Dino Dini is back after years (in the wilderness? - we're not sure) and he's bringing with him his most famous series. Kick Off Revival is drawing on the sporting roots of its predecessors - games like Kick Off and Super Kick Off - which along with Sensible Soccer were the football games of the early '90s.
Understanding the reasons why these games were so successful is also key to understanding why they're making a comeback (Sociable Soccer is also on the horizon despite its failed Kickstarter campaign late last year). These are games built around skill, with simple yet nuanced controls that put the player in complete control of their own footballing destiny. These games might share a sport with FIFA and PES, but they're very different beasts. Where the modern players are aiming increasingly at simulating the real-life match day, the returning old guard are more interested in arcade spills and thrills.
The simplicity of those original games is going to make the generational leap with Revival. We were told that Dino Dini and his team experimented with adding different inputs, but in the end they made the decision to say "no" to change, and their upcoming game will feature Spartan controls: one stick, one button.
But does it work when viewed through a modern lens? Yes, mostly. We played a match on an early version of the game, although it can't be that early, as the team are "aggressively" pursuing a release at some point in Q2 2016. Actually, when you look at it from that perspective, there's still plenty to do, because while the core of the game is there, and you can run your players around the pitch and kick the ball, there's work to be done on the animations of the players (most notably the goalkeepers) and the visual effect when you put the ball in the back of the net (we saw the net bulge unconvincingly twice as we beat a fellow journo 2-0), there's a bit of work to do if this is going to be a polished product.
While it was rough around the edges, the main features are already in place, and after a time spent getting re-accustomed to the controls (it's been a loooooong time since we last played a Kick Off game) it all started to click. The directional stick controls the movement of the player, but the ball is very much a separate entity. You can hold onto it if you're prepared to sacrifice a lot of speed, and for that loss of momentum you get much better close control. When kicking the ball it all comes down to how long you hold the button down for, so a gentle tap will be a short pass, while holding it down longer will give you better range. It's really that simple, it doesn't take long to pick up, and very quickly it becomes clear that this is still, after all these years, very much a skill-based affair.
During a presentation that took place before we went hands-on with the game we were told that DLC is already being planned. Considering that, we've come to the conclusion that given the planned release window, and the amount of work still left to do, it's entirely possible that what we're going to get at launch is going to be very bare bones, to be fleshed out later with a variety of content drops.
While we were playing Dino Dini watched on, this being one of the first opportunities for him to see new players getting to grips with the game while playing against fellow newcomers. During the demo, and afterwards when we interviewed him for GRTV (see below), he mentioned Rocket League as a reference point, as something for the modern gamer to relate to. It's clear that the pick-up-and-playability of Psyonix's game is an inspiration for him, and it may well that he's planning to follow the example of that studio and release DLC at regular intervals post-launch.
But if you want to sell people fun DLC from launch onwards, the foundations needs to be super solid, and as such there's work to do to make sure the base game given to players later this year is robust and free from bugs. Given this is being backed by Sony it's a PS4/Vita exclusive, and so perhaps they're even considering a similar move to the one we saw with Rocket League, where a release as a PS Plus title was enough to draw in a huge fan-base, players who have no doubt dipped a hand in their pocket for a DLC purchase or two since they got the game gratis. Finally, let's not forget that there's a big football tournament taking place in the summer; we can't imagine a better time to release a game like this with a bunch of international team-themed DLC options.
So there's still work to do if Kick Off Revival is going to score a blinder when it launches in Q2. There's confidence and ambition from Dino Dini and his team, and they clearly think there's going to be an appetite for the game they're making. It's hard not to be convinced by the positive attitude and self belief, but all the big talk in the world won't make a difference if they don't - to borrow a football parlance - take care of the basics. The return of a former great is almost upon us, and now all we can do is wait to see if it's in good shape by the time it takes to the field.