Hello and welcome to Balls.ie’s Retro Gaming Review, where we take a look back at some of the more iconic sports games of our youth in an attempt to judge how well they have aged.
We will be playing a number of games on old consoles and critiquing the experience with the luxury of having become accustomed to modern gaming, so instead of the wide-eyed “THIS IS AMAZING!” naivety with which we first played these games, we can look back at them with a smug and condescending attitude and point out their many, many flaws. Also present is the possibility of unearthing precious childhood memories and blasts of nostalgia that fill our cold adult hearts with joy, but we can’t promise anything.
This week we are taking a look at a game that sounds like a fake game we would invent as part of something like "10 Fictional Video Games We Wish Existed", but no, it is actually a real game, it's Dave O'Leary Manager 2000 on the Gameboy Colour.
At the turn of the century, Leeds United were challenging for Premier League titles and playing beautiful attacking football under the guidance of Irish legend Dave O'Leary. Video game developer Ubisoft decided to cash in on the fashionable manager who was surely destined for big things, and gave him his own video game, and we are very glad they did. There wasn't a big budget for O'Leary Manager, and as a result the game didn't have a very big launch. This, coupled with a low-profile advertising campaign meant that the game didn't get much publicity, instead it was one of those games you see in the game shop and take a gamble on, but those who did were pleasantly surprised.
While it looks like a purely management based football game, it actually offers you the ability to play as well as observe, and the main menu screen presents you with a lot of options for a Gameboy title, as you can play a quick exhibition against the CPU, play multiplayer via a link cable, start a career of pure football gameplay with little to no management, start a career where you manage the team and play the game, and finally start a pure management career.
To get to grips with the game, we started up an exhibition game as Leeds (because it is Dave O'Leary's game after all) and we played Manchester United. Remember this is 1999 Man United so we were really up against it. You watch the match below:
We lost 0-1. We just couldn't contain '99 Ryan Giggs.
The gameplay in O'Leary Manager 2000 is brilliant. Obviously limited by the number of buttons on the Gameboy Colour, the mechanics are very simple. A to shoot, B to pass, and A to slide when on defence. That's it. And yet, it is surprisingly enjoyable to play. You can add swerve to shots ala Sensible Soccer, and the fast pace of the game keeps matches short and sweet.
So having had a bash at the football gameplay, we wanted to see how the full manager career worked, so we launched a new game with our manager "Dave" in charge of Leeds, although we could have picked any one of Europe's major leagues as, stunningly, they are mostly all available in game.
Again, simplicity is the key word here, but that isn't a bad thing. The simplicity of O'Leary Manager 2000 is charming more than anything, and it makes it very easy and enjoyable to breeze through months of a season at a time. Obviously, the first thing we wanted to do was buy a player, so into 'Transfers' we go:
The options to distinguish domestic or foreign players was a nice touch for the way the Premier League was back in the year 2000.
We set our parameters: Striker, cheap as chips, fast and with good shooting. Seems about right.
And here are the results! Obviously Bakayoko and Babingida leapt off the screen, so we decided to put a bid in for Bakayoko first, which consisted of clicking A... "Make offer for Bakayoko?" click A again... "Bakayoko signs for Leeds United!". Wow, that was easy. If only all football transfers were like this!
So now that we have the transfer market sussed, lets get on with the action. Our first league game was away to Southampton:
Now we had to pick our team. For some reason Ian Harte was playing in a midfield three, so we moved him to left back, and brought Lee Bowyer and Erik Bakke into the side, and finally as Alan Smith has absolutely no pace, we took him off the wing and put him up front. Here is the starting 11, as you can see the players are rated by blocks to represent their quality, with Nigel Martyn being by far our strongest player.
The way the match plays out is brilliant for a Gameboy game. The action-areas are shown on a mini-map of the pitch, and commentary keeps you up to date on the minor details, but for chances and goals, you get shown a quick replay of the action. It really does work well, see for yourself as we recorded the second half of our season opener:
A brilliant 3-2 win to start the campaign!
Once the game is finished you are shown a Sky Sports Vidiprinter style results screen which keeps you up to date on what is going on around you:
And that is where our play-test ended. Training consists of simply choosing what to improve on particular players, and thats about it. There really isn't that much to the game, but there doesn't need to be. The purpose of Dave O'Leary Manager 2000 was clearly to kill some time on a long car trip or on a train or whatever, and really you couldn't ask for more from a football/football management game on the Gameboy from the year 2000.
In conclusion, Dave O'Leary Manager 2000 is absolutely brilliant. The gameplay is simple and fun, and a career mode where you can play the matches seems like it would be worthwhile, even today, but really the game is at it's best in Full Manager mode. It's basic, it's packed with all the players we grew up swapping stickers of in the schoolyard, it's got a ridiculous amount of options for such a tiny game, and it's got bloody Dave O'Leary on the cover. A massive, enthusiastic thumbs up for a game that has aged really, really well.
If you've got a Gameboy colour lying around, give it a chance, you won't be disappointed. If you don't have a Gameboy Colour, and don't want to buy one on eBay because you're a fully grown man, you can emulate the experience via the internet, if you get what we're saying...
Either way, O'Leary Manager 2000 is a great game, and one that should be played by far more people.