Top Trumps Ultimate Football Challenge Review
They made it all up, don't they? Or, rather, they do in the more interesting sets. I can't quite remember Grand Moff Tarkin ever discussing the speed of the Death Star in between threatening Princess Leia or deigning to show off the destructive power of his battle station but it was clear that Top Trumps, by including the figure, clearly had some insider knowledge that even blinded fans of the series didn't. Similarly, the frankly astonishing number of kills credited to William Quantrill seemed to imply that he was personally responsible when it became clear, at least later in the day, that his gang of raiders and bushwhackers may have been responsible.
This DVD release has included two Top Trumps packs, one on World Football Stars - being current players - and another on Football Legends, which, given the title, includes the all-times stars of the game. And so, where one includes David Beckham, Michael Ballack, Milan Baros, Frank Lampard, Thierry Henry, Luis Figo, Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and - don't laugh! - Michael Owen, the other features Franz Beckenbauer, George Best, Eric Cantona, Johan Cruyff, Paolo Maldini, Bobby Moore, Zindedine Zidane and Gianfranco Zola. As one who can well remember when the commentators at international matches sounded as though they were being broadcast via bean tins and string, I tended towards the Football Legends set, being rather pleased at the players they included. For example, their inclusion of the remarkable Dutch trio of Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard shows a certain logic whilst the sight of Kenny Dalglish in the red shirt of Liverpool and the dark blue of Scotland is like being handed an enormous syringe marked nostalgia. However, I'll save my kindest words for Top Trumps keeping a place for Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira or, as he was better known, Sócrates. A heavy drinker and smoker, 6'4", a doctor of medicine and named after an ancient Greek Philosopher, he was amongst the very best players to wear the Brazilian shirt, my very favourite and the reason this is scoring as highly as it does.
On to the actual disc and Top Trumps breaks down into the traditional game - based around the year born, height, weight, number of caps, international goals scored and international experience for the World Footballers and year born, caps, international goals, clubs, honours and flair factors for the Football Legends - this will have you wondering if Johan Cruyff is deserving of such a low flair factor, if Wayne Rooney's weight is entirely accurate and why Bryan Robson has been included in the pack. It's surely not for his skills as a football manager!
Narrated by Barry Davies, who's no John Motson but much better than Gary Newbon, this is a fairly lifeless presentation, with Davies soaking up any competitive atmosphere like a sponge, leaving one feeling as though playing the game is something of a chore. That, unfortunately, is rather the problem with many of these interactive DVDs but this one is better than most with the only difference between this and normal Top Trumps being the absence of that feeling of success one gets as the number of cards in one's hand increasing. However, where this release does have an advantage is the viewing of clips of each of the players in the two sets, a Top 40 rundown of the best players in the world - that Alan Shearer is included in this reveals a bias towards the homegrown - as well as a bonus trivia game. The ability to simply browse the pack to mentally note the best cards is, of course, consistent with how the game was always played.
Not quite as nostalgic as I had expected it to be, nor as much fun, this is, however, one of the better interactive DVDs to be released for this Christmas. That said, it's not actually better than having a pack of Top Trumps cards and at four times the price (or more!), this doesn't represent terrific value.
Presented in 1.33:1, this release clearly spent most of its budget on gaining the licence from the makers of Top Trumps rather than securing the best footage they could of the various football stars in the game. The best example of this is the wonder goal scored by Maradona against England in the 1986 World Cup hosted by Mexico. Not the Hand Of God goal but the one in which Maradona picked up the ball in his own half, ran more than half the length of the pitch, dribbled the ball past Glenn Hoddle, Peter Reid, Kenny Sansom, Terry Butcher, Terry Fenwick and goalkeeper Peter Shilton, scoring what is generally considered to be the greatest individual goal in footballing history. Here, however, we get the goal and perhaps the last third or Maradona's run but some way short of the full spectacle.
Otherwise, the footage isn't bad but is presented with all the faults that one sees on a poor digital transfer, with a great deal of noise in the image, artefacting between shots whilst the encoding settles and a softness that was obviously employed to smooth out the older footage but which has left it without any of the charm that one expects on football games from the archives. Otherwise, the game is mostly driven from menus that are brightly-coloured and easy to read even on a small screen. The best that can be said about the stereo soundtrack is that one never really notices anything about it but it is simply a very anonymous track. However, it's worth noticing that some of Barry Davies' commentary has its opening seconds chopped off due to poor editing or the machine not cueing it in correctly. That said, though, they could have lost it altogether and few would have mourned its loss.
There are no extras on this DVD release.