What do you do when the season ends? When the snow finally thickens on the local soccer field and the final Bowl games are decided, does that mean you have to spend the rest of your winter weekends cleaning the garage or sweeping the attic? No … No, if you are lucky enough to have an Atari home computer and a little Game Star, Inc. program called STARBOWL FOOTBALL (SF). Cheer up soccer fans, it’s STILL soccer time!
SF is a sports program that was launched in 1982 but has only recently received media attention. The general lack of good sports games for Atari makes this program particularly attractive, because it is one of the best football programs for Atari currently on the market. Although many types of computer games can afford to be visually abstract, we hope that a sports game will reflect reality as closely as possible. In this sense, SF fits the bill very well. It’s visually packed with nice touches, like a hundred-yard green field that is bounded at ten-, five-, and one-yard intervals with proper end zones, goal posts, and yard markers.
The soccer players themselves are reasonably well designed and very well animated. The sounds include a couple of poignant college fight songs, a bit of “Star Banner,” the whistles of the umpires, the roar of the crowd, and even the sound of the ball being kicked.
Overall, the charts are rated above average and, I suspect, will be pleasantly satisfying even for us hard-to-please Atarians. Okay, so the game looks good. But what about the game? First of all, SF is easy to play. Even though he claims to have 196 different play combinations to choose from, he actually only offers a choice of four passing plays and three running plays on Offense, and the same number of counterattacks on Defense. While this may not sound like a lot, it does serve to keep the game moving at a rapid pace. So after just a few minutes of studying the easy-to-understand in-game instructions, you’ll be managing your team like John Madden himself. However, the game is not easily mastered.
It requires a combination of strategy and time to achieve great achievements. In this, you will be more successful against a human opponent than against the computer, as the computer’s opponent is too formidable to be of much use, even for practice. (For example, in a typical game against the computer, a friend threw in the towel after the score reached 100 to 0. However, the game designers claim that the computer CAN be defeated, so maybe it’s a question. persistence).
In addition to the one or two player game mode, you can select between two different skill levels: College or Pro. I would suggest the college level at first, but the Pro level offers the most fun once you get the basics of the game mastered. In SF, the action takes place on a horizontal soccer field of which only about 35 yards are seen at a time. The television screen automatically scrolls across the field to keep up with the game as teams move up and down the grid.
Just like in real football, the goal in SF is to “outnumber your opponent with touchdowns, field goals, or saps.” As you try to accomplish this, you must learn to deal with the game clock, 30-second clock, interceptions, fumbles, and penalties. The entire contest is controlled with the joystick, including the game selection. There are six men on each team, of whom only one controls the ball carrier in attack and the free safety in defense. The computer controls the movements of the other men. However, you can program the passing patterns for each Receiver and blocking assignments for the Offensive line, as well as pass coverage for cornerbacks and quick assignments for the Defensive line.
Once the ball has been lifted, the quarterback has the option of running the ball or passing it to a receiver, assuming you have previously (secretly) designated one as eligible. The free safety can bombard the quarterback or fall behind and attempt an interception or tackle the runner. To complete a pass, you must press the trigger the instant the ball reaches the receiver.
Becoming proficient at this takes some practice, so be patient! (Even then, if the receiver is closely covered, the pass may be incomplete.) Bumping into someone while carrying the ball, even your own man, can result in a tackle, which can sometimes turn into a fumble in an automatic loss. However, score a touchdown and your man does a little victory dance in the end zone, a proper “head to head” for a successful drive! Anyone looking for a reasonably accurate and visually pleasing simulation of the soccer game is sure to be satisfied with SF. The main shortcomings lie in the discouraging and unrealistically tough computer game and perhaps the overemphasis of the pass as opposed to the run. Overall though, I’d recommend this game to anyone with a friend who’s looking for an excuse not to have to clean the garage next weekend.