Want to turn a green lane into a brown lane, tow a Gulaschkanone across a snowy field, or roam the Western Desert trashing Axis airfields? Get a 4×4. Want quick introductions to games of interest to wargamers and simmers? Read a 3×3. Prior to penning one of these articles I’ll play three tempting titles for at least three hours each. While it would be cavalier to call the reports that result from such brief auditions ‘reviews’, it’s conceivable they might lead to more prolonged playtests, and prompt or prevent the odd purchase.
“During the past seven days I’ve engineered no virtual violence” isn’t something I get to say very often. Now and again a compelling train, bus, boat, or civilian flight sim will persuade me to turn my back on ersatz war and weaponry for a spell, but this is, I believe, the first time I’ve ever been cajoled into a week-long ceasefire by a trio of splendid sports games.
Tiny Football, Super Video Golf, and Ultimate Racing 2D 2 have more than moreishness in common. All under a tenner, all dainty downloads, all the work of solo devs, and all perfectly playable with a keyboard and mouse, today’s threesome manage to capture the flavour of their chosen sports without swamping the player in keystrokes or bullying them with brutal difficulty.
Early on Martyn Bissett’s nostalgic Early Access digit warmer does give off worrying ‘git gud’ vibes. With no tutorials, manual, or configurable difficulty settings, your first few matches are likely to be frantic, dispiriting affairs. Twenty frustrating minutes passed before one of my blocky turf scuffers managed to bulge an onion bag for the first time. It was only when I discovered, by chance, I could curl my passes and shots in mid-air, and realised that opponents such as Qatar and Panama are, in effect, Tiny Football’s ‘easy’ difficulty level, that I began to improve and enjoy myself.
Every player on and off the pitch has skill and fitness ratings, and a preferred role. These, together with a pinch of RNG and your manual dexterity and situational awareness, determine the outcome of tackles, passes, shots, and saves. Pick a talented, fresh team and a relatively weak opponent, and you’re far more likely to trap that long pass, beat that keeper, emerge from a tackle in possession, or keep control of the ball during an ambitious mazy dribble.
Presently, which sprite is your ‘active’ cursor-controllable player is always decided by the CPU, there’s no sprint option, and tackles, passes, and shots are all triggered with the same key press (the duration of the dab determines the ferocity of the action). FIFA fiends may scoff at this sort of simplicity. If, however, you have fond memories of Sensible Soccer, then TF’s pared-down approach, married as it is to solid AI, relatively slow pacing, and a range of replay-friendly modes (customisable one-off matches, leagues*, cup competitions, and tournaments) is sure to delight.
* Only the top tiers of the English, Scottish, French, German, Italian, and Spanish men’s game are modelled at present. Although the dedicated can rename unlicensed doppelgangers and teams via the bundled editor, as there’s no way to make entirely new players or alter skills yet, it’s not possible to, say, recreate a historic team.
I’ve yet to play a dull match or encounter a predictable opponent. Glorious defence-sundering pass combos… blistering shots… spectacular saves… rattled woodwork… frantic goalmouth scrambles… plausible own goals… eye-watering fouls… game-changing dismissals… nerve-racking extra time and penalty shootouts… the controls might be minimal and the graphics primeval, but Martyn’s demo-blessed work-in-progress abounds with footballing magic.
Yes, currently the magic comes with a few bugs (occasional freezes during toss-ups, weird offside decisions, and goals seemingly scored through the side or rear of the goal) but none of the issues I’ve encountered this week will stop me playing or recommending this 90 MB firecracker.
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Super Video Golf
Remember that sweltering summer in the mid Nineties you spent picking soft fruit in Somerset? You stayed in that caravan with Petr and Barbora and whiled away your evenings watching Blackadder videos, and playing Virtual Golf on Petr’s Sega Saturn? Super Video Golf will bring the memories flooding back!
The foes in SVG are the foes found in all good golf games – wind, water, trees*, over-ambition, and poor technique. Although this £7.50 lunch-hour devourer isn’t likely to dent sales of PGA TOUR 2K23 or EA SPORTS PGA TOUR, sound fundamentals, competitive artificial opposition, and a decent selection of courses (10, all fictional) and formats (stroke play, match play, or skins), mean anyone after a low cost, low spec, alternative to the glossy, licensed golf sims can purchase with a fair degree of confidence.
* See on for a qualification
Shots are executed using a traditional two-click swing meter. Your first key press halts an advancing power bar, your second arrests a retreating needle ideally – if hooks and slices are to be avoided – mid-meter. Applying backspin is impossible in the current build, as is hitting fades and draws.
If Trederia Games ever gets round to implementing collision detection for trees (sadly, birches, pines etc are basically decorative out-of-bounds markers at the moment) the latter limitation will grow in significance. The incorporeal timber together with somewhat toothless rough and bunkers, are, I’d argue, SVG’s most disappointing deficiencies right now. I miss bad lies. I miss cavernous sand traps. I miss hearing the clatter of ball against bough, and situations where I’m forced to choose between a safe sideways shot and a risky low punch towards the green.
Talking of greens, although the 180 provided, like the fairways that precede them, tend to be a little on the flat side, more contours are on the way, as is an improved putting meter (counter-intuitively, short putts are harder than medium length ones in v1.10.2).
Earlier this week I’d have described the game’s silicon playmates as slightly too consistent… slightly too formidable.
While I still feel CPU club wielders really ought to underhit putts occasionally (Currently, they never come up short) I’ve now witnessed enough wonky putts and wayward drives, and participated in sufficient down-to-the-wire nailbiters, to revise my opinion.
Approachable, engaging, tense, even amusing at times (This is what happens when one of your shots happens to collide with the camera drone) Super Video Golf thoroughly deserves its daft title adjective.
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Ultimate Racing 2D 2
Many moons ago, after reading Popski’s Private Army, I started work on a top-down LRDG game. The project never progressed beyond a rough prototype, but I recall being pretty happy with the handling characteristics of my WASD-controlled jeep, and the way targets could be trashed with mouse-directed MGs and bouncing grenades as I sped around the test map. By the time another ludological pipedream dragged me in a different direction, I’d implemented aircraft strafing runs and had a rudimentary hexagonal strat layer up and running.
The engine that allowed my little WW2 4WD to hurtle, swerve, skid, and prang naturalistically, is the same engine that powers the brilliant Ultimate Racing 2D 2. If UR2D2 isn’t the best thing ever made with GameMaker then I’m Max Verstappen.
Applimazing’s £7 Early Access sequel looks and sounds a lot like its much-loved predecessor. The Dutch dev might have faced ‘1.5’ jibes if it hadn’t been for additions such as damage, penalties, a manager mode, editors, and new cars, tracks, and tyre types.
Like most UR2D2 features – qualification, tyre wear, dynamic weather, etc – damage is optional and fully customisable. Play with it switched on and set high, and the thuggish driving style that often paid dividends in UR2D suddenly becomes unwise. Even though pit stop durations aren’t dependent on, and handling doesn’t seem to be affected by, the condition of your vehicle, using the cars of rivals as brake augmentation aids and anti-skid devices, isn’t advisable in contests in which damage is active. A clumsy, inattentive driver in such a race can very easily end up with a ‘DNF’ beside their name.
The new manager mode builds on UR2D’s spectator options. After choosing a class, naming their drivers and team, selecting car colours, and, if they wish to, handpicking a series of venues, rather than personally guiding a speeding sprite around a twisting circuit, the player influences races in real-time by dictating the tyre strategies, racing lines, and aggressiveness of their two drivers. It’s less demanding than driving in person, but I find myself itching to get back behind the wheel after a few laps of instruction issuing.
For me, UR2D2 is at its best when the race duration is long (250-lap races are possible), weather and tyre wear is in play, and the game’s admirably malleable “AI skill” number* has been set a tad outside my comfort zone. The longer the race the more likely I am to attain that Zen-like state I generally only experience in 3D race sims. That state where I’m barely aware of what my fingers are doing and my steed is caressing apexes and passing rivals in a manner that brings to mind a raptor on the wing.
* Because that number can be set anywhere between 1 and 130, UR2D2 can be adapted to suit players of absolutely any ability.
The realism and physics might be more Need for Speed than Assetto Corsa (Don’t expect subtleties like manual gears, suspension tweaking, and slipstreaming) but switching vehicle classes can radically alter the way you approach a familiar circuit. Whether you like your rubber depositers tail-happy or terrier-like, skittery or firmly planted, lightning quick or stately, you’re sure to find something to suit in UR2D2’s extensive showroom.
Perfect for gadflies and those only able to game in brief bursts, but also capable of satisfying folks looking for structure, lengthy solo careers, or great local multiplayer action, Ultimate Racing 2D 2 is a game I’d have slapped an 85%+ score on in my days as a PC Gamer reviewer.