Guilty Party – Retro Redress

Crime – hating World Cup Italia ’90…yet not being able to remember if he’s played a full match on it.

Redress – Play a full match on World Cup Italia ’90 and give it a fair chance.

If you ever ask me what I think the worst games of all time are, I always bring up World Cup Italia ’90. It’s often the butt of my jokes on Twitter and I will savage it to anyone who dares bring it up. The thing is though… I actually can’t remember finishing a full match on it.  I remember disliking WCI90 as a kid but I haven’t played it in donkey’s years. Surely it’s unfair to make fun of it, given these circumstances?

It’s time to give World Cup Italia ’90 a fair chance. Is it as bad as I remember? Or did my impatient younger self just not appreciate it?


World Cup Italia ’90 sure does have a colourful title screen, complete with the official tournament mascot Ciao and a strange sampled roar that doesn’t fit with the jaunty tune that follows. It honestly sounds like a left over sample from Golden Axe or Altered Beast that SEGA must have been forced into using. It’s good to go back and play a licensed football game, but the 1990 World Cup isn’t one of the most fondly remembered World Cups. It’s notorious for negative play, lots of fouls, penalties and a lack of open play goals. In fact, two major rule changes were brought in after this World Cup in order to promote positive play – 3 points for a win (instead of 2 points for a win) and the backpass rule, where the goalkeeper can not pick up a pass from a teammate. World Cup Italia ’90 doesn’t have these things, which isn’t a good omen.


Against my better judgement, I’m going as England. I have no real connection to England’s national team any more, having been turned off by the later Sven Goran Eriksson era and completed alienated by the Capello era. Still, I always pick England as my international team because it feels weird to pick any other country. In 1990, England were a decent side so 2/5 for skill seems quite low. In an unusual move, you then pick your players before you pick the opposing team, World Cup Italia ’90 has a strange mix of real players from 1990 (Lineker, Robson), real past players (Charlton) and fake players. It’s a odd set up – why have a mixture? If you could use some real player names, why not use them all? West Germany are to be the opponents for this match. You know you’re playing an old football game if you can pick West Germany. USSR and Yugoslavia are also present. Looking through the map, the selectable teams are also inaccurate compared to the 1990 World Cup. There’s only Algeria from Africa, no Egypt or Cameroon, who had a famous World Cup campaign in 1990. The likes of China, Japan and Peru are available, despite not actually qualifying for the 1990 World Cup. It seems odd to have a licensed game and miss out teams and players who actually featured in it. To be fair though, Pro Evolution Soccer has been doing this for years and I’ve accepted it, so I’m not going to be too hard on WCI90.


We kick off the match against West Germany in the classic sky blue away kit, a great kit that’s sadly forgotten now. The clock in the corner instantly brings back bad memories of being a kid and watching the game clock slowly elapse…wishing I had FIFA or Sensible Soccer to play instead. Gameplay wise, World Cup Italia ’90 is bland…you can shoot with A, lob it with B or pass it along the ground. There is no extra gameplay touches (aftertouch, trapping the ball ala Kick Off) and the ball sticks to the player, so the match consists of booting the ball to your player and hoping he doesn’t bump into an opposition player.  The first 14 minutes of this match have simply involved kicking the ball around the middle of the park, with neither team making any progress. There is a strange response issue too, where the player with the ball won’t kick it no matter what you press. The slide tackle is also awful – press A and you get a ‘tackling’ sound effect and your player lying on the turf. It looks poor even for 1990 and makes me want to win the ball without using the slide tackle at all.


I finally break into the West German penalty area and managed to boot the ball straight at their goalkeeper. Upon sight of their goalkeeper, all my negative memories of WCI90 come flooding back to me. I play goalkeeper when I play football (I’m slow and unskilful, so hiding me in a goal net is the best strategy for victory) and I demand realistic portrayals of goalkeepers in my football games. WCI90 doesn’t offer this…instead these baseball cap clad fools run around, guarding a goal net that seems far too big for them and chasing after the ball like a dog in the park. Worse still, WCI90 will give the player manual control of the goalkeeper if the opposition get in your box. No football game ever gives you manual control of the goalkeeper, unless you make the change in the options screen, WCI90 does not have an option screen. I’ve decide to keep West Germany as far away as possible from my box.


Half time comes and I pause the game and think. Has WCI90 been as bad as I remember? It’s certainly a poor game, but I can’t say it’s one of the worse ever. The Mega Drive version of Dark Castle is one of the worst games ever. Bubsy 3D is one of the worst games ever. WCI90 is dull, but it’s a working, playable game that resembles (kinda) it’s source material. I certainly couldn’t face playing through the entire World Cup tournament, but the few minutes I’ve played have been ok. To be fair, the clock is much faster than I remember it being and now I’ve discovered diving headers and bicycle kicks (both use A), the game seems a little more interesting.


And there you go…the second I give WCI90 the slightest bit of praise and the game shows me why I dislike it. West Germany roll the ball towards the goal from the corner of the box, the game gives me manual control of the keeper and he does a jig, allowing the ball to creep under him, into the net. It looks ridiculous and takes me out of the game completely. A second  West Germany goal follows on 64 mins, in similar fashion. Giving the player control of the goalkeeper is a fatal flaw of WCI90 – the player is too busy trying to defend with the defence. By the time the player has control of the goalkeeper, the ball is trickling towards the corner of the goal and you’re forced to chase it, like Rocky trying to catch chickens. Worse still, when the opponent is in your penalty area, you automatically try to move your defenders towards them…only for WCI90 to assign control of the goalkeeper to you, which means your goalkeeper charges out of his goal like Usain Bolt, leaving an empty net behind.


86 minutes gone and I’ve given up to be honest. West Germany are dribbling (well, walking) around me with ease, the game isn’t obeying my commands and the giant, but useless radar is starting to annoy me. Why would I need a radar when all I can do is lump the ball down the pitch anyway? It’s not like I can dribble around players or pass it effectively! Bar the bizarre goalkeepers, WCI90’s worse trait is it’s lack of appeal. No tactics to amend, no substitutes, can’t weight passes, can’t shoot from range….all you can do it hit the ball towards the opposition box and see if your striker in the box can find enough space to turn and shoot at the keeper. When I say ‘turn’, think of reversing a lorry. WCI90 is a sluggish game so trying to score a goal really is an exercise in attrition.


I greet the final whistle with a smile. I’m glad the game is over. Even a defeat to England’s rivals isn’t bothering me. I never have to play WCI90 ever again and I’m really happy about that.

Verdict – Now I’ve played a full match and documented it (so I don’t forget!) I can agree that I was being too hard on WCI90. It’s a bad game – slow and uninspiring. However WCI90 isn’t one of the worst games ever – it is at least playable and is a product of it’s time, rather than being a badly programmed game. WCI90 isn’t fun to play, but at least you can play it and for that reason, I’m willing to show some leniency.