Retrospective: European Super League

If you spend any time on the internet these days, especially perusing Dreamcast news sites, forums and discussion threads, you'll inevitably encounter the notion that the system was 'ahead of its time.' In some ways, this is probably true - the VMU, the myriad A/V connection types, Spirit of Speed 1937, the internet connectivity and online gaming in an era when it wasn’t really standard for consoles...I could go on. 

There's another example of the Dreamcast being ahead of its time though: European Super League. Yes, 20 years before the eponymous debacle that shook European club football to its foundations, the good old Dreamcast was predicting the future of the beautiful game. And in time honoured fashion, the Dreamcast's version of the European Super League was every bit as dodgy as the real-life iteration that appeared (briefly) in early 2021.

Before you spit your cornflakes out, I know European Super League was a multi-platform release...I'm just desperately trying to somehow craft a relevant introduction to a retrospective on what I consider to be a pretty turgid football game.

To give some context, we have mentioned the Dreamcast's relatively lacklustre complement of football (soccer) titles here in the past, but European Super League is one we haven't looked at in any real depth. In fact, I'm pretty sure the only summary we've ever published goes a little like this: it has 16 teams. There is no commentary. It is unplayable. It has graphics like a Master System game. Do me a favour.

But now we're taking a slightly more in-depth look. Cough. Lining up alongside the likes of Sega Worldwide Soccer 2000, Sega Worldwide Soccer 2000 Euro Edition, UEFA Striker, UEFA Dream Soccer, Virtua Striker 2 and 90 Minutes, European Super League completes a team of also-rans that would make even the ever-optimistic Ted Lasso weep; and while that may sound a little harsh - as some of those games are at least passable - not one of them comes close to recreating the fun or spectacle of contemporary footy games on competing platforms.

Developed by Crimson and Coyote (that's two seperate developers, not one awesomely named studio - which will probably disappoint the Jimmy Eat World fans among us), and published by Virgin Interactive in 2001, European Super League is a follow up to the decidedly mediocre Viva Football which was released on PlayStation and PC in 1998. Prior to the mid 2000s, football fans were not limited to either FIFA XX or PES (or E-PES or E-Football Superstar Strikers International 2021 Update Edition as it's now known); with multiple football franchises all competing for gamers' cash and attention. 

European Super League was born out of this footballing wilderness, and considering that the Dreamcast never got a Konami or EA football game, it was fertile ground for Virgin (and indeed Sega itself) to try to capitalise on the resulting power vaccum by releasing the definitve soccersperience. Sadly though, like every other effort on the Dreamcast-shaped goal (yes, a swirl), European Super League falls some way short of footballing nirvana.

But before we get to what makes this a pretty lacklustre affair, let's discuss the good stuff. Firstly, it's a football game...for the Dreamcast. Next up, it has a pseudo-official license, in that all of the clubs - all 16 - are fully licensed, with real player names and likenesses. The clubs involved even sport fully rendered and lovingly realised recreations of their home stadia. And while European Super League does look every bit like the up-rezzed PlayStation game it is, you can't help but be impressed by the accuracy lavished upon these towering auditoriums of Ralgex in which the matches take place. 

Are they on the same level as UEFA Dream Soccer or SWWS 2000 Euro Edition? No. But still, you can see effort was put in, and it should be lauded. Likewise player animation is pretty decent, all things considered. The players all run about convincingly, shots look like they have conviction and - I'll go out on a limb here - the goalkeeper animations are probably the best on the Dreamcast. Apparently there's even a streaker Easter Egg, with an accuratley animated naked human running across the pitch at random, but this has not been witnessed by this gamer's own eyes. So with a fresh pair of eyes, it's clear that European Super League isn't as bad visually as I remember it being, but sadly that's where the positives end.

Quite simply, even with all the positives in the aesthetics, European Super League plays like shit. The most important aspect of a football game is how it plays, and Virgin's Dreamcast offering follows on from its PlayStation prequel in that it just plays badly. For a start, it is more like pinball than football. The ball zips about nicely, but keeping comtrol of the ball against the invincible AI is almost impossible because passing is so imprecise. Tackling and sliding is out of the question without fouling the opposition; and keeping possession is a case of just running around in circles ignoring your teammates like that annoying greedy kid on your school team who wanted the coaches to think he was the next Ian Wright but now works in Primark and is 20 stone. Shooting on goal relies on the awful 'pull away from goal to add lift' system that was banished from football games in the 1990s, while simultaneously aiming at the corner you want the ball to go towards. In practice, it just doesn't work and you end up blasting the ball straight at the 'keeper every time.

Imagine Actua Soccer crossed with World League Soccer...but with all the good stuff removed; and as soon as you no longer have possession, player movement changes from running in treacle to suddenly being on ice skates, sliding around chaotically trying to ice skate up-hill, bottling it and hitting slide just to get the ball back. Cue a free-kick or a penalty awarded against you. Always against you. There are some nice touches, such as the PGA Tour Golf style power meter for corner kicks, and the incidental animations for throw ins...but it's agonisingly little in the face of such glaring awfulness during an actual match. Gameplay shitshow aside, there's more that lets European Super League down.

The're no commentary for a start. Which might sound like a godsend, but here it smacks of pure laziness. Viva Football played on this by trying to do something different, adding player shouts in the place of play by play from a studio commentary team. It worked to an extent and was refreshing...but in European Super League you don't even get that. All you get is the sound of the (admittedly quite good) crowd effects. Why? Why in the age of pretty much every other footy game having play-by-play did the devs think this was a good idea? 

This game could have been quite interesting with pseudo-realistic Champions League style presentation and video overlays...but there's nothing like that. Nothing. Just the same oddly silent intro, lacking any sense of occasion, regardless of the play mode. Add to this the extremely limited number of teams available (and no Manchester United? In an early 2000s football game about European Football when Champions League was on TV every week and they were literally the Champions of Europe?) and paltry number of play modes and you're left with one of the most barebones, poorly executed football games on the Dreamcast. Granted, it's not as bad as 90 Minutes, but that game is funny bad. This is just bad bad...if that makes sense.

As mentioned, European Super League has a few redeeming features (nice stadiums, decent animation and appealing crowd sounds), but the list of negatives is overwhelming. Shite gameplay, extremely limited team selection, one single goal celebration regardless who you play as, limited camera angles, no commentary and a dearth of gameplay modes mean European Super League is pretty much on a par with its real life namesake - a non-starter. Give it a go if you're a completionist who needs to own every PAL-exclusive Dreamcast game...otherwise, treat it like Ed Woodward and the Glazers and wish it would just disappear.

Of course, all this is just my opinion. And who the hell am I? Nobody, that's who. Do you agree? Do you disagree? Let us know in the comments, weary Dreamcast owning footy fan!


Lewis Cox said...

Always love a good Jimmy Eat World reference!

Wonderboy said...

I can forgive all the ropey football games on the Dreamcast because of the brilliance of Virtua Striker 2, didn't need any other football games, well maybe abit of Giant KIllers!

Unknown said...

I played this game as a child. and I don't know why, if there was any command or it was random, did a naked women invade the pitch. Could you confirm it? are there any photos or videos of this?

krstn said...

Yep, naked woman was there. It happened for me only once but it was completely random.