"... And now the big match of the winter between those software giants,Ocean Utd and Gremlin Academicals, as they both try and steal each other's thunder with top-ranking footie sims on the Spectrum. What do you think, Greavsie?"
"Wor gor grunge wor fwunk, Saint."
"Well of course. We sent cub reporter Marcus Berkmann to weight up the challengers..."
And they're pretty heavy, I can tell you. Jon Ritman's Match Day is one of the classic Speccy games. It turns up regularly in Desert Island Disks (being sixth in the current chart) and, though there've been loads of imitations, it's still the best attempt at a strictly footie simulation (rather than management game) that the Speccy has yet seen.
Until now, of course. Match Day II is not a radical rewrite of the original, but it's far slicker and easier to play and has more options of play than you'd have thought possible on 48K. It's a step up from the original in much the same way Head Over Heels was an advance on Batman.
For one thing, this game's got more menus than Maxim's. Once you've handled the joystick menu, you're presented with the main menu and all the different ways of playing Match Day. As well as the usual one-player and two-player options, there's Twin-player (you and a friend against the computer), Matchday Cup (you and up to seven friends in a three round cup compo) and Matchday League (you and your seven muckers in a league). Gordon Bennett! But there's more...
When you come to play you'll notice that all the basics seem much the same, though a bit faster (that might be wishful thinking - tell me if I'm wrong). The main innovation is in the variety of shots, kicks and moves you can now make. Above the head of the player you're controlling is a little 'kickometer', which oscillates from left to right and shows how hard the ball will be kicked at any one moment . There are three strengths, from a little dribble to a full-bodied punt. Once you've mastered it, this gives you far greater control of the ball, but it does take a little practice. The kickometer also lets you back-heel if you want to, but it's wise to get used to the forward kicks before experimenting with this facility - otherwise that defensive clearance could well turn into an own goal!
And that's what is so brilliant about the kickometer - the choice. You've got five options; all kicks (three forward and the backheel); forward kicks only; hard kicks only (II and III on the kickometer); kick II only or kick III only. If you press the fire key and hold it down, the kickometer will lock and the result will be a volley shot - particularly useful if you're in front of an open goal. As well as the miniature meter above the player's head, there's a heftier version at the top of the screen.
Kicking the ball while in possession is a simple matter of pressing the fire button, as before, and if you make contact while running you'll lob it. You can jump, barge, dribble, tackle, everything but argue with the ref. If you doubt your goalkeeping prowess, you can let the computer take over that part of things, though watch out - it's often nearly as bad as you are. The goalkeeper will dive, but usually in the wrong direction!
One wrinkle in the first game was its deflection system - unreliable and unlifelike - but this has now been ironed out. Now with the Diamond Deflection System, balls bounce in the direction you'd expect, and this tiny touch adds a whole new level of realism to the game. There's still more to tell you about - mainly about all those menus (I'll have the Coquilles St. Jacques, waiter, with a crate of brown ale). But we can't tell you everything, so go out and buy this now. Make Jon Ritman a rich man, because it seems to me that there's no one programming for the Speccy today who's producing such a consistent body of work as he is. I can guarantee that he'll be chuffed, Brian, chuffed...
Overall, a spectacularly clever and playable sequel to Match Day that's sure to have the same lasting impact on Speccy gaming.