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Retrospective: UEFA Dream Soccer

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. So goes the age old mantra; and try, try again Silicon Dreams did with its Dreamcast reimagining of the World League Soccer franchise. See, Sega Worldwide Soccer as it exists on the Dreamcast is not Sega Worldwide Soccer at all - it is in fact World League Soccer - a totally different game rebranded at the behest of Sega Europe desperate as it was to get a semi-decent footy title onto the Dreamcast. You may be confused as to why I mention Sega Worldwide Soccer here in a retrospective focussed on UEFA Dream Soccer, and this is because UEFA Dream Soccer is the threequel in the Sega Worldwide Soccer trilogy on Dreamcast. Clear as mud, no?

As a follow up to Sega Worldwide Soccer 2000 and Sega Worldwide Soccer 2000: Euro Edition then, UEFA Dream Soccer had a fairly steady, if not spectacular platform to build upon. Those previously mentioned titles were - as alluded to - remasters of sorts of the World League Soccer games from the PlayStation, Saturn, Nintendo 64 and Windows. As standalone titles, they were passable but not really in the same league as the original Sega-developed Worldwide Soccer games from the Saturn. The Saturn titles were an evolution of the Victory Goal series and completely unrelated, and I dare say if Sega had continued this franchise onto the Dreamcast instead of charging Silicon Dreams with taking the baton, then things could have been totally different. But I digress.

Released in 2001 (and previously known as Sega Worldwide Soccer 2001 during development), UEFA Dream Soccer arrived on the Dreamcast to relatively little in the way of fanfare. The stable of pre-existing football games on the platform boasted very little in the way of competiton to the FIFAs and the PESs of the world, and so there wasn't really much buzz around Dream Soccer. The fact that it was released exclusively in PAL territories probably didn't help, either.

The Dreamcast is often cited as a console that has no good football games, and EA's reluctance to bring FIFA to the platform (or indeed support it at all) is usually mentioned when reasons for its failure to gain mass market appeal are discussed. Likewise, the lack of a Pro Evolution Soccer/International Superstar Soccer game is somewhat puzzling when you consider that Konami did offer some decent support to the Dreamcast. So what you're left with if you want some kick-ball action on Dreamcast is a rather threadbare lineup consisting of a collection of titles that range from utterly dire (90 Minutes, European Super League) to average at best (everything else). 

But allow me to contradict my previous statement, because after spending some considerable time re-playing UEFA Dream Soccer and learning its foibles and accepting its flaws, my opinion on it has changed somewhat; I'd probably now go as far as saying not only is UEFA Dream Soccer the best football game on Dreamcast...it's also actually a pretty damn good game of footy in its own right.

One of the strangest aspects of UEFA Dream Soccer is the title. Why drop the Sega Worldwide Soccer moniker when the franchise had at least some modest brand recognition from Dreamcast owners and Sega fans? I guess that's a question for the marketing team at Silicon Dreams; but the fact remains - Dream Soccer is not a good name. Yes I'm aware of the 'Dream' bit of the title and the fact that it's a Dreamcast exclusive developed by Silicon Dreams...but still. It just sounds weird.

Naming conventions aside though, Dream Soccer gets a lot of other stuff right. There are absolutely loads of gameplay modes, which are seperated out into two distinct branches - Traditional and Arcade. The rules and the gameplay don't really change much depending on which of these two options you choose, however the onscreen overlay graphics and the types of matches on offer do. See, if you select the Traditional mode, you are offered the usual array of friendly matches, leagues and cup competitions which can be attempted with any of the club and national teams available. All fairly standard stuff. 

However if you opt for Arcade mode, you are offered some really unorthodox game types such as a 'gender challenge' where female and male teams are pitted against each other; or a survival mode where you must play opposition teams one after the other and win as many games as possible before being defeated. Further to this, the Arcade mode introduces a rather novel scoring system, based not only on goals but on actions completed during a match. Hit the post or pull off a successful tackle and you'll be awarded points; but concede a free kick or a receive a booking and you'll be docked points. It is certainly original and adds something extra to the game. Alongside the Traditional and Arcade game types, there's also a decent training setup, where you can practice free kicks, corners etc., or just play a zero stakes game against the reserves. Let the stud up tackles fly!

Out on the field is where football games are made or broken though, and UEFA Dream Soccer gets most of the basics right, most of the time. If you've played any of the previous Silicon Dreams football titles, be it World League Soccer, UEFA Champions League or the Dreamcast versions of Sega Worldwide Soccer, then you'll be instantly familiar. Animation is fairly slick for the most part and the ball pings around with ease. At times it feels a bit too much like pinball as players constantly lose the ball or the tackles fly in and things become a bit of a free-for-all in the middle of the park, but once you get to grips with it, the UEFA Dream Soccer becomes quite an enjoyable kickabout. More than anything else on the Dreamcast, Dream Soccer feels like a properly polished football game and while it is in no way realistic, it is still satisfying to play. 

Shooting on goal can initially feel a bit frustrating as the ball will feel like it is glued to the floor, but pulling back on the analogue stick as you wind up a shot will add lift meaning you'll be scoring spectacular goals before long. Tackling can be a bit hit and miss - sometimes simply running into an opposition player will result in you coming away with the ball, other times no matter how much you hammer the tackle button you just won't be able to wrestle possession away. Passing is fine and while there is no power meter for passes, playing around with the options for game speed and ball characteristics mean that the default options can be manipulated almost to an infinite level, meaning there will undoubtedly be a setting for everyone's tastes.

Another remnant from the days of World League Soccer is the timing based approach to aerial play. In many modern football games, you simply press a button before the ball arrives near your player and the game will compensate for you, activating the desired action when the ball gets within range. In World League Soccer, that was never the case - if you pressed an action button before the ball arrived then the player would carry out that action and miss the ball completely...and this is exactly what happens in UEFA Dream Soccer. Initially it just feels hopelessly broken, but in time you learn to anticipate headers and volleys as the ball approaches and once you nail it, you're in for some spectacular moments. Overhead kicks, screaming volleys, useful little headed passes - it becomes second nature and when it clicks you really start to appreciate just how good UEFA Dream Soccer feels to play.

One of the major criticisms of the other Silicon Dreams football games on Dreamcast was just how useless the goalkeepers were, but thankfully in UEFA Dream Soccer it seems like they've been putting in extra shifts at the training ground. Ridiculous scorelines were the norm in SWWS 2000: Euro Edition, but UEFA Dream Soccer's matches invariably result in more realistic final scores. This really helps to add that 'fist punching the air' factor when you do finally bag a goal - if it's too easy to slam the ball into the net then it takes away all of the excitement and feeling of achievement. Happily, Dream Soccer seems to have gotten this aspect of football spot on. 

As well as playing a fairly decent game, Dream Soccer also looks and sounds good for a 20 year old title. The gigantic stadia look absolutely fantastic, the player models look superb close up and the animation is really quite good (just ignore the goalies' weird arms when they dive). Weather changes during matches, and there are options to play at different times of day, which adjusts the visual effects accordingly, adding nice shadows and floodlights. These extra graphical touches are further shown off via the cutscenes that are interspersed throughout matches, with the view switching to show players arguing after a particularly bad tackle or after a goal. As far as I know, this cutscene treatment represents one of the first times this type of thing was ever seen in a football game, and it does a lot to add to the atmosphere and TV style presentation - even if the pitches appear to be completely empty save for the players acting in the sequence.

Commentary is provided by Helen Chamberlain, Alan Green and Barry Venison, and while it isn't exactly amazing, it is certainly no worse than what you could expect from even a modern football game. Helen introduces the matches and takes over at the interval, with Alan and Barry covering play-by-play; and in all honestly, it is probably less repetitive and annoying than some current gen games. Likewise, crowd noise and stadium effects are perfectly fine, with nice roars after a goal and booing after a foul. There are no real player names (instead Dream Soccer relies on comedic phonetic misspellings) and so the commentary team doesn't refer to players by name, but it really doesn't matter as team names are accurate and you can tell who is who from the team sheets. On this note, it's actually quite interesting to look at squad lists and reminisce about footballers of the era, what with the Dreamcast library being a living time capsule of the late 90s and early 2000s.

It's probably worth stating the obvious here, and that is if you approach UEFA Dream Soccer from a modern perspective having just played FIFA 22 or PES 2021 (PES 2022 doesn't exist as far as I'm concerned), then of course it will seem primitive. But if you approach it with the mindset that this is a 20 year old game, on a console that didn't really get any triple-A football games, and take the time to learn the gameplay mechanics, then I guarantee you will have some fun. And really, that's what its all about.

UEFA Dream Soccer then, is without a doubt superior to the Sega Worldwide Soccer offerings on Dreamcast. It's also way more playable than European Super League; more like actual football than Virtua Striker 2 and has much more variety than UEFA Striker. 90 Minutes is basically the Spirit of Speed 1937 of football games, so the less said about that abomination, the better. In summary, it's far from perfect, but the next time anyone tells you that the Dreamcast has no good football games, point them in the direction of UEFA Dream Soccer.

Agree? Disagree? Do you like Dream Soccer or do you prefer other Dreamcast football titles? And what about this mysterious new indie Dreamcast football game apparently coming soon? Let us know in the comments...

Oh, and while you're here, if you like what we do here at the 'Yard, you can now support us on Buy Me a Coffee. Ta.

10 comments:

JúlioSlayer Oliveira said...

My top 3 Dreamcast Soccer games:

01. Sega Worldwide Soccer 2001, Oops... Uefa Dream Soccer :)
02. J. League Spectacle Soccer (Japanese version of 90 Minutes Footbal. Similar situation of Surf Rocket Racers/Power Jet Racing 2001. The japanese game was released a few months later and because of it benefits from bug fixes and some general improvements. In this case mainly a slightly better frame rate, without those bizarre variations of speed/fps of 90 Minutes that ruin the gameplay. Still far from perfect, but it's way better than the problems of the European version. ).
03. Sega Worldwide Soccer 2000: Euro Edition

It's really a shame the Dreamcast hasn't hosted any AAA football game. Uefa Dream Soccer is was as close as the console got. If they didn't rush the release to catch the late 2000 holiday season and spend another 2 or 3 months fixing bugs/refining the gameplay, this could have been the biggest football game on the console. As it was released, it's still the best, even with several minor/medium issues.

Tom Charnock said...

Thanks for your comment Julio - I wasn't aware of the improved version of 90 Minutes / J League Spectacle Soccer. I'll certainly check that out prior to my inevitable retrospective on 90 Minutes. I'm really intrigued to know more about the indie football/soccer title that's been hinted at on social media, will defintiely be keeping an eye out for that one!

OriginalName said...

It was always surprising to me that Smilebit, who inherited Sega CS1 staff from Sega Worldwide Soccer '97 and '98, couldn't make a great football game for Dreamcast when they'd had so much success on Saturn.

According to SegaRetro, they lost a great deal of the original Sega CS1 staff to ex-Sega employees' Artoon and Land Ho! start-ups. I guess that explains it. Still, it seems like all you had to do was translate an existing winning formula to Dreamcast and you'd have had a hit game on your hands.

https://segaretro.org/Sega_CS1

OriginalName said...

To clarify, I read the article and I hear ya': UEFA Dream Soccer is a quality game, but it seems like they could and should have been able to come out of the gate with a triple-A Sega Worldwide Soccer '99/2K in the vein of the Saturn games.

Júnior Puma silva said...

The best football game from Dreamcast and J.League Football Show, which is an enhanced version of the 90 Minutes game,
UEFA Dream Soccer is the second best football

Deef said...

Thanks for this article, I fully agree with Tom, UEFA Dream soccer by far the best football game of the console but by the comments about the improvements brought for the jap release of 90min, I’ll definitely give it a second chance !!

JúlioSlayer Oliveira said...

Agree with most comments. Like Júnior said, J.League is a improved version of 90 minutes. The frame rate and a lot of textures were improved (player faces, for example) , but for this performance gain they eliminated some screen polygons, such as camera man and people on the side of the fields. For me it's very clear that it was a game produced by people who knew how to make a football game, but didn't have the time and budget to fix the bugs and write a better code, which would extract a better performance from the console. And the TEAM was very small too. Uefa Dream Soccer was created by a team of 56 people. 90 Minutes/J. League was a smaller team. From the looks of it, the game was created in cooperation with Smilebit, not for their principal team.

"Created In Cooperation With: Smilebit".

https://segaretro.org/90_Minutes:_Sega_Championship_Football

In the end it would be better to join forces from Smilebit/Sega of Japan + Sega of Europe and make just ONE AAA football/Soccer game/engine for Dreamcast than to split the forces and have 2 half-baked games that COULD be great with a bigger team behind (World Wide Soccer 2001/Uefa Dream Soccer and 90 Minutes /J.League Spectacle Soccer). We had one great Arcade port too (Virtua Striker 2 Ver. 2000.1), but that's not enough for sports aficionados who always want at least one great simulation of their favorite sport on the console.

Tom Charnock said...

Thanks all for your insightful comments. Certainly need to investigate J League further now.

Tom Charnock said...

Turns out the ‘new’ Dreamcast football game is basically a reskin of Euro Super League :(

SegaSen said...

I actually liked 90 Minutes, even though it is rough. Dream Soccer is fine, just not spectacular. Neither are the current FIFA games by the way.