5 on 5 Mini Soccer

Neo Geo CD
Saurus / SNK


Within the compact closet that contains the mythically miniature handful of Neo Geo CD exclusivities lies treasure. Time and time again, I’ve spoken of the all too unknown gems that were solely dedicated to the home market by way of SNK’s awesome disc based console. Sure, there aren’t an absolute ton of titles to choose from that only called the NGCD home, but stellar games such as Crossed Swords II and Oshidashi Zintrick more than make up for the lack of selection when it comes to seeking out some of the console’s most coveted. For this review, I’m honing in on Futsal: 5 on 5 Mini Soccer, an arcade-like sports game that contains nearly everything to make it the green turf equivalent of Data East’s Windjammers. Another killer offering courtesy of Saurus (see: Ironclad), the game had enough charm and appeal to keep me hooked for almost two hours as I kicked and dribbled my way to victory. But with a rather large offering of five soccer games already gracing the Neo Geo CD, what exactly makes Futsal stand out among the rest of the contenders?

Released in the summer of 1996, Futsal: 5 on 5 Mini Soccer (also known as Pleasure Goal: 5 on 5 Soccer) is a soccer game played from a top-down perspective. At the game’s onset, there are sixteen teams to choose from, all of which represent a different country. The teams themselves made for an interesting discovery upon my first play through and I’ll explain why. The game’s cover artwork depicts a bunch of young kids playing what looks to be a friendly neighborhood match of footy, yet when I spun the disc for the first time, I was surprised to be greeted by a bunch of grown men duking it out in massive arenas, all for the sake of becoming the world’s champions – a pretty stark contrast to what the front of the game seems to showcase. From recess to the big leagues, I guess. At first glance and beyond, the players themselves all look fantastic, what with their own unique stats and varied facial designs. I was really impressed with the obvious effort that went into characterizing the athletes as most sports games of the time showed little to no issue with making most, if not all, of their game’s players look nearly identical (save for their jerseys and maybe skin color). From my point of view, Saurus took a page out of SNK’s book and made the players look like they could’ve been plucked right out of a King of Fighters entry, which obviously only made me enjoy the aesthetics that much more. They should’ve called this one King of Soccer  to score a few more sales. There are five players to each team, although substitutes can be selected before each match and at half time if any of your players get injured or overly tired during a contest. The various teams also showcase different reactions upon scoring goals. I thought this was a really nice touch as it served to give each country its own sense of identity. I like playing as Germany. After scoring each and every goal, a woman in a red dress manages to make her way onto the field (in heels, no less) and jumps into a German athlete’s arms in a celebratory display of emotion. Saurus also continue their evident love for pre-rendered sprites (if you thought Ironclad contained some interesting graphics, check out the Neo Geo CD fighter, Ragnarok, for what may quite possibly be the most pre-rendered game of all time) in Futsal, which I didn’t mind at all. Some have grown to dislike pre-rendered graphics over the decades but I still really dig them. They’re a charming product of a time when the future was on the on the mind of every video game developer. Though by 1996, just about every other developer on the planet had dropped the use of pre-rendered sprites. Sorry, Saurus. 

For an arcade game, progressing through all of Futsal can take quite a while when you consider that there are a total of eleven matches to play through (especially if you don’t always win and want to keep trying) but the lengthy amount of playtime can be shaved down a bit by making matches shorter in the game’s options menu. Doing such made the game a lot more enjoyable for me as I personally find it difficult to sit through an actual soccer game, let alone a three-minute one with half time and post goal animations. Once through the seven preliminary rounds, the player advances to the finals with a bonus match awaiting the victor of those. The gameplay in Futsal is really tight. There are designated buttons for shooting, passing, and pulling off special, tricky types of movements when you have the ball in your possession. When on defense, the common actions of stealing and sliding are available for when you’re trying to regain the ball and turn the tide of the game. The controls present nothing overly complex, and that’s why they work so well.

The music in the game is really awesome and reminds me a lot of the tunes from (again) Windjammers. The only downside to them is that they don’t change per game. For instance, the same song will play throughout all seven of the preliminary rounds, only to change to a slightly more intense number while running your way through the finals. There’s also another track that seems specially designated to the game’s closing, eleventh match. Thankfully, all of the tracks are pretty great and I didn’t seem to tire of them that easily. The game also boasts some quality voice work, as an announcer will quite literally scream “GOAL” upon every shot that you get into your opponent’s net. This can actually get a little annoying if you happen to score more than five times in a single game, but it’s not a big deal. That said, Futsal is one of the few Neo Geo games that actually stays true to its described difficulty options, so when you’re playing through the game on Easy, it is legitimately easy. This is a welcome change of pace within the rather unique realm of SNK games, where unapologetically sinister titles such as the infamously grueling Art of Fighting 2 will give the player an Easy mode to select, only to then absolutely decimate them and their feeble efforts as if they had actually selected Very Hard. Thankfully, there are no deceptive difficulties to be had in Futsal, so if you want to experience the full game and breeze your way to the finals like I did, then you can most certainly do that. 

I really like the design of the arenas in the game. They’re all compact enough for 5 on 5 matches but manage to look huge at the same time thanks to the massive audiences in attendance. Saurus even got around to plugging some of their other games such as Stakes Winner and Iron Clad on billboards around the stadiums, which I thought was pretty cool. There are plenty of little details thrown into this game that really make it seem like it was a labor of love. 

Overall, Futsal is an awesome little soccer game. I am by no means the biggest sports fanatic, but what Futsal offers transcends whether you overly appreciate them or not. With great arcade action, easy to learn controls, unique graphics and fun music, this is a most excellent title for the Neo Geo CD that anyone can enjoy.

Original article