My favorite genre of sports games is a soccer title.
Whether it is the strategy or the fast-paced action, I truly cannot get enough of these games.
And you know me: When I love something, I often have a hard time picking out the best from the rest. But I am going to try to do that in today’s article and that is the 10 best arcade soccer games of all time.
For me personally, this was tough. Longtime readers know me and my tastes, so you might think this is a foregone conclusion, if you have followed this blog.
I promise you I have tried to think outside of the box and even remove my own personal biases in writing this article. What follows is what I believe one of the most refined lists I have ever written.
You can use this as a guide to figuring out what might be worth your time and what is not, or you can debate me on titles I might have left out. It is all good for me.
I understand that, of all games, sports titles can be particularly idiosyncratic.
Nonetheless, here is my final arcade sports game ranking list: yeah it is a top 10, not a top 5 as usual, but what do you expect from a soccer addict, lol?
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10) Five a Side Soccer (developed and published by Konami in 1995)
Here is a relic from days long past. An arcade soccer game based upon the rules of five-a-side football, Konami’s Five a Side Soccer was housed in a tabletop arcade cabinet (with a trackball in the place of the joystick) that gave players a god-like view of the playing field.
It was initially developed as an arcade game accessible to anyone who was a fan of the game and, as such, does not feature the deepest mechanics. Born in an era when the arcades reigned supreme when it came to cutting-edge video game technology, FASS is more fondly remembered today for its unique cabinet, tight gameplay, and widespread appeal.
9) Super Sidekicks 3: The Next Glory (developed and published by SNK in 1995)
It is hard to capture the mystique that was the Neo Geo in the arcades and home console scenes back in the day. The Rolls Royce of video game consoles, SNK’s machine was the envy of every kid on the block and the closest any of us ever got to some of these games is when we found them in the local arcade. SNK put out these awesome multiple game cabinets that let you select whatever you wanted to play. Most of these were dominated by the company’s slew of fighting classics, but one title you would occasionally see is the Super Sidekicks Soccer series.
The third installment, in particular, is the perfect distillation of the spirit of the arcade and SNK’s own twist on the classic sport. Arriving in 1995, this game featured a whopping 64 teams spread out across 8 regions in the world. The only tragedy for this game is that SNK never could get FIFA’s official approval to use their teams and players. So what you get is the most world-class knockoff ever.
In hindsight, it is not surprising that FIFA did not pick SNK given its niche audience and the relatively small userbase for the home console. But man, what we missed out on in terms of a game!
8) Soccer Brawl (developed and published by SNK in 1995)
SNK strikes again with this futuristic take on the soccer game. You play as bionic soccer stars that can kick, pass, tackle, and do whatever it takes to beat your opponent.
Outside of the zany presentation and off-kilter premise, Soccer Brawl is another good old-fashioned arcade sports title.
Receiving pretty much universal acclaim upon its release, SB spawned a home console release and is available now on most consoles as a retro title.
7) Tecmo World Cup Millennium (developed and published by Tecmo in 2000)
Coming out in the waning days of the arcades in most of the world, Tecmo World Cup Millenium was Tecmo’s response to Virtua Striker. A rivalry even ensued because of the similarities, which somehow reminded of the glorious Sensible Soccer vs Kick Off battle taking place in the early 90s.
Taking heavy inspiration from simulations and strategic games, TWCM is a little rough by modern standards, but it was a lot of fun back in the day.
It is interesting to look at this title as a kind of bridge between the modern console era and the end of the arcade dynasty. You can see many of the elements that would later become front and center in console games – like the simulation aspect – start to emerge with this game in their modern incarnations.
6) Back Street Soccer (developed and published by SunA in 1996)
If you have not heard of Backstreet Soccer, you are not the only person. A Korean arcade game that first released in 1996, SunA Electronics’ sports title is known for its bold graphics, huge sprites, and intense gameplay. You will find yourself pleasantly surprised at just how engaging this title is.
It is a shame that most of us never got to experience it in the arcade scene but that is how it tends to go with Korean arcade games. Thankfully, I did experience it and posted a longplay of it on my YouTube channel, a couple of months ago. Enjoy! 🙂
5) Exciting Soccer (developed and published by Alpha Denshi in 1983)
1983’s Exciting Soccer from Alpha Denshi might be so old school it borders on the abstract now, but it is hard to downplay just how evolutionary and revolutionary this game was back in the day. It featured six teams of progressive difficulty as well as digitized voices in an arcade game.
That was pretty heady stuff back in the day. It even inspired a 1984 sequel that saw the introduction of Japan as a playable nation. Again, it has not aged well, but it would be criminal to deny how groundbreaking it was for its time. To put it simply, it was one of those games that had a crowd of people waiting to play no matter what time of day.
4) Tehkan World Cup (developed and published by Tehkan; JP 1985, NA and EU 1986)
You might not recognize the name Tehkan, but it is the original name of former development and publishing giant Tecmo. Just like Five a Side Soccer, this 1985 game featured a track ball as the main control input and was designed and programmed by Michishito Ishizuka.
It was released around the time of the World Cup and the team colors are meant to be evocative of national squads participating in that tournament, though they are not mentioned by name explicitly. What made this game intriguing then and now was its “face off” cabinet setup.
Obviously, you cannot really do this with an emulator, so much of the old spirit is lost to time. Nonetheless, it was pretty novel for the day and it had a huge impact on how competitive arcade soccer would develop moving forward.
3) Virtua Striker 2 (developed and published by Sega in 1997)
An arcade game that was later ported over to Sega’s last console, the Dreamcast, Virtua Striker 2 offers crisp if early 3D graphics and an uncomplicated, refreshingly fun style.
The home console port did not get the most love from reviewers and for good reason. The controls on the Dreamcast are kind of rough and, since that is one of the main ways people will experience it now, that is just a shame.
But the arcade cabinet did not suffer from these same issues and it was a joy to play because of it.
2) Kick and Run (developed and published by Taito in 1986)
1986’s Kick and Run from Taito – also known as Mexico ’86 – is probably the purest expression of a soccer game in arcade format that I can think of right now. That does not mean it is the best but it does mean that the game has a certain vibe or spirit about it that is nearly impossible to find elsewhere.
Is it worth your time today? Yes, in many ways its simplicity provides a nice change of pace from today’s overly complex titles. You still get to work your way to the top, but you do not need to handle all of these “RPG-lite” elements like you do in modern games. If you want something that is stripped down to its core functions, Kick and Run is the game for you.
Seibu Cup Soccer (developed and published by Seibu Kaihatsu in 1991)
The year is 1991 and little-known arcade cabinet manufacturer Seibu Kaihatsu is about to unleash its latest soccer game upon the world. Do not worry, they have been doing it since 1985 according to records but the title that most people remember is Cup Soccer. Arcade Museum reports that other games produced by this manufacturer included “Olympic Soccer ’92, Raiden II, Zero Team, Raiden DX, Viper Phase 1, Raiden, Double Dynamites, Dynamite Duke, Dead Angle, and Air Raid.”
But back to the soccer title: what we have got here is a fast-paced, quick-as-heck footie title that emphasizes competition and arcade-style flare. The close side view forces you to make split-second decisions when it comes to passing or taking a long ball. A little hesitation and you are tackled! Oh, and I love the graphics: the players are rendered in bold, bright colors with lots of detail. Too bad the cabinet did not see wide release.
According to Arcade Museum the prevalence of this cabinet in arcades ranked at a 9 on a scale of 100 with 100 being the most common and 1 being the rarest of them all. Maybe I struck it lucky, but I regularly played it at my local arcade.
Football Champ (developed and published by Taito in 1990)
Coming from Team Dogyan and hitting Japanese arcades in 1990, Football Champ lets you choose one of eight teams and one of four star players for that team to be the kind of avatar for it. Winning moves you on to the next match while a tie or loss is game over.
Without sounding like someone who likes violence or promotes that kind of thing, I have to say the one thing that got Football Champ a lot of attention back in the smoke-filled arcades was the fact that you could punch, kick, and pull your way to victory – as long as the ref was not looking or was laying flat on his face on the field. Either way works.
Not only does this lend itself to some truly comical moments, but it also adds an interesting and sometimes hilarious element to the game.
Pleasure Goal 5 on 5 Mini Soccer (developed and published by SNK in 1996)
SNK was such a titan of the arcades it is hard to quantify but pretty much everything they touched turned to gold and Pleasure Goal is one of those titles.
Released in 1996 and available on the Nintendo Switch now, Pleasure Goal, despite its weird name, is a pretty traditional arcade sports title with the peculiarity of being played on a mini-soccer pitch. That means it is loud, flashy, hectic and above all loads of fun.
The number one on this list is a superstar, well more than one, actually… Let’s not keep them waiting!
1) Soccer Superstars (developed and published by Konami in 1994)
Konami’s 1995 masterpiece is the definitive game in this segment for me. Nothing does it better and nothing likely will ever get a chance to do that since the arcades are all but relegated to memory. What makes this game so special? It is really the full package. As often as that phrase is used to describe things, it is actually true in this case.
Another thing that somewhat pulls at my heartstrings with this game is that, coming out in 1995, it really straddles two eras of video gaming. The first is the pixel era and the second is the 3D polygonal age of graphics. Soccer Superstars is a work of art when it comes to pixel graphics with dynamic animation and a fluid presentation that really makes you miss this style of game.
Like most Konami arcade games, SS is really addictive. I used to sink hours away into this game and never really noticed the time fly by, though I notice how much times have changed when I look at it now. If you want a taste of what used to be the golden era of the arcades, Soccer Superstars is one of the first games that comes to mind.
So retro folks, looks like this arcade journey has come to an end. I hope you enjoyed our ride back in time and keep coming for more. I have still a lot to say about the magical world of arcade, but I need to “digest” the memories, in order to explore other eras and other aspects of retro gaming.
Now tell me, what are some of your favorite arcade soccer games of all time?
Do you have any titles that you would add to this list? And what about more modern games that you think evoke the same feeling as the arcade classics? As usual, let me know your thoughts on this in the comments section below, if you like.
Till next article!