Football is a big business in the video games industry these days, but in the early days, it had humble beginnings. FIFA 98 will forever be regarded as one of the best football games that has ever graced the digital turf. It captured the tournament so well at the time, but has it aged well close to 20 years on?
Graphically it’s also got that typical washed out look that N64 games are renowned for.
Let us take a trip back to 1998. The analogue controller was still in its infancy and on a technical level 3D games were still being perfected. The N64 era was a unique age in the industry. What we consider to be perfect in that era doesn’t quite transpire to be the case with most games two decades later. FIFA World Cup 98 is not one of those games. Graphically it might pale to anything you would play these days, but it’s still a super amount of fun.
It’s in the game. It still is
FIFA 96 and 97 before this were both considered horrible games of football at the time. The controls were sluggish and both games just played exceptionally slow. It felt nothing like the game. There was no excitement to be found. In comes FIFA World Cup 98 and brings a fresh new engine that has the players acting in a life-like manner (for the time) and a game that’s fast-paced with a good grasp on the sport. It was an upgrade of FIFA Road to the World Cup 98, and it delivered.
For the first time, there were some football player likenesses in the game, though by standards set today it’s hilarious when comparing it. Back then it was impressive and the various players came with an impressive number of animations, meaning that the game seemed a lot smoother than any FIFA before it. The N64 controller brought analogue movement with it and allowed for much-improved control over the players when compared to the D-Pad on the PS1 or SEGA Saturn, though the PS1 launched and supported the game with its own Dualshock controller a year later. Though the analogue controls felt perfect for the game the button setup wasn’t quite as perfect.
Basic passing, shooting, tackling and changing player closest to the ball is handled by the main A and B buttons. It’s the use of the directional C buttons that feels like a bit of a mess. Press down for a lob, up for an evasion move, right for a through ball and tap left to gain speed. You also have to keep the Z trigger and R shoulder button in mind to combine with the other buttons for advanced moves. It’s really confusing and nowhere near as simple as the game you might have played on the PS1.
Graphically it’s also got that typical washed out look that N64 games are renowned for and there’s no cool intro as you would find on the PS1 version due to the lack of storage on the cartridges. Thankfully everything else is on point. Included are impressive weather effects for the time and some decent commentary.
Finish World Cup mode for the first time and you’ll unlock Cup Classics mode. You see, before the days of DLC these extras were included as an awesome bonus.
I get knocked down, but I get up again
Most players will jump right into the World Cup mode that even had South Africa included (back when Bafana Bafana still qualified for a world cup without being host nation). The presentation is fantastic and you have access to all the official World Cup 98 teams, the 10 stadiums in France and it comes with all the stats and other bits of important information fans of the sport would want in the game. There are eight viewpoints on offer to play the game, though I think the default tele cam works best. Where it really excels is team management. You can substitute players, change up the formation, mark other opposition players as well as change the positioning, aggression, attacking bias and kick takers per player. It’s really impressive.
Should you want to test your skills before entering the World Cup mode a bit of Training and Penalty Shootout modes should be a great place to perfect it. Finish World Cup mode for the first time and you’ll unlock Cup Classics mode. You see, before the days of DLC these extras were included as an awesome bonus. You get to play in one of many classic matches set up just like it originally was, including a sepia filter to give it that old televised look and feel. The more you play, the more classic matches you unlock. Doing this with friends is where this game held most of its explosive fun. With the N64 version of the game, you can play with a maximum of four players with a coloured circle indicating which player you are.
On the N64 FIFA World Cup 98 has aged well in terms of how well it plays, but graphically it’s aged quite poorly. It’s still one of the best examples of the beautiful game at the time and is a free kick well worth taking. Chances are that you’ll score.