Animal Soccer World: The Worst Game Of Them All
The intersection at which football and video games meet is almost as old as the medium itself. It’s now been forty years since the Binatone TV Master MK IV was launched, plugging directly into your television with three different formats of the groundbreaking Pong format – which itself was released in 1972 – including one described as “football.” A year later saw the release of Mattel’s Intellivision Soccer, a game which saw the introduction of players wearing colours and some degree of an attempt to simulate the laws of the game. The intervening four decades have, however, seen wildly varying results for lovers of both football and video games, from the almost creepy realism of the globally successful Football Manager and FIFA series of games to… well, we’ll see.
Throughout the history of video gaming, football has occasionally been terribly badly served. Even though it was more than three decades ago, few who were around at the time will forget the debacle of World Cup Carnival, the first game to be officially-licensed by FIFA in 1986, which ended with the software house responsible, US Gold, having to rush release an already published, two year old game with a bundle of stickers and posters after they were unable to get their own game ready for release in time for the start of the tournament. Yet somehow or other, there is a game tangentially related to football which manages to plumb even greater depths, to a point at which it is considered by many to have been one of the worst games ever released on any console or system.
The story of Animal Soccer World is in no small part a glimpse into the world of a grimly fascinating sub-genre of animation. Many of you will already familiar with the cheap, straight to DVD cartoons that occasionally show up in the racks in small newsagents and the like. Produced by small animation studios with an eye more closely focused on getting the product made and distributed than on the quality of their productions, these DVDs are frequently little more than studied rip-offs of stories made familiar by the Disney corporation. One can argue all day long over whether they cross the line of copyright breach or not – it’s fairly common assent that they do, but that those who make such videos are too small for Disney to chase particularly hard over this legal infringement – but there are few who would argue that their existence is just a series of coincidences.
The origins of Animal Soccer World – which was released for the PS2 in 2005 – rest in this ethically shadowy world. It was produced by a company called Phoenix Games, which had been founded in 2003 as a “Super Budget Publisher”, a games producer which aimed to release a deluge of low-priced titles for the PS2, DS, PC and Wii, presumably – considering that they claimed a development time for new games of only three to five months – in an attempt to get as much of a return on as tiny an investment as possible. Small wonder that they should have ended up pairing up with Dingo Pictures, then. Dingo Pictures was a German-based animation studio consisting of just two people whose niche had become creating traditionally-animated cartoons based on fairy tales and plagiarising the works of Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks in order to release the aforementioned cartoons that we occasionally see in convenience stores. They were not, of course, noted for the quality of their production.
Dingo Pictures had previously worked with a company called Midas Interactive Entertainment, but after being dropped by them Phoenix Games stepped into the breach with a partnership. As such, Animal Soccer World isn’t so much a video game as a bad animation – based on the animals’ football match from Disney’s Bedknobs & Broomsticks – interspersed with mini-games. The storyline, and such a word is to be used most advisedly, concerns a group of talking animals who decide to resolve a dispute through forming themselves into two football teams, The Wild Dogs and the Jungle Kings, and playing a football match. From here on, we’ll let the game’s packaging blurb attempt to explain the rest:
Everybody is busy with the preparations for the event of the year, the largest soccer game of all time. The favoured team of the “Wild Dogs ” assumed the challenge of equally favoured “Lionkings”. The coach of the “Wild Dogs ” spends sleepless nights. Does Bulli his left defender never learns not to beat up his opponent- or Butcher, the-Keeper, never loose his fear of a penalty kick? Also in the opposing team there are problems. The best forward of the “Lionkings”, the small lion, never wants to pass the ball. And to make things even worse, a swarm of Hooligeese is reported to be on the way…. Finally the time has come. The match is about to begin.
In this introduction can be seen one of the key flaws in Animal Soccer World. The entirety of the game seems to have been written by somebody for whom English is a third or perhaps fourth language. All of this means that any unfortunate who happens to have to sit through it all is going to have to get through comprehending what might actually going on as well as the dreadful quality of the sound recording itself – the game, despite having a plethora of characters, only features one voice “artist” – before they can even attempt to get onto the game itself. Unfortunately, however, even small children, who we might otherwise expect to be able to suspend their disbelief with greater ease than those of us of a more advanced age might be able to, would still most likely be disappointed by the fact that, for all the talk of “the largest soccer game of all time” on the cover, there is no football-related gameplay whatsoever contained herein, just a handful of memory games, puzzles and a colouring book that have little even to do with the apparent storyline of the game.
Fortunately, so little was the amount of effort put into Animal Soccer World that the animated scenes, which make up the majority of the game itself, don’t require a great of time to cover in full. Indeed, all of these scenes put together only make for half an hour’s worth of footage, which makes watching an entire walk-through of it all take just half an hour, even if the mental impact of watching such a troubling production may be undiminished regardless. It’s difficult to avoid the feeling that the animation company may somehow be trying to make the entire experience unsettling. Not only are the voices horrible – and they undoubtedly are – but they’re also frequently also completely out of sync with the movement of the characters’ mouths.
And right at the end, if you’ve made it through the interminable slog of various Disney rip-offs and downright freakmonsters masquerading as cuddly cartoon… things, they give you the worst conceivable ending. The match finishes in a one-all draw, a lion called The Lion King (obviously) declares that there will be a rematch. With the very last words of it all, we find out that this replay will be in six weeks time. This isn’t a matter of mere language issues. This is either gross, gross stupidity or a company actively taking the piss out of those unfortunate enough to have purchased it.
It’s difficult not to think of those people. Possibly people of limited income, thinking that this will do, that it’s got the PlayStation logo on the front cover so it can’t be that bad, can it? Perhaps it’ll be like a football version of Bedknobs & Broomsticks, and the kids will get a kick out of it. To turn out something this shoddy at any audience is low. To target something this ill-conceived, badly thought out and incompetently produced ultimately at children feels grubby.
In the absence of any other space to take in our culture, however, Animal Soccer World at least sits near the summit of the worst game ever produced, for any console or system, at any time. And perhaps football might take a somewhat perverse pleasure in the fact that it is tangentially – about as tangentially as it’s possible to be – related to the game in the first place. The world’s game, indeed. But somebody has to take that last place, and if this is as low as it’s possible to get, then at least we’ve stared into the abyss. Animal Soccer World has become a meme. Phoenix Games, meanwhile, suddenly declared bankruptcy in 2009. Presumably their business model failed them. It’s difficult to have too much sympathy. But in their wake, they left a singular achievement – a game so bad that it made World Cup Carnival look like Sensible Soccer by comparison.