When it comes to thinking about the 5 best PlayStation 2 soccer games ever released, we are talking some pretty tough competition out there. For one, the PS2 library is not only massive, but also it has more than a few quality soccer games.
And when you are a footie fanatic like I am, you feel torn when it comes time to make a list, because you know you are going to have to leave some of your favorite titles out in the rain (figuratively speaking, of course).
Even so, this is probably one of my more requested lists out there and I do not like to disappoint you all. With that said, here are my 5 top picks for today’s list:
(Affiliate Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that – at no additional cost to you – if you click through and make a purchase, I may earn a commission. For more info, please check my affiliate disclosure page.)
5) Soccer America International Cup (developed and published by Taito; Japan 2000, NA and EU 2001)
Sometimes when you try something new, you knock it out of the park and then, other times, you strike out completely. Aside from the baseball metaphor, this basically describes Soccer America International Cup and its reception by critics back in the early 2000s. They just were not happy with a lot of things, but I see a game that helped pioneer many cool systems, some of which I find compelling even now.
To put it into perspective, gaming was largely transitioning out of the abstract 3D graphics of the PSX era and the more refined PS2 look of realistic models and proportions. Towards this end, SAIC digitized the players in the game in order to give us an as faithful as possible recreation of their actual appearance.
We have got 40 teams, friendly match play with four human players, and a ranking mode, but what sticks out to me the most is the unique control mapping system that Taito implemented. They allowed you to customize your controls and, not only that, but to assign multiple functions to the same button. The game would then use context to judge which pre-assigned action is best for each situation.
While contextual controls can often be a huge pain, they almost make sense in the context of the need for a smooth and steady rhythm in a sports game, and this title gave it a shot and tried to shake up the more staid approach devs had taken to this very critical aspect of immersion.
4) Sega Soccer Slam (developed by Black Box Games, published by Sega in 2002)
Games that offer an out-there take on an otherwise traditional genre fall into one of two categories: NBA Jam cult-level following or “what the heck were they thinking?” For Sega Soccer Slam, the read is more in the middle though, for this gamer, it is a really special game.
Like Jam, it eschews the traditional rules of the sport in favor of something a little more out there. Gone are throw-ins, corner kicks, free kicks, and penalties, while punches and fast-paced unorthodox action is more than welcome here.
There are three primary game modes, practice, exhibition, and quest, and each is essential to success in the endgame portion of SSS. Practice helps you learn what this is all about while exhibition is, as the name implies, the traditional mode found in most soccer games.
The quest mode is where things really shine, as the unique teams and characters are fleshed out and given new life in a gameplay style that combines light RPG elements with the already-addictive gameplay formula introduced in practice and exhibition. The game tries to do a lot of new stuff and, luckily for us, it does most of it right.
3) FIFA 05 (developed by EA Canada, published by EA Sports in 2004)
FIFA probably needs little introduction to gamers with even a cursory familiarity with soccer games but FIFA 05 is easily one of the best football games I ever played on the PlayStation 2.
Sure, it does not get many points for creativity and it tends to color inside of the established lines more often than not, but this release was kind of a big deal when it came out, because it represented a level of refinement in gameplay and mechanics that many of us did not expect.
To note, and as you will probably see as you read on, the FIFA formula still was not quite on par with Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer series, but it made huge leaps forward with the 2005 installment.
Perhaps the biggest single addition in this game is the inclusion of first-touch gameplay options, which opened up a whole new world of in-game tricks and passes that players could utilize on the pitch.
2) World Soccer: Winning Eleven 9 (developed and published by Konami; Japan and EU 2005, NA 2006)
This probably comes as no real surprise but Winning Eleven 9 is not only one of the best footie games on the PS2, but also one of the best sports games on the console, period.
In terms of what the game does right, it pretty much nails the simulation aspect of things while giving each gamer the depth of gaming that they desire. That means that casual players have an engaging and quick pick-up-and-play game mode and more hardcore gamers will enjoy the simulation aspects as well as the bevy of customization options on offer here.
It is also accessible in that new gamers who have never played a WE title before can easily learn the game. Sometimes games with heavy simulation elements tend towards the esoteric (read: uninviting) but the Konami game does a masterful job of catering to multiple audiences simultaneously.
World Soccer Tour 2002 (developed by Team Soho, published by SCEE in EU in 2001 and 989 Sports in NA in 2002)
It is rare that a mainline sports game causes a bit of a controversy when it comes out but such is the case with World Soccer Tour 2002. Developer Team Soho’s inclusion of the ability to make a deliberate dive on the pitch as well as utilize a two-footed tackle made purists uneasy with the implication that underhanded tactics could be used to win a game.
But this only mirrored the real world of sport and, as such, is more than welcome in a game premised on simulation. Of course now the inclusion of things like that is not as controversial, though the philosophical debate around whether or not those are legitimate “tactics” in the world of football continues.
Overall, World Soccer Tour 2002 does a lot of things very well and it should be praised for its innovations, but the AI just is not up to par with other offerings on the PS2, thus relegating it to the honorable mention status I have assigned it.
And now… Are you ready to meet the king?
1) Football Kingdom: Trial Edition (developed and published by Namco in 2004)
I promise I am not trying to show off my bona fides with this selection but, as anyone in the know knows, Football Kingdom is easily the best soccer game on the PS2 and for many good reasons. First, I will start with why you probably have not heard of it before.
Launched by Namco as their new flagship soccer series, the game came out at or around the same time as Konami’s World Soccer: Winning Eleven 7 International / Pro Evolution Soccer 3. To give some context for WE7: It still has a massive fan base even today.
How are you going to launch a new sports franchise game with that kind of competition? You can and they did, but it did not go anywhere and FK is both first and last of its name. Nonetheless, it is a masterpiece.
First, you will notice that the animation and gameplay are smooth as silk. The stylistic choices made here all make sense when you marvel at how seamless the action in this game is. This is an interesting choice, given how lacking it is compared to the competition of its day. In hindsight perhaps this was a wise decision, given how well the game has aged.
The only real drawback is that Namco’s title is lacking in many of the major licenses you would expect but, for gameplay purists, this is a non-issue. Football Kingdom, released only in Japan and provided to the world through the miracle of English-language patches, might not have the depth of options when it comes to clubs and matchups that the competition has, but it more than makes up for this in the single-player experience.
This game is deep and intricate though also vaguely arcade-esque and fast-paced. Player movement with the ball and across the field has a natural flow to it that many games lack, and even a passing system miles ahead of its time compared with automatic systems implemented in other games.
The only real fault of FK’s overall presentation is that the AI – like some other games on this list – does not live up to the grand aspirations laid out by the developers. Nonetheless, if you want flow, rhythm, and addictive gameplay, this title is a cult-classic you need to check out. Long live the king, eh?
So retro folks, what do you think about my list? Would you switch up the lineup? How would you list it differently? What is your favorite aspect of a soccer game and which one of the above do you think fulfils that desire the best? Let me know how you feel in the comments section below, if you like.
As always, be sure to check out my other video game content here.
Till next retro post!