By Alejandro Caminos, journalist, screenwriter and G&M News’ collaborator.
Who ever dreamed of emulating that historic run at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, slaloming half of English National soccer team to make the best move (and goal) of all time? Why not wear the light blue jacket of a poor city in southern Italy and defeat the powerful teams of the North with dribbles and goals? What about lifting the Soccer World Cup and becoming a true sports legend?
Growth, development and lots of magic. From the ‘70s to the present, if there is anyone recognized as an icon of sports entertainment and part of the gaming universe, it was Diego Armando Maradona. Curiously, he has never been the cover of a title like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldinho or Alessandro Del Piero. The soccer mega star passed away yesterday at the age of 60, and at Gaming & Media News we pay tribute to him by reviewing his presence in some video games.
DEBUT IN THE ‘80s
The year 1986 is almost a religious symbol for the Maradonian Church. It was when El Diego touched the sky with his hands when he won the second FIFA Soccer World Cup for Argentina (the first was in 1978, when DT Cesar Menotti took him out of the players’ list at the last minute ‘because of his youth’). From an idol at the Argentine National Team to star and icon at Napoli, obtaining historic titles for the club, Maradona achieved an incomparable global popularity.
It is logical, then, that 1986 represented the year in which, for the first time, his image appeared in virtual entertainment. As incredible as it seems, that debut was for the game Peter Shilton’s Handball Maradona (Grandslam Interactive), where he wasn’t the hero, but the British goalkeeper, the one who had suffered the two historic goals (Hand of God and Foot of God) in those quarterfinals of the Soccer World Cup in Mexico. Players of this Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum title had the objective of avoiding opposing goals using the skills of the famous English goalkeeper.
TRAPS OF THE ‘90s
By 1991, video games situation was different. The fourth generation was a reality, as was the rise of the industry. Back then, 16-bit dominated the scene with two big home consoles. On the one hand, there was the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), known as the Super Famicom in Japan. On the other hand, it was the Japanese Mega Drive, which in the United States was renamed the Sega Genesis. This beautiful era was one in which Sega gave birth to Sonic to compete with the games of the renowned Mario Bros. Arcades were also chosen by children and teens, and lived their golden age. In large rooms, boys exchanged their money for chips and coins that gave them the necessary credits to spend quality time with their favorite games. Street Fighter II: The World Warrior possibly was the most requested fighting game. Now, if we talk about sports, the Seibu Cup Soccer was definitely the chosen one by fans. It was one of the first football games, in which you could choose between eight teams. The most prominent was Argentina, led by a player with an Afro hairstyle and an easily recognizable face, similar to Maradona, who was in the last part of his career in Italy, after being world runner-up in that country in 1990’s Soccer World Cup.
In 1993, Maradona returned to his native country to live his last years as a footballer. His second-to-last shirt was Newell’s Old Boys (from Rosario city, Province of Santa Fe). For its part, video games were far from showing signs of exhaustion. In fact, at that time, plagiarism and piracy were very common in gaming in order to get more titles to the market. That was the case of AWS Pro Moves Soccer, released for Sega Genesis. The #10 t-shirt of the light-blue and white team (Argentina) was called ‘Donadona’, an extremely fast player who got rid of rivals with great ease.
Two years later, Pelusa had changed cities and shirts. Now, he was in his beloved Boca Juniors. In gaming, strategies to evade payment of image rights were still occurring. By then, Konami had released International Superstar Soccer Deluxe, one of the most popular games in the history of digital football, suitable for the SNES, Sega Genesis and PlayStation consoles. There, Diego Armando was renamed ‘Redonda.’ He shared a team with very important players like Fuerte (Caniggia) and Capitale (Batistuta). By 1996, in times of FIFA Soccer 96, we could see Maradona as a substitute in the penultimate year of his professional soccer career. The end of that career was close, but his character as a virtual legend was taking hold.
After a time jump of several years, we come to 2009, with a market monopolized by the PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii. Konami introduced the Classic National Teams in Winning Eleven, in an edition in which the player could unlock different teams representing countries, with their historical players. That was the premise, although the Japanese developer still did not have the rights to use and commercialize Maradona’s image. This is how Diego was known in the gaming world by the surname ‘Malgani.’ By 2017, Konami changed the aesthetics and name of its famous soccer game to Pro Evolution Soccer (PES). One of the new modalities was MyClub, where a player had the opportunity to create a team with a lot of stars and great footballers. Of course, the most chosen was Diego Maradona, finally with his real name, thanks to the agreement that the Asian creator had signed unilaterally with Barcelona club. However, this contract did not have the approval of #10, who raised their complaint with a lawsuit and several angry posts on social networks. After an economic arrangement, the celebrity from Villa Fiorito agreed to be an ambassador for that brand until the end of 2020. It will even be in the Pro Evolution Soccer 2021 Season Update, confirming his future presence in the next generation of consoles (PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X).
In the opposite direction of developers, the Argentine star could be seen in the FIFA 2010 World Cup South Africa, fulfilling the role of the Argentine National Team coach. In 2018, the FIFA license incorporated him as an Icon Player for the FIFA Ultimate Team mode, in which the gamer is also given the chance to form a squad with big stars.
Thirty-five years of Maradona on video game screens, with various surnames and different graphic designs, but with the essence of his immortal left-foot, from reality to the virtual world. With his tragic and early death, fans will have all of these video games to remember him and enjoy his skills.