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International Superstar Soccer Advance

Video Game Reviews

Ratings are based on a five-point scale, in homage to the the late, great Next Generation Magazine.

Major A Productions, for Konami
Japan, EU
Gameboy Advance

Rating: * * * *
nternational Superstar Soccer Advance - video game reviews
International Superstar Soccer Advance screen shots - click for closeup

May 5, 2003

One of these days, I'm going to have someone sit me down and explain how Konami names its soccer games. Depending on which region of the world you live, it's either Winning Eleven or Pro Evolution Soccer or International Superstar Soccer. The thing that really confuses me is that these are often different games. The latest version of Winning Eleven (from Japan) may be a different game from the latest Pro Evolution Soccer (from Europe). And, here in the States, Konami released a version of ISS which was essentially a port of a Super Nintendo game from a decade ago. Can we have some consistency here? If it weren't for the Internet, I'd never be able to connect the dots together.

However you call it, Konami's soccer games are widely recognized as the best soccer games ever made. And as someone who still remembers Pele Soccer on the Atari 2600, that is a great accomplishment. The Gameboy Advance, unfortunately, has been left holding the bag with most sports titles; shovelware, mainly, as software houses have long since embraced the Polygon Age. By that account alone, Konami and Major A Productions deserve a round of applause for their newest addition to the International Superstar Soccer lineup.

Here is a brand-new title, made to take advantage of the hardware's strengths and offering a fair amount of surprises in the process. You notice that immediately with the game's brilliantly impressive menu sequences. Flush with all the polish and shine of the modern console games, with pre-rendered video and club music. The quality of the latest round of Advance titles is obvious - goodness knows I've harped enough on this already.

My favorite feature of this game is also its biggest surprise: color commentary. The play-by-play action is described in amazing detail by Jon Champion, who should be familiar to Konami's soccer fans. Despite the 8 MB size limitations of a cartridge, there is ample room for numerous quips and comments about every sizable event during the game, from cheering on the goalies to calling the teams by name; he even comments if the ball hits the goalpost. This is easily as impressive as anything heard on the consoles - FIFA 2002 doesn't even utter a peep.

Those who saw the original SNES port of ISS will be relieved to see the game on the field has been improved, as well. There are four different fields, each featuring unique grass patterns. There are different weather patterns, three different referees, and an impressive number of teams sporting their own colors. While the players themselves are rather small (perhaps too small for some because of the Advance's needlessly tiny screen), the animation is impressively smooth. Nothing looks jerky or cheap at all; this is best seen during the penalty kicks, which are so fluid that you will find yourself opting for the Penalty Shoot-Out mode more than you should.

Interaction between players is good, but perhaps this is where Major A hits against a wall. Gameboy Advance, after all, only has four buttons, which severely limits what you can do in a sports game. The more advanced maneuvers from the console games are either difficult to perform (try pressing the B and Left Shoulder buttons when in the crutch), or are overlooked altogether. Passing to other players is easy, but this is where I have a problem: there is a lag when you hit the buttons. I understand why this was done; ISS Advance is meant to be more of an accurate sports sim than an arcade game, so the tempo of the game has to be slowed down a bit. And this does work as long as you're not being rushed by two or three defenders. When you need to drop the ball NOW, you have to wait until your player finishes that next step before letting go. Of course, if you start hitting buttons right then, it becomes buffered, releasing in a stream.

This is something I can adjust to, but the one thing I still cannot adjust to is the shooting. After playing numerous games, I still can't figure out how to steer the ball into the opposing goal or, heck, just keep it from flying overhead. Every close shot at the net flies overhead - what's the deal here? This isn't American football. Isn't there some way to kick a low shot? Granted, knocking a long ball into the net is always fun (and would be fun if there was an instant replay), but this is ridiculous. This is one of those features that are supposed to be near the top of the to-do list.

I still hold out hope that there is some method of shooting the ball the right way, and I just haven't discovered it. If that turns out to be true, then knock up my score by one star. Until then, well, ISS Advance would have been the best soccer game on the Advance by default, anyway. But these problems better be fixed up for the next version, or better yet, the American release. Why should the Europeans have all the fun?

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