AKA some weird football games that I've played pt. 1
Olá! Welcome to the first in our “Weird Football Games” series. To celebrate the start of the
soccer football season, I’ll be doing a series of short write ups about weird and wonderful football games that have released over the years. Our first on the list is Virtual Striker 3 ver. 2002. Many of you may have seen this, or other iterations, in arcades dotted around UK coastal towns, but it did actually have a Dreamcast and Gamecube port that I suspect not as many people will have bought.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing about some other titles I’ve come across, and some that I haven’t, all in the hope of showcasing some of the lesser known football games that didn’t quite make it out of the wilderness.
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Virtua Striker 3 ver. 2002
Have you ever wondered what football game might be like if it was designed by a 13 year old in the Dreamcast era? Well Virtua Striker 3 is like that, or rather it is what a Japanese SEGA executive might have expected a 13 year old to love and having been that kid, they got it spot on. Possibly for all of the wrong reasons, because even for the time this game was pure cheese.
The gameplay was hilariously blocky, the sound track featured mad guitar solos and the commentary was either completely understated or amazingly over the top. For example, occasionally a goal will trigger the commentator to shout “rainbow!”, with the replay displaying a rainbow effect on the balls path. The criteria to gain a rainbow goal is unclear, which makes getting one all the more entertaining. I feel like it’s hard to do the madness any justice without showing you a clip, so if you have a spare 5 or so minutes watch the below clip:
Despite the obvious lack of realism, I remember it being fun at the time it was out, You could only play as an international side, but the Gamecube port has a variety of modes to keep you entertained. There was one team though, “FC Sonic”, that allowed you to play as Sonic, Tails & co in matches, making this already bonkers game even weirder. You could only unlock them by some convoluted method that I’ve forgotten now, but none the less this was a type of arcade madness that has been unfortunately lost to time. I kind of wish more sports games would embrace daft stuff like this, there is definitely a time and a place for some silliness even in a game like FIFA.
In 2020, mid-pandemic and being bored out of our brains, my brother and I decided to download a Gamecube emulator so we could to jump onto Virtua Striker 3 and recapture some hardcore nostalgia. Most normal people were binging Tiger King, but we wanted some rainbow goals in our lives. Instead of playing against each other we had a pop at completing the game’s main campaign “The Road to International Cup”, an obvious spin on the World Cup as they wouldn’t have the naming rights. Picking a team was tough, but in the absence of our home nation Wales we had to settle for the last team that knocked England out of the last World Cup- Croatia.
Despite its janky game play and dated graphics, there are aspects to this game that are actually ahead of its time. This mode in particular houses a number of features that have only recently made their way to FIFA’s career mode, such as the ability to set individual training schedules for your players and organising your own friendly tours. It even has scouts looking for potential members to join your international side as you progress through qualifiers.
We needed to make sure our fake named players like Budisa and Vukavic fired us all the way to International Cup glory. It didn’t come easy though, and it took us hours and hours trying to trawl our way through the comprehensive campaign mode. It was difficult to score and red cards seemed to be dealt out for the most innocuous of challenges, however, slowly but surely, we went from ironically enjoying ourselves to becoming addicted.
With all the time we’d spent making sure our training schedules were meticulous, the warm up friendlies allowed us to experiment with our squad. This is a genuinely comprehensive mode that is only really held back by the fact it is on Virtua Striker 3. I’m not sure either of us had ever been so engrossed in completing a football game mode though, which probably says more about us suffering from a particularly bad case of lockdownitis than it does anything else.
I’ll spare the rest of the boring story about our road to the top, but obviously we managed to eventually win the tournament. The game treated us to a lovely cut scene of our beloved team lifting up that beautifully golden International Cup. Our celebrations almost rivalled the scenes when Wales beat Belgium in 2016. In fairness, a big chunk of that was probably relief that it was finally over.
So ultimately, what did I learn after my foray into a nearly 20-year-old mediocre football game? At the risk of sounding like one of the “back in my day” brigade, there are aspects of sports games that really were made in a more robust way in my era. The game rarely glitches, there are a vast array of international teams representing all corners of the globes and a genuinely decent collection of modes. I truly believe that Virtua Striker 3 was ahead of it’s time, and I swear I’m not saying this out of some sort of gaming Stockholm Syndrome I developed whilst taking Croatia to the International Cup title. Of course, from a gameplay standpoint at least, this game is pure trash by current standards and it wouldn’t have even been considered a very good game when it came out. More importantly though, there is nothing in modern gaming that can replicate that feeling you get when you score a goal with a rainbow highlight.