Soccer never caught much popularity in the U.S. We tried to like it. During the short span of a few months in the early 1990s, soccer fever hit the States, complete with a McDonald's endorsement. But it proved to be just another passing fad. America went on, largely ignoring the sport.
Soccer videogames receive the same kind of treatment. They do exist; they just don't get that much attention. Each year, dozens of soccer-related titles hit several different game systems, and certain people take to them because of a genuine love for the sport. Unfortunately, the majority of gamers seem to overlook the titles in search of something a bit flashier.
Sega has created an anomaly in the paradigm with Sega Soccer Slam. Gamers looking for flash will notice this title from the moment they see the disc case. Right off the bat, Soccer Slampresents itself as something different from the traditional soccer videogame. In the clearest sense, Soccer Slam is an extreme take on the sport, focusing on competition and personalities rather than authentic re-creation.
The name of the game is still soccer, however. Teams of three play against one another to score the most goals before two periods are up,except in Soccer Slam the rules of the game don't apply. Once the clock starts, the game doesn't stop no matter how dirty a person plays. Players are allowed to beat each other around as much as necessary and pull off moves that would get any real soccer player tossed out of the stadium. The size of the playing field is also reduced, giving the action a more frantic pace than in traditional soccer titles.
As I said above, competition is the main aspect of Soccer Slam. Gamers don't have to be familiar with the rules of soccer to play. The prevalent goal is simply to win the match. Without rules to bog down the player, the game allows for a more casual style of play. I know virtually nothing about soccer, save a few odds and ends. I could still enjoy Soccer Slam, because the game is aimed at the more general audience, which isn't the case with most soccer titles.
Soccer Slam focuses more on being a videogame than the simulation of a real sport. The annunciation of the characters is part of this strategy. The teams generally represent a certain corner of the world. For instance, one team contains characters from Western Europe, while another focuses on Central and South Americathere's even an American team (for those who doubt U.S. involvement with anything soccer related). Each team has three distinct characters, each with their own unique personality. Stereotypes run wild in Soccer Slam's roster, which represents different ethnic cultures. There's the brash and loud Scotsman, who wears a kilt on the field; a crew cut, nationalistic Russian; a mathematical-speaking, half-cyborg Japanese woman; and a lumbering American, complete with surfer lingo and football padding. Soccer Slam doesn't score any points for being politically correct, but the representations are all in good fun. They definitely make playing on the field more interesting, especially after one of them scores a goal.
When it all comes down to the wire, Sega Soccer Slam is still a soccer game. Off-the-wall characters, no rules matches—they might attract more attention to the title than if it were a traditional-style soccer game. But soccer is soccer is soccer is soccer. That's not a bad thing. Soccer Slam is an innovative title, and it presents an excellent strategy to market a sport that receives little attention here in the U.S. It's hard to ignore Soccer Slam—that is, oncea gamer is sitting down and playing it.
Disclaimer:This review is based on the GameCube version of the game.