Telegames, one of the first third-party developers, returns after a prolonged absence with EUROPEAN SOCCER CHALLENGE, a portable version of the world's most popular sport. From a side-scrolling stadium seat, one or two players each control an 11-player team, picking from over 130 teams in 36 European countries. Game options allow changing the control scheme, setting the length of matches, and entering passwords to resume earlier tournaments.
After a string of disappointing sports games on the Lynx, I'm pleased to say that EUROPEAN SOCCER CHALLENGE is a playable, well designed, quality title. The amount of detail crammed into this card is incredible. Each country has a stable of two to eleven teams, each with its own name, players, and attributes. The team you pick does make a difference; players run, steal, and defend better depending on who you pick. Unfortunately, there's no way to see a team's abilities, so experimentation is necessary to find the better crews.
The full gamut of soccer rules and actions are implemented, including tackles (stealing), throw-outs, and penalty flags to remove aggressive players. Controls are responsive, though a little complicated. A team's goalie is operated by the computer, who blocks and acts intelligently. User control goes to the player nearest the ball, and uncontrolled teammates follow a standard formation selected before the match. Kicking is done with the A and B buttons for high and low kicks. Holding down a button lets you aim and set the strength, allowing you to run one way and kick in another. The overall action is brisk, and following the game is not difficult.
For comparative purposes, EUROPEAN SOCCER CHALLENGE is much more enjoyable than Atari's WORLD CLASS SOCCER cartridge. There are a few quibbles, though they are minor. Because control automatically goes to the man closest to the ball, there is the possibility for confusion when it enters a crowd, and chasing the ball carrier can be tricky. The instructions are also a bit confusing, and assumes the reader has a thorough understanding of how to play soccer. These make learning and playing the game a little more difficult than necessary.
Sights and sounds on EUROPEAN SOCCER CHALLENGE are vastly schizophrenic. The graphics are consistently wonderful, as game screens everywhere are done with great use of detail and colors. Sprites are moderately small, allowing for a wide view of the surrounding area while still showing sufficient detail. The animation of players is average, but the actions depicted are numerous and realistic. Scrolling is fast, although sometimes a little jumpy.
In stark contrast, sounds are dismally dull; aside from a short musical loop between games, the only noises are a shrillish whistle and the quiet thud of a ball being kicked. There are no fanfares, no crowds, no other sounds to add to the experience.
EUROPEAN SOCCER CHALLENGE is a very respectable version of the popular sport. The sophisticated gameplay, quality design, and crisp controls are complimented by some very elegant graphics. Non-soccer fans won't be swayed, but enthusiasts will find this title very enjoyable.
GAMEPLAY: 8.5 GRAPHICS: 9 SOUND: 4.5 OVERALL: 8