Super Sidekicks trades in realism for arcade pleasure
Back in the ‘90s, arcades were filled to the brim with brightly colored lights and teens, both making equally loud noises. The cacophony of sound ranged from explosions, fighting screams, crazy gun games, racers and most of all soccer games. Especially in Europe it was all the soccer booths that had the most prominent spot, loudest sound and biggest appeal, even over fighter games. It’s rather strange that this European glory was mostly dominated by Shin Nihon Kikaku or SNK, a Japanese developer.
Super Sidekicks is only one of the many similar looking games available at the time, but what made it shine was its unmistakable arcade charm. Based on fast-paced action rather than realism, this footie game pitted 2 teams with very short fuses in an equally small pitch. What resulted was fast passing, hard shooting and bumps and grinds onto any opponent standing in your way.
Much in line of other pixelated arcade wonders, this game is presented in the same bright colors which try and depict somewhat realistic, yet colorful mosaic textures. Most of the Neo Geo games at the time were just that one step ahead in the 16-bit era, due to an attached 8-bit processor; Super Sidekicks is no exception. Even if in-game most players are faceless and the animations aren’t always that fluent, it’s the detailed views such as close-ups that seal the deal. In addition, the loud, blaring noises from the arcades get transposed wonderfully and there’s nothing more satisfying than a garish “Goal” noise emitting from your screen.
Playing a game in the SNK Cup, VS Mode or Exhibition is instantly gratifying from the moment you pick one of the dozen countries available. Teams have a different skill amount, which will result in faster speed or better accuracy and will be very telling for your gameplay experience. Worse teams are really a step behind on the competition and getting the hang of slow players struggling to get ahead is not for the faint of heart. Add to that 4 different difficulty settings and even strengthened football fanatics will get a serious run for their money; almost literally.
As action is fast and furious, a goal is easily made for both sides; it only takes mere seconds to cross the pitch. Each team gets Ace players, which are the captains or star players that are generally outstanding from the pack. It’s these guys you want to target when going for gold. You either pass or shoot the ball automatically toward the player your arrow is currently pointing. If you get in the box area, a “Shoot” icon will appear, granting you access to take a shot at the goal. You can’t really give a lot of direction to any of the ball trajectory, but that’s not the point here. The point is to be swift and deadly, both on attack and defense.
Using the same 2 buttons from offense, you can either slide to regain control or make a devastating shoulder check. Rules are a little loose around the field, so striking down a few opponents won’t get noticed quickly, which doesn’t mean you can’t get fouls against you. A free kick and penalty both just use a system where you choose a side and then shoot; it’s all kept simple and effective.
Most of this results in action packed gameplay that keeps the adrenaline high and mighty, but there is a downside or two. For one, the simplicity is tweaked to such extent that you can’t pick your own players, resulting in large gaps between zones and frequent frustrating openings in your defense. As this game is a matter of seconds, having an opponent prance through your box for even an instant is one too much and having to rely on a random pick from your player base is annoying. In addition, nabbing a ball or opponent requires you to be very precise when it comes to directing yourself. A little broader detection or automated movement towards objects might’ve made this a lot less frustrating, as now you can literally slide away from a ball a mere pixel too soon. Especially in defensive maneuvers when you check a guy, you want him to detect where to go, not hit air full on; although it is hilarious when you take out your own men.
Making matters worse, the port does suffer from an occasional framedrop that makes the precision aspect a little trickier. But other than these small aggravations, Super sidekicks offers the same gratifying arcade pleasures of yore. Its fast, loud and entertaining soccer play is an instant pick-up-and-play you can enjoy at any time you just want to sit down and relax. But even more hardened players can find a huge challenge in attempting to complete the SNK Cup in an increasingly difficult match line-up.
Bashing, crashing and hurling the ball towards the net feel more like a battlefield, but that’s what makes a soccer game fun. It’s the sense of action that keeps you going and heightens your spirit as you try and take down your opponent mercilessly. Super Sidekicks trades in realism for the arcade pleasure that made the Neo Geo dominate and the console adaptation brings those times directly to your home.