Not every game has to be a multi-hour RPG. When the Game Boy was originally released, playing on the go often meant getting short bursts of game time, and having a quick experience that was easy to pick up and go was very enticing. Epitomizing this concept and even harkening back to the days Nintendo’s earliest handhelds, the Game and Watch series, Penalty Kick ’91 (PK91) boils down a soccer match to its simplest form – a Penalty Shootout that usually decides a game that’s gone past overtime (I know outside of North America its correctly known as football, just going by the developer’s choice).
The rules are simple enough: accurate to a true shootout, a coin toss decides who shoots first and each team takes turns attempting to make a goal with only one shooter against the goalkeeper. Many games new and old have tried to replicate the experience of a shootout with their game mechanics, but PK91 does so with two things in mind, the limitations of the GB Studio and what games were like back in 1991. While in defence, you can use the d-pad and A button to try and defend a shot not knowing which way it’s going to go. Offence offers a bit more depth with a flashing reticle moving across the net awaiting your input to select the location to shoot and a power meter reminiscent of older golf titles indicating power. Sometimes it feels like you are in control of the shot, other times it feels like it’s a coin toss which is very much in line with the feeling of being in a real penalty shootout.
What PK91 really does well is wrap these simple mechanics in an absolutely gorgeous presentation. Saves and goals both look awesome on screen. Get a powerful kick in and you’ll be treated to cut scenes that look like they belong in an anime. Even the staredown between the goalie and shooter doesn’t get old despite the number of times I’ve seen it. PK91 was an earlier title in GB Studio’s life and it completely blew open how the tool could be used for more than just RPG style adventure games. Clever use of sprites and backgrounds fool the player into thinking this was built with a far more complicated subset of tools.
The game hasn’t been moved from “beta” despite not being updated for over a year, but I don’t think a game like this needs any further refinement. A match (five turns each team) can easily be played in a few minutes, and while it may not completely engulf a player with its gameplay it’s certainly a welcome distraction and a fun way to present a micro game. The Game and Watch made a bit of a comeback in the mid 90’s with three Game and Watch “Gallery” titles released for the Game Boy and another version of the Game and Watch is being released this year featuring the original Super Mario Bros for the NES. If short experiences like that can thrive and survive the test of time, certainly Penalty Kick ’91 is worth at least looking at and appreciating how it was made.
You can check out the game for yourself over at Kid Pheonix’s Itch Page.
Audio Engineer, Mac Technologist and Video Game Developer. Managing Editor of GBStudio Central. (he/him)