Although primarily known for its fighters, the Neo Geo did host games in a number of other genres and indeed Hamster’s ACA releases have included puzzlers, run and gun titles, shooters and a golf game. Now they bring us football (or "soccer" if you're reading this in North America) simulator Super Sidekicks. The aim of course is to score at least one more goal than the opposition, although SNK has used the beautiful game as the basis for an arcade experience, rather than aim for a completely realistic recreation of the sport.
Gameplay is fast and (mostly) smooth, with a number of different animations for the actions of the players as they run, tackle, and kick the ball as well as perform headers and cheeky back-heels. If fouled, a window pops up to show a detailed closeup of the pained/annoyed player as they await treatment from the magic sponge. This greater level of detail also features in goal celebrations, whilst penalty shootouts feature larger sprites than regular play.
There are some good visual touches in the game, such as the way the camera will zoom out a little for goal kicks or throw-ins. Some matches feature rain and here sliding along the pitch will cause water to spray up. The players have a standard generic look that was common to games of the time, lacking detailed features (and names/numbers for that matter). Although there are a few character designs, these are duplicated within the squad, and across the other teams as well.
The main mode of play is the SNK Cup; pick a team, play the other five in your group, then two more matches (the semi final and final). As you’d expect, the different teams have different kits, although Spain must have left theirs on the team coach as they've had to borrow Portugal’s instead. Portugal's squad must have had a diary clash because it hasn’t made it to the tournament at all; in fact, there are just twelve teams available to play as – considerably less than in other footy games (including the sequels to this one).
Get into the game and you’ll soon discover some differences to a real-life game of football. The matches are not divided into halves; instead it’s all played in one period – no changing ends here. There’s no injury time, but the timer does at least stop should the ball go out of play. Additionally, the referee has left his cards in the changing room, so no one is going to get booked or sent off. He’s even reluctant to call a foul, with many players flattened by a tackle or sent falling flat on their face by a shoulder barge; free-kicks/penalties only seem to be awarded should the fouled player be sent flying twelve foot by the challenge.
Formations can’t be changed and substitutions can’t be made, nor is there a squad of players to pick from for your team. Each member of the team handles the same with the exception of one – marked onscreen as “Ace” – who boasts increased technical skills and power. Ace is the player most likely to steal the ball from the feet of a rival striker, run around some players, jump over some tackles and then send it flying into the back of the opposition's net, before dashing to the bar after the match has finished, downing 12 pints and scoring with this year's Miss Great Britain. What a guy!
Matches get steadily tougher as you progress, with later teams capable of running rings around you if you don’t focus. Should you lose a match (or draw) you need to use a continue, but these are of course unlimited, seeing as this is an ACA release. After continuing you can choose to replay the match or (if you drew) go into a penalty shootout which can be fun and a useful way to get past a team you may be struggling against.
Once cleared there’s not a great deal of incentive to replay the main game, but the two-player mode offers up a lot of fun. The simplified “pick your team and play” nature of the game works well for those seeking a quick game, with the simple controls also helping.
The game uses two buttons, one for a long ball/shooting and one for passing. These buttons perform tackles and shoulder barges when you don’t have possession. Different actions are performed depending on your position to the ball, leading to straightforward shots, overhead kicks or diving headers. The straightforward controls make this a good option for tabletop mode, with a detached Joy-Con each as you have a quick match or two.
This ACA release features the usual options to add scanlines to the image, remap buttons and adjust the difficulty setting. You can also adjust how long matches last (30 seconds to 7 and a half minutes) although these options aren’t clearly labelled in the menu, seemingly as a result of Hamster copying and pasting options across releases. “Time Limit” is actually for the first match only, whilst subsequent matches are listed as an option for turning off the flashing in Duck King's Fatal Fury Special stage. Derp. The time limit for two-player matches meanwhile is listed as “1 Coin Challenge”.
For those who are seeking a 1 coin challenge, there is the usual ACA Hi-Score mode where you see how far you can get on one credit. This does provide a challenge, but with points awarded based on matches won, your placement possibilities on the online leaderboard are somewhat limited due to there only being seven matches in a playthrough.
More appealing is that other ACA regular: Caravan mode. Here points are awarded based on goals scored and trying to score as many as possible in five minutes is a fun way to play that can also help you work on improving your goal scoring ability for the SNK Cup and two-player modes.
There are a few changes to the football formula, but SNK's arcade version of the sport can still provide entertainment. Caravan mode gives you a different way to play, though it lacks the replayability offered by a shooter with that mode. The regular arcade mode doesn't give players much of a reason to return once the cup has been won; a lack of options and teams limiting the game's appeal. The quick-play nature brought about by that lack of options works well for two-player matches however, and if you are looking for something simple and fun to play to play with a friend, then Super Sidekicks can provide a quick footie fix.