Sports games are a tricky sort of entry onto any platform, as they really need to hit one of three points strongly: accuracy, show or style. Either it needs to be totally on point with current teams and/or rosters, it needs to look and feel like a real sports game, or it needs to be so fun and over-the-top that no one cares about the previous two. At the current time, sports titles on the Switch are pretty few and far between (NBA Playgrounds, Infinite Mini Golf and Neo Turf Masters are all I’ve played), so you’d think I would be pretty ravenous and appreciative for any new installment. However, and it pains me to say this, I think that Super Sidekicks is one of the more boring games I’ve played on a modern system.
Let’s set the stage, shall we? Super Sidekicks is another SNK NEO GEO port, which, I gotta say, have been really high caliber recently. Rather than focus on the idea of trying to confirm to international rosters of the time, Super Sidekicks gives players a pretty diverse set of teams from different countries and lets you play in an international tournament that is divided into A and B groups, eventually culminating in a World Cup for all the glory. Players have the opportunity to also do local games, either in a tournament mode or a single vs match to determine who is the best imaginary soccer player in your household.
Control-wise, Super Sidekicks is a bit more complex than your average soccer game. Shooting and passing are a thing, but there are defensive moves of both slide tackling and straight up tackling the player with the ball. Much like the greatest basketball game of all time, the idea is that the only cards they bother throwing is when the ball goes out of bounds, not caring about the level of violence that you appear to be inflicting on the other players. For someone who doesn’t often play soccer, this came as a welcome relief, as I’m certain that being constantly penalized for trying to live my damn life out on the pitch would have made me need to actually go out and headbutt someone in frustration. It’s not like the players exhibit any level of damage or anything: I seriously slide-tackled the exact same player about 18 times in a single game and he still scored on me more than I bother counting.
Super Sidekicks has an unusual mechanic known as the Ace Player, where someone on the team is nominated to be the Superman for the entire game. I say “someone” because no players are given names, numbers or even really faces as far as I could see. The Ace Player runs faster, shoots faster and generally is the best player for your team. This struck me as super odd, especially when I realized there wasn’t a stamina meter or anything inhibiting my Ace from just being a beast in the game. Sure, the other team had an Ace too, but it’s almost like I was the only one aware of the giant glowing sign that existed over both Ace players. Early on, it was simple to win in the tournaments by passing the ball till the Ace player got it and then running to the goal. That’s seriously it. Then shoot again and again until it goes it, because you’re almost guaranteed to miss the first shot. The goalie AI is pretty strong, and becomes nearly psychic by the time you get to the semi finals and finals of the tournament mode. I did enjoy being able to set it up so that a player would attempt a bicycle kick into a goal if I passed it correctly, but I can count the number of times those shots went in on my third hand.
Graphically, Super Sidekicks can match the appearance of games at the time, and that’s really the best I can say about it. The NEO GEO was able to really set the tone for the early and mid 90s, and it’s kind of crazy to realize that Super Sidekicks represents what would have been the pinnacle at that time in terms of combining individuality, fluidity and recognition. I never thought a player from the other team was actually one of mine, the pitch didn’t glitch out or look patchy, it was soccer, through and through. It’s a moment when you can jump on Google to find other titles of the time and kind of be amazed at the comparisons. Ultimate Soccer, for the Sega Genesis (an arguably weaker console) had slightly worse graphics but a significantly larger arena and options for making the game more interesting and, not to harp on the price of the NEO GEO, but was about half the price.
One thing that I hope ACA and SNK are paying attention to, in regards to releasing more and more of these NEO GEO titles, is the nostalgia appeal that either does or does not exist for some of these games. Metal Slug and Fatal Fury helped set the pace and tone for series that lived long, bountiful lives on multiple platforms and consoles. Magical Drop II, while not my favorite title ever, at least showed some kind of innovation and even has a current release of the series available on Steam (how popular that’s been received is a different story entirely). And great shooters like Last Resort help to capture what the NEO GEO did best, which was match what you could find in the arcades at the time (remember, in the 90s the arcades were still pretty popular, though on the decline). Super Sidekicks may have received a couple of sequels, but that was because there wasn’t a ton of variety back in the day. Players who yoked themselves to the NEO GEO had two choices, support it or give up, and many didn’t want to admit defeat in the face of a growing market of competition. But the Switch, despite its lack of proper virtual console support, still has a rapidly expanding library of choices. Sure, there’s no soccer game yet, but FIFA 18 is a little over a month away. Super Sidekicks will appeal to fans from the NEO GEO era and diehard football fans who need SOMETHING to fill the void in their lives. For casual sports players and non-sport entities, however, this is going to be a hard pass. There’s not enough that makes me say “What a classic!” and far too much that mumbles “At least it’s a sports game.”
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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