a real Atari joystick (via the Stella-daptor). It’s a real stick breaker and that’s saying a lot.
Tips From The Tipster Atari User Page 6 Issue 51.
Graphics: 50% – The players are blobs, but have a number of decent animations. but the rest of the Pitch looks OK.
Sound: 20%- Not much. No Music
Control: 60% – Like the 16 bit version, there is no ball control, you boot the ball up or down (or in this case sideways) along the pitch and have a few options for kicking with a deft touch. You will also try to head the ball automatically if it’s in the air.
Game play: 70% – Sluggish at times, but the computer puts up a fight, I had fun, and after a while I was able to become pretty good at booting the ball around the screen even if I didn’t score much.
Overall: 62% – Check it out if only as a museum piece and a relic of Atari 8bit history gone by. Its a fun Atari 8bit game though, marred by amateur graphics and sound, but it pretty enjoyable to play.