Was it always like this? The other World Cups? I remember munching a cooked breakfast while Beckham and co. lorded it around Japanorea, and sitting in a pub at 7.30am (at least I think
that was the World Cup), but we're only on day one of the 2006 vintage and already I've read an article in the Guardian, of all places, rating footballers' wives in terms of their lust for publicity and knack for fashion.
I've seen Sky News and the BBC clamouring to get the best aerial shot of the England bus route-one-ing it down the motorway, and I've seen David Beckham pinned to someone's roof like Santa Claus on a Gucci sled.
Fortunately, then, football games are arguably going in the other direction. Gone are the days of Fever Pitch and Red Card Soccer, relegated into a subcategory of novelty football games that most punters ignore. (With the exception of FIFA Street, obviously - and I've no problem excepting FIFA Street.)
Pro Evolution Soccer's the most critically acclaimed and almost the most popular football game there is and it's about nothing but skill. The last version, at the peak of its rise to prominence, responded by ripping out the crutches used by crap defenders by making you tackle manually instead of holding auto-pressure buttons.
Even FIFA, a game that's sold more off the back of EA's licensing department than its gumption on the command line, is getting it together. And here, to top things off, we have Jon Hare's Sensible Soccer 2006, put together by enterprising minds at UK outfit Kuju - a game that's little more than slick passing, bendy shots and pure pace.
Sensi's innocence is remarkably attractive after a few years of having to remember which four buttons to press when you want to send a cross into the box. You ping passes around like pinball buffers, dispossess the opposition by running through them or doing a good old-fashioned straight-as-an-arrow slide tackle, and fire shots off by charging up a single button and adding after-touch - the bend on the ball - by pushing the analog stick or cursor keys in the direction you want it to swerve.
There's a run button (each player has a certain amount of stamina available per game, indicated by a little meter above his head), and an arrow at your feet to show you exactly which way the ball's going to ping, but, apart from some periphery stuff (moving the goalkeeper and defensive wall around with the right analog), that's your lot. It's the 80s shoot-'em-up of football games - all speed and reactions, yet not without depth. You can't just bludgeon your way through someone's back line because it's so easy to lose the ball, so you need to make sensible (Groan - Ed
) use of pace, space, and take full advantage of gaps in your opponent's defence. And if they're gung-ho with the slide-tackle button, more's the better.