I go from one arcade classic in Crazy Taxi from last week to another arcade gem in the form of Libero Grande. Anyone who likes a quick game of Pro Clubs on the current crop of FIFA titles will be very familiar with the scenario in this game. Rather than controlling all players on your team, you instead control just the one with the other 10 players on your squad being controlled by the CPU. What is commonplace today on both FIFA and PES titles was revolutionary back in 1998.
1998 really was a banner year for SONY’s grey little cuboid. Games like Metal Gear Solid and Tomb Raider III were pushing the system and gamers expectations to previously unseen levels. Meanwhile, with concrete facts of the PS2 still in the future, the console was enjoying it’s last vestiges of being the “it” of gaming before it’s beefed up successor wrested the crown from it’s cold, dead fingers. As I’ve mentioned in past articles, the mid to late 90’s saw a huge influx of football (Or “soccer” if you spell “colour” without the obligatory “u”) games to choose from as opposed to the two horse race we’re used to now. The PSX had footie games out the wazoo during these halcyon days. You had the big hitters like FIFA and ISS but you also had challengers to these two titles autonomy in the form of series such as ACTUA Soccer, Addidas Power Soccer, Olympic Soccer, World League Soccer and many others.
All these games tried different control methods and gimmicks as ways to differentiate themselves from the smorgasbord of soccer alternatives. Seeing how there was money to be made with innovation, Namco threw their hats into the ring with their own title. Playing as just one player on the team was not a wholly original idea. Namco had used it before in their game “Top Striker” for the Nintendo Entertainment System. However, two gaming generations had come and gone since then, so when Namco revived the idea again in the arcades of 1997, the concept was fresh once again and gave Namco’s game a really unique selling point.
Speaking as someone who had never seen something even remotely like this, I was immediately intrigued and excited by what Namco was doing with the genre. I remember seeing a trailer for the game on a PlayStation Magazine demo disc and thought it was one of the freshest approaches to a football game that I’d seen in years. The game saw a PlayStation release in 1998 but it would take a couple of years before I would pick it up from a bargain bin and finally get to play it.
Normally when I do a Retro-Respawn I sit down and play the game for an appropriate time so that I can do it justice when I write the follow up feature. For some games once I’ve played all I need to play, I’ll shut the console down and return the game to the shelf/cupboard that contains its fellow brethren. In some cases once I’ve written my feature I forget about the game completely. Libero Grande was not one of those games. Long after I’d played it enough to put together this feature, I was still sinking hours into it without a care in the world. I’m probably going to go and play it some more once I’ve finished writing this!
The game contains 32 international teams and a selection of fictional star players who are based on real players of the time. for instance, Alan Shearer is available for selection but he’s instead named Alfred Shaffer, while Jurgen Klinsman has been renamed Jordan Kruger. Everyone’s favourite insane South American in Carlos Valderama is also present under the name Cornelio Valencia, complete with his instantly recognisable hair style. Any star player can play for any international side, which can lead to humorous instances of the game assigning players to teams that they don’t really fit with. Zinedine Zidane turning out for Scotland and Ronaldo leading Japan in a quest for glory were particular moments that made me do a double take.
Each player is rated in three categories; skill, speed and power. In all honesty I didn’t find that the stats made too much of a difference in the way I played the game aside from the fact that it was slightly more difficult to track back if you picked a slower player. Scoring in Libero Grande is less about shot power and more about aiming, an ability with which every player is at least competent.
The game is fast paced and you will be required to think fast. When your star player has possession of the ball you can press X to pass or Circle to shoot. If one of your team mates has the ball, you can call for them to pass to you by pressing Square or you can order them to take a shot at goal by pressing Circle. If the opposition has possession, you can tackle them yourself to get the ball back or call upon one of your team mates to put their own tackle in by pressing Square.
The simplified buttons add to the arcade feel of the game and make it very pick up and play. I like them on the whole but there are a few aspects that I think could have been better. There is no designated button just for crossing. If you head down the wing you can put a cross into the box but this is done by pressing shoot. Crossing is pretty much useless as you have no real way of aiming the cross itself and the ball usually goes flying way past the box and to the welcome head or feet of an opposing player. Passing can also be inaccurate at times, with the direction in which you press the D-Pad having seemingly no effect on the passes direction. This can lead to excruciating moments where despite looking right at a team mate and pushing the D-Pad straight in their direction, the pass will go in a completely different trajectory and risk finding its way to the grateful feet of your opponent.
These two points aside, the game is still a lot of fun to play, if still unpolished in its execution. At first you’ll find yourself doing everything yourself but over time you’ll find it’s best sometimes just to let your team mates get on with things depending on which team you play for. When I played as Yugoslavia or England my CPU team mates would often get themselves into good positions. This meant all I’d really need to do was get the ball past the half way line, or tee up the odd decent pass, and my team mates would get into range and handle then rest.
However, when playing as weaker sides such as the USA I would find that success hinged more on my direct involvement. Even if one of my team mates was able to get in position to have a decent crack at goal, their shot would normally go straight at the goalkeeper or feebly wild. Depending on the team you play as you could find yourself a useful cog in a well oiled machine or literally the only hope your side has of victory. Considering that the game can save tournament records, there’s plenty of impetus to play as different sides. In four International Cups the USA had never managed to even make it out of the Group Stage, hence why I decided to try and get them a little bit further. It’s a nice touch that gives you a reason to comeback and try and win the Cup with different teams.
Alongside International Cup mode there is also a League mode which can have up to 8 human controlled teams. There is also an Arcade mode, where you try and advance as far as you can in a Round Robin format against the CPU. If you fail to win a match in this mode, it’s an instant Game Over. There’s plenty to do and the game offers more than just basic arcade thrills.
Graphically the players are blocky and very rough around the edges but the stadiums are nicely designed and give off a good sense of scale. Most of the stadia appear to be based on South American architecture; with some being huge bowls while others are slightly smaller and more traditionally designed. The sound is nothing to write home about but it does its job. This is a game where you come for game play more than anything else and the game certainly delivers on that front.
Libero Grande is not a perfect game and it probably could have used some fine tuning before it saw its home release. That being said, it can be a lot of fun to play and if you see it cheap I’d definitely recommend picking it up. It’s certainly better than a lot of other football games that came out around the same time period.
As always I’ll post some footage of the game below.
Thanks for reading
All gameplay pictures courtesy of Giant Bomb