Golazo! is an arcade football game that evokes the early 90s in both its aesthetics and its game design. But sadly, it also evokes the imprecision and frustration of playing those older games as well.
Things start off relatively strong with an art style that is appealing. If you want to win my heart, a strong presentation style that has a coherent vision will go a long way. On the switch, the game really pops with stylised players, fluid animation and fun music which made me feel like I was playing the game on an Amiga back in my childhood bedroom. Each team is represented by a manager, who are well animated and appear at the top of every match, and watch over the pause screen. I have a feeling that these characters are reminiscent of real figures of football past and present, but I’m not the guy to ask about that. There’s some character to be found in this game, and I enjoyed that. While the teams in game represent the countries and the players that were playing in the era the game is set in, there are no real world names to be found here. If you care about that sort of thing, I guess that’s a drawback.
The manager for USA is clearly supposed to be Donald Trump, though. Which is a … choice.
Playing the actual football is where things started to break down for me. Controlling the game is uncomplicated. The football sticks to the players feet, and you run around the pitch at high speed, holding the R button to turbo. If you’re challenged by opponents you can tap the L button to do a flourish which either spins you around or has you jumping over their slide tackle. Passing is one button, while shooting is another, which can be held down for varying degrees of power. When you’re not in possession of the ball, you can still run around with turbo, but you’re also able to push and do slide tackles. There are no fouls for physically abusing your opponents, and if you’re going to win a match you’re going to have to be relentless with your attacks on the opposition’s shins. This can be quite fun, and while the animations are fluid and fast, it does feel a bit shallow. There doesn’t seem to be any scope for amazing things happening in a match. The game is fast paced, but it also feels a little stiff and limited. I’d have appreciated a touch more arcade style chicanery in there, but I guess that’s not what the game was going for. There’s no real spectacle to Golazo! At least certainly not enough to make the commentator say anything that doesn’t sound like he was phoning it in the entire time.
The commentator mostly sounds bored. Which to be fair, did accurately reflect my attitude to the game after a couple of hours.
My main issue with playing Golazo! Is the lack of precision. When you’re making your way towards the opposition’s goal, it’s all well and good being able to jump and spin around the players challenging you, but your AI team mates never seem to be in a good enough position to receive a pass from you, and even when they are, I often found that the ball either fell well short of them, or was frustratingly not on target at all. I could never quite work out a consistent way to pass the ball. And when on the defending side of proceedings, the slide tackle works well enough, except I was never able to take control of the player I really needed at the moment I needed to. You can cycle through which player you’re controlling with the L button, but it seems like the game will pick the player in the least beneficial position to give you control of. This means that defending against the AI is a series of hitting the L button until you find the player you need to control, performing an impotent slide tackle because you couldn’t do it in time, tutting, possibly swearing, and trying again until you manage it. There’s no strategy there, and it feels frustrating and imprecise.
The single player offerings are playing a “Quick Match” which is exactly as it sounds, and there’s the equivalent of a world cup style tournament, and a season based tournament. This lends your matches some continuity and structure, as you try to score enough wins to progress through to the finals, making your way through the other nations vying for victory, but beyond that there’s little else going on. There are no stats to speak of, no customisation or any behind the scenes mechanics – it’s all about that arcade football gameplay. A shame then, that it isn’t better.
There are quite a lot of unlocks outside of these modes, such as player uniforms and accessories, but I should imagine that players will be bored of the game long before they play it enough to unlock all of these.
Where Golazo! Performs better is in multiplayer. Up to four people can play on a single switch (although I don’t recommend this undocked, as the players are tiny on the screen), and when actual humans are in control of things, it becomes a better experience. Getting one over on your opponent with a well-timed jump or spin feels satisfying against a friend, and having your run across the pitch being thwarted by a decent slide tackle doesn’t feel like bullshit the way it does against the AI. The issue of players being in the right place is also mitigated when there are multiple humans controlling them. Sadly though, the multiplayer doesn’t extend to any of the modes with any kind of longevity, limited completely to quick matches. I’d love to have seen co-operative play across the world cup mode.
There is no online multiplayer, which is a shame.
Golazo! Tries really hard, and admittedly if I cared more about football I might have had a better time with it, but not by much. I appreciate what the talented devs were trying to accomplish and it can be a charming game, when the announcer isn’t bringing things down. Ultimately it just doesn’t have enough depth beyond the so-so football gameplay to keep me interested. While the multiplayer offers moments that are actually compelling – that the devs didn’t flesh this out with further gameplay options was a bit of an own-goal. I’ve enjoyed arcade football games in the past, like Sensible Soccer, or Super Mario Strikers, but Golazo is no substitute.