The Beautiful Games: Virtua Striker 2 (1997)

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Game: Virtua Striker 2
Publisher: Sega
Released: 1997 (updates in 1998, 1999, 2000)
Format: Arcade (also available on: Dreamcast)

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When discussing Actua Soccer a little while back, I mentioned that FIFA ’96 was the first football game to feature 3D graphics. Of course, that may have been true for home releases, but also overlooks the fact that arcades, as per usual in the ’90s, were well ahead of home console technology: and so in fact, the first opportunity anyone had to play football in anything approaching 3D was 1994’s Virtua Striker. This was thanks to Sega’s famous Model 2 arcade board, which added texture mapping capabilities to the polygonal graphics of the Model 1, leading to such visual classics as Daytona USAVirtua Fighter 2The House of the Dead and Virtua Cop, along with the first in this classic football series.

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But it was Virtua Striker 2 – first released three years later, and making use of the further-improved Model 3 board – that would represent the peak of Sega’s arcade football experience. It was so good, in fact, that it would go through no fewer than six different updated incarnations (one of them a Dreamcast port) before finally moving on to VS3 (with a new developer in the process). Those versions in full were Virtua Striker 2Virtua Striker 2 ver. ’98Virtua Striker 2 ver. ’99Virtua Striker 2 ver. ‘99.1 (yes, seriously), Virtua Striker 2 ver. 2000, and Virtua Striker 2 ver. 2000.1 (the Dreamcast version).

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For my money, the favourite is ’98, but that might just be because it’s the one I’ve most often seen and played actual machines of; and also because it tied in nicely to that year’s World Cup (complete with kits that, while not officially licensed by any of the relevant associations, were a pretty decent approximation). But any of the versions of the game (and assorted editions are pictured here) gives you a pretty enjoyable football gaming experience.

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It’s not an especially realistic game – like most Japanese football games, there’s an emphasis on style, power and particularly game-ish additional animations – but I’ve always felt there’s something satisfyingly chunky and solid about it, which probably comes from a combination of the player animations and the sound effects.

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Although Virtua Striker 3 wasn’t anywhere near as good as the second, the series still stands as pretty much the last great arcade football series – by the late ’90s, home consoles had become capable of the sort of graphics that had previously only been the preserve of coin-op machines, and football games have always made that bit more sense when you’re actually able to play proper matches and seasons, rather than progressing through a succession of beat-em-up style knock-out stages where you lose your credit even if you draw the game.

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