Neo Geo Cup 98 is the kind of football game we no longer see. In the heyday of arcades, soccer games had an element of dynamism about them. Born of the need to entice more coins into the slot, the realism of the pitch was eschewed for a faster paced, more action packed game. For a non football fan like me, it made these games much more enjoyable.
I played this on the Pandora’s Box system and Neo Geo Cup 98 is by far the stand out soccer game on there. Firstly, it gives you the controls before the game even begins so that you do not have to spend four games working out how to pass, shoot and lob the ball. It also has a number of playing options, from world tournaments to European, American and beyond. When continuing, you can decide if you want to do penalty shootouts, golden goals and more. It packs in a lot of options.
In tournament mode you actually choose your group before you select your country, so you know who you will be up against. Whoever decided these put some thought in, as groups often contain some heavy rivalries (I was England pitted against Scotland). You then get a choice of tactic, powering up your attack, defence and other statistics. The teams selects are standard world football fare but they are noticeably different to play as and against. I was caught off-guard when starting against Jamaica after Scotland. They were noticeably more attacking and hreavy on the tackles than Scotland had been.
Joy of the Cut Scenes
The cut scenes are exceptionally dramatic and actually make the game. Foul someone and an overhead screenshot worthy of a Vietnam movie will show them facedown like a homicide victim. The ‘being stretchered off with agony and torment on their face’ is a firm favourite. When you get fouled, the split screen ‘Psyched up’ is hilarious. Goal scoring is even better as I watched an animation of a tousle haired striker launching himself like a rocket into the arms of his captain.
Taking and saving penalties also have a real flair. The perspective is from behind the ball and takers foot, with the goal keeper in the background. You have to guess the direction before the kick which takes some of the excitement away but visually it compensates well for this.
The team AI could be improved somewhat. In many cases, a ball would rebound from the goal keeper and land close to an AI player in the goal mouth. They would just kind of walk around instead of grabbing the ball and taking a shot, which was frustrating. Your formation is also actually pretty rigid, with players holding positions instead of moving forward with you.
Is It Worth Your time?
Overall, one of the best arcade football games I have played. It has none of the realism of modern soccer simulations and is better for it, adding dramatic cut scenes and fast paced play to the mix. Well worth your time, especially when playing with friends and family.