International Superstar Soccer '98 Review - IGN (2024)

Although there is no doubt about the fact that the N64 suffers from a shortage of games in almost every genre, N64 owners are spoiled when it comes to soccer. After a rough start with EA's FIFA 64, football fans were treated to two quality games -- one from EA Sports (Road to World Cup) and the other one -- possibly one of the best soccer games ever made -- from Konami: International Superstar Soccer 64.Developed by the only in-house Konami team that carries a distinct name, Major A, the game soon captured the hearts of many and went on to million-selling status in Europe. In light of this year's soccer World Championship, it's no surprise that Konami is aiming for a repeat performance with the sequel, International Superstar Soccer '98. Unfortunately, strange release date politics pushed back the game to a September release. Too late for the World Cup and too late to be a direct contender with EA's strong World Cup 98. It's a real shame, too, since the ISS series once again manages to stay on top of N64 soccer.

The Facts

  • Six Modes of play: Open Game, International Cup, World League, Penalty Kicks, Scenario and Training
  • 64 national teams (home and away uniforms)
  • 9 stadia from around the world, including three from France
  • Night, midday and evening games
  • Weather conditions: Sunny, cloudy, rain, snow
  • Multiple strategies (center break, side break, offside trap, offensive, and more) -- up to six per team
  • Head-tracking
  • New camera angles (including vertical)
  • Team motivation
  • 17,000 motion-captured frames of animation
  • Better heading, passing and shot controls
  • Height meters for corner and penalty kicks
  • New player animations for injuries, changes
  • Better goalies
  • Up to four players -- any configuration
  • Five difficulties
  • Surround sound
  • Commentary by Tony Gubba
  • Referees and line-men on field
  • New intro, menus and music
  • Create-a-player and name edit (80 player faces)
  • New victory celebrations
  • Dynamic replay

First the bad news. ISS '98 still doesn't have a FIFA license. All the players are made-up, the teams are "approximations" of the real teams, and the majority of soccer arenas is fictitious. We'd like to dismiss this as a minor flaw, but just like with American football, basketball, and hockey, a soccer game loses a lot when it lacks authenticity. Luckily, you can edit player names (the number of characters is much too limited, though!), and ISS makes up for the lack of a license with exquisite gameplay, much like its predecessor.

Some would say the gameplay is a little bit too much like ISS 64. But although the improvements over the first game are not immediately visible (unless you count a cool real-time intro), players will find the gameplay tweaked, more options, and an overall more mature soccer title.

ISS '98 features six modes of play:

  • Open Game: Play one match.
  • International Cup: Regional qualification matches.
  • World League: ISS '98's version of the World Cup.
  • Penalty Kicks: Shoot penalties with the patented "box" shot system.
  • Scenario: Pick from 16 pre-determined game scenarios.
  • Training: Hone your skills on the field.
Players select from 64 national teams (you can also use your own edited data at that point) and play against real-life or computer opponents in any configuration. Like in ISS64, you can set your formation, edit your team, set up your defenses and set tactics. But this time, there are a few upgrades. For one, you can determine your team's captain -- and pick from a whopping 16 strategies (up to six per team) that can be accessed via the Z-Button (combined with the other buttons). The new strategies add greatly to the original's in-game strategy options. You can toggle the following any time during the game to set up your play and copy the exact style of your favorite team: All attack, all defend, side break, center break, Up front, counter attack, zone press, offside trap, make space right, middle, and left, opp. over, full power, save stamina, defensive, and offensive.

Although ISS still doesn't approach the stadium variety of EA's titles, Konami thankfully added new stadia to the lineup for a total of nine (Euro Center, Euro International, Asia, Tokyo, Africa, S. America, Saint-Denis, Paris and Lyon). Only the last three are virtual versions of actual arenas. Wheather conditions include sunny, cloudy, rainy and snow and you can play at three times of day (night, midday, evening) to bring out some of ISS '98's excellent environment effects.

Unlike World Cup 98, ISS '98 returns with a much needed edit and player creation feature that enables you to make your dream players, select a face, determine whether he is left-footed, ambi, or right-footed, allocate skills, and register him to play in the full league. You can now select from a whopping 80 faces (no beards, though) and change your player's height as well, a feature not found in either ISS64 and World Cup.

Keepers have also been upgraded with various AI levels (from strong to weak), punch balls clear and appear more versatile than in the original. In order to help players place their kick-offs and penalty shots better, you can now adjust the height with the improved shot-arrow. Like in the original, it can be switched off to keep the other player in the dark. Controls are like in the original (B: Shoot, A: Bass, C-Left: Lob, C-Down: Dash, C-Up: Through pass, C-Right: One-two pass) and the excellent through pass and one-two pass system still works like charm. On the down-side: no Rumble Pak support (it would be cool to use it to let gamers know they lost the ball) and a much too limited instruction manual.

So how does it play? A tad better than the original, which in the case of ISS means: fantastic. The gameplay is decidedly slower (but smoother) than in EA's series, which means more tactical gameplay and a better passing game. Especially when passing into the box, ISS '98 shines with better player AI, placing teammates into the right spots to intercept your passes. Headers and bicycle kicks can be executed easily and make for some spectacular plays, and once you know how to play one-twos and delayed one-twos, you'll never want to play without them. Unfortunately, the game may feel sluggish at first if you come from playing FIFA, and the omission of a speed setting will definitely turn off fans of action soccer. But you can easily tell that the ISS development team knows its stuff. The moves are dead-on, the interceptions excellent, controls are responsive, and little touches such as trick dribbling (hold the left C button and watch) make this the top choice for soccer fans.


ISS is great as a one-player game, thanks to an excellent scenario mode, but it completely rules with two players. Unfortunately, last year's four-player slowdown returns (no biggie, though), as does the stupid choice of shapes over different colors with more than two players. Hopefully, Konami will decide to go for four different colors in next year's game, rather than choosing two colors (one per team) and different shapes for team mates.


The graphics are very similar to the original. Konami did add some new animations, especially for the fouls and victory celebrations, and players look almost life-like from far away since they turn their heads to look for openings and even raise their hands. Referees and linemen realistically move about, captains wear the captain's armband, team members high-five each others, and players received first-aid after fouls. The camera received some slight improvements as well, with a new camera angle (vertical) and the ability to zoom out further, but the default settings are probably the most playable. If graphics are everything to you, you should know that ISS looks great, but its presentation isn't anywhere near EA's FIFA series. While the framerate is smoother in ISS, the resolution is lower and it lacks many of the cool "filler" animations that makes World Cup so nice to look at. One thing that ISS does better than any other sports game we've played are the crowds. Not only are the crowd textures animated, but your teams' flags wave in the background, bringing home the enthusiasm and excitement of a real soccer crowd. Well-done, Konami. Now about those ugly menu screens...

Sound On the sound-side, Konami gave the game a little boost with better, less choppy narration courtesy of Tony Gubba and subtle but effective surround crowd cheers (not Dolby Surround licensed, though). The new music is better than last year's offerings, too. Gubba does a good job at giving authenticity to the game, but his goal cheers don't come close to the original narrator's ecstatic "Gooooooaaaaaaal!"


International Superstar Soccer '98 replaces ISS64 as my all-time favorite soccer game. While World Cup beats it in presentation, graphics and sound, ISS plays just like a good soccer game should. The control is impeccable, the AI smart, and everything feels just right. Well, not everything. I think it's about time Konami realized that a soccer game isn't complete without an official license. A picture of Valdeerrama and three arenas is just not the same as having the real teams and players. If you already own ISS64, see if you find a trade-in deal to get your hands on the new one, otherwise, the amount of additions is not quite enough to warrant purchase of the sequel.

International Superstar Soccer '98 Review - IGN (2024)
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