Friday, 17 October 2008

International Superstar Soccer [N64] - strategy guide

Recently I've been revisiting some old games for various consoles, particularly the N64. This weekend I'm bored so I'm going to try and give you some tips for succeeding on level 5 of International Superstar Soccer 64.


Upon its release in 1997, ISS64 was immediately hailed as a revolution in football gaming. Whilst the graphics are a bit ropey by 2011 standards, the gameplay was unmatched and this is why the game still holds up well in today's realism-obsessed gaming society. I expect that pretty soon, as the game approaches its 15th birthday, it will squeeze onto the radar of retro gaming (Wii Virtual Console, anyone?) to such an extent that ISS64 can reach a whole new generation of video gamers. This is a good thing, because there are so many bad 'modern' football games it's unbelievable.


(See also: Detailed Teams Guide)

ISS has thirty-five teams to choose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses reflecting their real life counterparts from 1996. On level 5, the gap between the best and worst is remarkably evident in match situations: Brazil will outrun you and smack in headers with unbelievable consistency whilst South Korea will get tired after about three minutes.

I always used to pick England, who are one of the best teams in the game, but wanted a bit more of a challenge so switched to Wales and won a few cups with them. I'm currently playing as South Korea. Yeah, don't ask why... I think it's because they've got the lowest stats in the game, with quite a deficiency in stamina, shot accuracy and goalkeeper strength - a bit of a challenge playing with them, you might say.

I'm not saying you should pick these guys, because winning the World League is a big enough task in itself, even with Italy, France or Argentina. In fact I would advise against Korea as they suck royally. However, for the purpose of (most of) this guide I shall playing as them in my quest to capture the prestigious World League trophy. Am I mad? Maybe. In a warm up game I lost 3-2 to Norway so the signs aren't good. Still, you've got to get used to a new team before you can select tactics accordingly, and it often takes a few games to get it right. On level 5, formation, team line-up and marking are vitally important, so take a bit of time to figure out the best formations before saving them to your controller pak. A few exhibition games should give you the opportunity to do this and stand you in good stead for the tougher (toughest?) task to come.

Here's a few pointers.
  • The Paraguay goalkeeper, Leone, is also an attacker(!) He's pretty good at free kicks - you could set him as your default taker but it's a bit of a risk. Always fun in a multiplayer game though!
  • Brazil's curling and crossing ability is unreal. You can't really beat them in the air so might want to play low passes. Allejo (Ronaldo) is the game's best player, rated 90 - if he gets the ball, pray he misses.
  • England have some awesome players. R. Banks is the game's best goalkeeper and T. Keegan will rip you apart given the chance.
  • Argentina, France and Italy are very dangerous, all-round teams, especially when computer controlled.
For more detailed team info including statistics,
see the Retro Yakking ISS64 Teams Guide.


Now, go and win everything

Hold on a minute there! First of all you've got to assess your squad. Some teams have strong benches, whilst for others (such as South Korea), reserves are just as bad as --if not worse than-- the rest of the team so some squad rotation can be employed. Throughout the course of a season you will end up using all sixteen of your players, save maybe the sub keeper - for some reason goalies never get injured, or at least I've never experienced it.

Often you'll be tempted to play the sub keeper in the outfield when your team is injury or suspension-hit, and sometimes you'll actually have no choice. Never mind, I've scored loads of goals with goalkeepers played up front. If you follow the rest of this guide, hopefully your skill will override any player's inadequacies, even the really crappy ones.

I would recommend a 4-3-3 formation, especially for weaker sides, but when you are more assured and comfortable with your team's players, tactics etc. you'll want to tinker with your own. Have the front men central, close to each other (you'll have to use the 'place' formation tool) so that you can score from any rebounds - there'll be loads of these, especially against rubbish goalies and fatigued defenders. Set your side backs to join the attack and place them slightly ahead of your central defender(s).

Have a backup formation of 5-3-2 (saved to the controller pak, of course) in case one of your defenders gets sent off so you can move a midfielder to defence and take a man from the attack to put him in midfield. Or, if you prefer, lose a midfielder and go more central - you'll be surprised how often this works.

Next, marking. I usually set my central midfielder to mark the equivalent opposition player and the side backs to stick with my opponent's attackers. It isn't a complete necessity to mark up but I prefer it as I play to pressure the man with the ball as much as possible. Don't bother with the rest of the stuff (preset strategies etc), it's too complicated and I can't get it to work. Besides, you shouldn't need it.

OK, you're ready

Now it's time to play some football. As you enter the first World League game you'll have maximum stamina levels (indicated by the yellow bar to the left of the player's name). This will be a luxury rarely afforded you on level five, but don't be overly worried if you lose as there are plenty more games to make up for it - 69, in fact. I reckon you'll have to get about 150 points to win the league - that's the equivalent of 50 wins. It's different every time, however, as the whole thing's random but you will find that Brazil, England etc. are usually in the top eight.

Check the other team's formation. It's usually a five man midfield but occasionally a team will pack the defence. I hate it when teams do this as there are so many defenders to beat. Don't get het up though, you can beat these guys if you remain positive. Look on the bright side, you can afford to dwell in the midfield a bit and maybe play an extra man up front.

But what about scoring goals?

I'm getting to it, jeez. Before you can even score you've got to get the ball. The more you give the computer possession, the more likely you are to lose.

Basically there are two types of tackle: soft and hard.

  • Obviously, hard (slide) tackles are more likely to give away fouls but I would say that, used correctly, both are just as effective. If the opponent is running with the ball and you are also moving, use hard tackles - you have to time it so that you are aiming for the ball rather than the man or you may give away a foul.
  • On all other occasions, use soft tackles. Usually the computer will auto select the man nearest the ball. Move your player directly adjacent to the opponent with the ball and repeatedly tap the button. About 50% of the time you'll come away with the ball, and this percentage is increased if the opponent is stationary. If in doubt, use the soft tackle button.

Be alert, as often the computer (even Brazil and Argentina) will make some completely stupid passes in their own half/penalty area enabling you to tackle them and be in on goal in no time. In the first half, you can sometimes get the ball straight back when you've been tackled by using a soft tackle.

As your players tire, though, they will be less able to react to a tackle, usually falling like a sack of spuds or stopping statuesque for about 5 seconds. Remember this works both ways, though: bring on some fresh legs in crucial positions (such as central midfield) and pressure the defence like mad.

That stupid Allejo, the %&*^%"#!

It's not all easy. Often you can't even get close to an opponent in possession, resulting in some almost unavoidable goals (stupid goalkeeper). What is important is that you score more than the other team. Well duh, that's the point of football, you might say, and you are right. You live and die by your decisions in front of goal - this is where the game is won. You can't really experience this in the training mode so you'll have to do some exhibition games to practice.

There are lots of ways to score but, as in many footy games (FIFA Soccer, PES etc.), there's a really cheap way of carving out an opportunity that results in a goal more often than not. It involves outrunning the goalkeeper, which is really quite easy once you get the hang of things.

Approach the goalie head on and he'll come out to challenge you. Just as he is about to dive, change direction suddenly by jerking the analogue stick (cough cough). Running diagonally often suffices. Having cleared the keeper, quickly revert back to moving towards goal and press the shoot button to score in the open net.

As you might already know, though, some of those pesky defenders may follow you all the way; I suggest shooting as soon as you beat the keeper for best results.

There's variations on this rule but the basic concept is the same - get yourself in a position to draw the keeper whilst still staying far enough away to evade his greedy clutches. Easy, yeah? No. Often it will result in too narrow an angle to shoot so you've just got to keep trying. One way to avoid this is to sprint across goal around the penalty spot area and once you reach the far post take a shot. Once you get the hang of it you are laughing. If you have, say, 20 shots on goal, about 5 of these will be goals, so keep trying it, and refer to the video below for some pointers.

Other methods

Set pieces
  • If your players have poor stats, don't bother trying to score directly from free kicks; it never works on level 5 because goalkeepers are too good. Instead, put a low pass just past the wall and have a player run across the penalty area to shoot. Often it'll be a defender as they are generally unmarked from set pieces. This method will get you a goal 1/8 times, as opposed to never with the direct shot. That is, unless you have a curler in your team, in which case you can aim to swerve the ball into the top corner of the goal. This requires some practice so use the free kick training option to try it out.
  • Corners can be handled the same way, but, just like Stoke City, it's more successful to get the ball in the mix and hope it goes into the net. Use the cross button (Left C) and set the meter to 3/4 power; aim for about halfway between the penalty spot and six yard line; frantically mash the shoot button as the ball enters the penalty area and hopefully by some fluke you might get a head to it, or it goes in off a defender or something.
  • You can't score from a goal kick (well, I've never done it), but try and get the ball as far up the field as possible. Don't bother throwing the ball from the keeper's hands, always kick clear - you don't want to chuck the ball to an attacker, gifting them a goal. You could drop and run (Down C) for a second or two but still wallop the ball forward with Left C.

Long balls

Recently I've been having some success with long balls. Every time you get the ball in your own half, blast it up the field towards the general position of your attackers. Since you've got a bunch of them grouped around the centre, it's likely one will be waiting, and even if an opposition defender gets the ball you can quickly tackle them and advance towards goal. It all happens pretty fast but you won't get blisters from constantly passing the ball about. Good if you have terrible midfielders.

Passing/Through balls

Don't bother passing too much in your own half of the field, instead clear as soon as possible. The Up C button can often produce some brilliant through passes in your opponent's third of the field. If you're playing a passing game it's worth using it. A lot.

The regular pass button gives the ball to feet which can actually be just as effective sometimes, but watch out for the pesky offside trap. I'm sure the game's logic on the offside rule is flawed - not surprising, given its complexity. I'll bet even Alan Hansen sometimes struggles to grasp the 'two defenders' concept', despite the confident front he exudes when 'chatting' with Lawro and Lineker.


Penalties, as in real life football, are a matter of pot luck. In any case, I've never found a sure-fire way of scoring every time, but try this:
  • Have a player with good shot accuracy take them (via the team line up screen) and aim for the corners.
  • Hit shoot then swiftly and decisively change to an opposite corner - with luck, the goalie will be rooted to the spot and it'll go sailing in. It doesn't always happen this way, though, because sometimes the goalie will be too good for your crummy South Korean penalty taker anyway!
From a rebound, I think I've only ever scored once because the goalie always, without fail, manages to get to it first. The exception to this is if you hit the post or bar, in which case there's a chance you can follow up and score while the goalie's still on the ground.

In shootouts, the best line-ups are usually the default ones, but make sure your players with the best shot accuracy are in the first five, preferably (and most often) attackers. From then, order them according to shot accuracy. Remember that defenders have a larger shot area so are generally less accurate.

Ah, brilliant. I won my first game!

Well done! Remember, though, it's a marathon, not a sprint. You may have won but your star striker is injured and your midfield general got sent off. In addition, your defenders were run into the ground and as a result have dangerously low stamina levels for game two. The real challenge starts now - playing with a depleted squad, that is. Well, I can't help you out much personally (I can't play football for beans, plus I think I left my shin pads in my locker) but I can offer advice on how to minimise injury.

Check your players' stamina levels at half time. If someone has zero stamina, sub them or put them in a relatively inactive position. For example, if Croatia are mainly playing down the right channel, put the player in the left back position.

Sometimes, though, four or five players will be dangerously low in the energy department: in this case, use the sprint button sparingly, be cautious, and pray you don't get cropped. I find that my attackers are injured the most because I play my football mainly in the opposition half. This can often result in me putting defenders/midfielders up front for a spell but it's not always a bad thing - as mentioned before they will have superior stamina levels to opposition defenders and outrun them for fun.

This goes without saying, but if you're winning 4-0 with 30 seconds to go, don't take too many risks. Make some late subs to save injuries caused by tired tackles.

And that's about it.

There's nothing much more to say, it's just a game of football. Win the World League and you will be suitably rewarded with some extra teams with which to play in exhibition modes. These all-star squads are made up of the best players in the game and you will do well to defeat them - playing in the International Cup mode you'll need to beat the formidable (but not unbeatable) World Stars team in order to unlock them all. All I can say is good luck to you, it's a tough task for the best of gamers.

After that, you can take on the scenarios. I'm not going to cover these but I'd say completing them on level 5 is harder than winning the World League with South Korea, and that's saying something. The Holland-England game will have you frustrated for ages so have some aspirin to hand.

Done all that? Well, you could try ISS '98.... or, if you fancy more of a challenge, make a team of players with zero ability points and try to win the League with that! It'd probably take you a few decades, but at least you'd be able to say you did it...


sheik_the_shadow said...

hey buddy !!!! I'm an ISS64 obsessed player and i want to thank you for these advice (that i already know !!!) :) :) i wish that i challenge you one day ! , but keep in mind that I'm a High-Level-Pro !!! and i never lost a multiplayer game in my 10 years ISS-gaming-experience!!! Peace,

Harry Yack said...

Hey there, Sheik! In truth I am a pretty bad ISS player... come to think of it I am actually a crap gamer. Mostly I look for programming flaws and techniques (not cheats, mind) with which to beat games, which some may see as cheating or wussing out.

I guess that's the legacy of older games where there was always one way to score a goal every time, such as in FIFA for the Mega Drive.

You'd probably batter me at ISS, and perhaps any other game you could care to mention. I am fascinated by the fact many South Americans are obsessed with ISS64, they seem to appreciate it more than most. Those guys (and probably you) would put me to shame.

Unknown said...

Hey Hindleyite,

Great guide, thanks for posting it. I too am a ISS fan from way back, such a fantastic game!!

Anyway Kudos and all the best.


Jelger said...

Hi, nice story about this game! Me and my brother played this for 1000's of hours! I also can never forget trying for hours in the create a players to get some guys with the stats above 85....all to have it erased after our crappy controller pack broke down again.

Salute from HOLLAND!

Márcio said...

I have been an addict at this game, coming to the point of picking S.Korea missing 4 players to play World Stars. And have won...

I'd like to add two things. First, there are other ways to score on level 5 (which sure is a dire task): one of them was kind of mentioned, it's a quick rebound from a ball originally shot from within the penalty area. The other one works mostly in counter attacks: make the goalie come out of the goal and shoot the ball covering him (press the backwards button while shooting).

Second, there is one strategy that can be veeeery useful -- so much so it almost resembles cheating: the offside trap. If you pay attention to the map, you can make the computer lose precious free kicks by moving your entire team behind the ball. It can be dangerous, though.

Harry Yack said...


Hey, cheers for the comment!

The 'quick rebound' is a decent tactic but I do find it works a lot more often on the lower levels. (With the poorer keepers you can pack the penalty area and get about 20 goals on L3 - more cheese!) Mind you, I keep meaning to experiment with new ways to score goals on L5 and then end up just reverting to type and doing the old 'fake the keeper out' trick. Muscle memory or something.

Next time I dig out ISS64, I will have to try the offside thing. As (I think) I say in the post, I don't use them too often because of the other cheap ways of scoring. Suppose I'm just one great big cheeseball :)

Cheers again

Unknown said...

Nice guide son. I've been playing this since the very early days of the N64 and it remains one of my favourite games of all time. Modern day football simulations just can't recreate the fun of a game like ISS.

Finding likeminded individuals can be a hard task though, so I'm glad to see you share the love for this game.

Interesting guide as a whole, particular your tactics for free-kicks. I would say though, that you might have missed a strategy for scoring from corners. I usually aim at the six yard line, maybe even closer. With about three quarter power, the ball should arrive at the near post, where you can head it diagonally towards the far post. I use Germany and this tactic works for about 1/5 corners I take. I can't guarantee the same success with Korea though!

There are some cute claims on here from fellow avid players. I have no need to make a claim though, as it is an unarguable truth that I am the greatest ISS 64 player of all time.

Keep up the good work mate, I'm enjoying your posts!

Harry Yack said...

@Lacina Sega

Hi there! I'm surprised there isn't a bigger community for ISS enthusiasts the same as, say, Champ Man 01/02 or Age of Empires. Strange, really, because in my mind it goes down in history as a true classic. I sincerely hope not, but I fear it may be forgotten in years to come :(

I do recall having some success with scoring from corners with the stronger teams. But using South Korea, as you allude to, it's nigh on impossible to succeed with any consistency. Same goes for free kicks around the area - if you're Brazil you can pull off some spectacular stuff as you may well know! With Korea, however, you have to adapt to their pantsness. :)

Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Oh, and ISS64 for Wii Virtual Console!