The outgoing European CEO revealed just before his departure that Sega were too aware that they needed a good football game on the system. Everything that they required was collated and sent to Japan, where Sega gave Smilebit the task of meeting everyone’s expectations. 90 Minutes: Sega Championship Football is I believe the product of this – Sega’s final attempt to provide all football mad Dreamcast owners with a quality football title that they so deserve. So have they finally pulled it off after numerous attempts in the last months of the Dreamcast?
As I mentioned in the Who Killed the Dreamcast article it seemed an oversight that for a company who advertised several football teams, it did not have a decent football game on the system. So far we’ve endured Virtua Striker 2 that looked great but played very much on the rails, UEFA that was boring and the Sega Worldwide series that never rose above average despite several attempts. Others have also tried but failed miserably and in conclusion most games have looked reasonable but they have all lacked the control and depth of Konami’s ISS series.
Playing 90 Minutes for the first time you are reminded of ISS, the layout and style show that Smilebit have been listening to feedback and learning from the very best. The game offers several modes including Exhibition, World Championship, Domestic, Competition and Training – all self explanatory and easy to navigate. Included in the game are 32 of the very best footballing nations in the world complete with real-life players, names and to a certain extent appearance. Clubs are also included and you have complete leagues from England, Italy, France, Spain and Germany all on offer. You can choose to play a full season or qualifying campaign or if you prefer a quick session with the Exhibition Mode. The game also caters for up to four players and is the essential football session on the system when your mates come round.
90 Minutes also offers a Customisation Mode whereby you can create your own team, everything from the name, kit and individual players is possible. This is excellent if you support a Scottish First Division elite team and with a bit of hard work they can appear in 90 minutes against Brazil! Your team can then be saved onto your VMU and taken around to a friend, again increasing the depth and multi-player attractiveness of the game. Commentary is often in sports games a major problem as previous attempts have failed to recreate the feel and depth that a commentator provides. Even the mighty ISS has failed to produce the definitive commentary and 90 Minutes fails also but has a good shot. Alan Parry provides the commentary on his own throughout the game and does a fine job. The little touches add to the whole feel of the game, such as the pre-match introductions, commentary and national anthems. While it is obvious that Virtua Striker has been an influence in this department, the game does a better job overall. The excitement of seeing your team march out onto the pitch with the crowd rising to salute you is very much real.
Graphically the game is not the best looking on the system and it was going to take something special to remove the crown from Virtua Striker 2 but Smilebit haven’t faired too badly. The graphics are solid and the animation of the players is excellent, perhaps the overall detail could have been improved as it does suffer the further away the camera is from the action. There are 10 camera angles on offer, giving you a variety of views to suit everyone. The game moves at a consistent rate with no noticeable slow down or graphical glitches with enough variety of goal scoring celebrations. Putting flat crowd backgrounds into a detailed 3D stadium is going to spoil the whole effect and they always seem to be waving large flags spoiling the view for others. I myself have never seen this at a football game but perhaps it’s a continental or Japanese habit. The sound effects and noises coming from the crowd are good but offer nothing new or memorable.
In any football game the most important aspect is how the players control and the control system employed by the developer. Smilebit have concentrated on this aspect greatly, no doubt learning from the mistakes of others who went for graphical style over content. Once you have learned the various controls required and have taken a tour around the Training options to brush up on your skills, you will find the control very natural. The option to customise your controller is also included and after selecting the B-button as shoot, I found it to be even better. The only criticism I do have here is that the shooting/power meter is far too sensitive, often resulting in wild shots flying over the bar. In the matches I played I never found the controls intrusive, leaving me to enjoy playing the game. The depth here isn’t of ISS standards and does lack special moves or combinations that the good players love to use. During the game the D-pad will offer you some tactical options while the pre-game menus allow you to set up your desired team and player roles within that formation. Other game options include turning off the cards but in fairness the refereeing was not harsh enough to warrant removal. Still you may have friends who play like Falkirk and therefore this option needs to be selected otherwise you will have no players left. Injury and fatigue options are provided, as are the standard stadium and weather options
Any Dreamcast owners still patiently waiting for a playable football game for the system will be pleased to know that we finally have one. 90 Minutes: Sega Championship Football is no ISS but I’d put it above FIFA and second only to the excellent Konami games. With the cancellation of recent Dreamcast titles in America and the removal of Propeller Arena from the release list we can be thankful that one of the final releases on the system is so enjoyable.