In 1986 we saw the first official FIFA World Cup video game, and the tradition continued until Qatar 2022. The best thing about these titles is that some are timeless, letting you relieve many of the best World Cups. Yet, others like Mexico '86 or World Cup Soccer: Italia '90 are forgotten mainly due to poor quality. To make this top ten list more fun, we also included some unofficial World Cup games. While these don't contain FIFA licenses, they offer all the teams and players combined with excellent gameplay.
10. 2002 FIFA World Cup
The 2002 FIFA World Cup wasn't great, and the same can be said about the official video game. Unfortunately, this was a massive step back compared to EA Sports World Cup '98 releases. The first monumental disappointment is that there are no qualifiers. Instead, we got 41 teams, including all 32 participating nations. This title came out when Konami's football series dominated, and it shows. The gameplay here was way behind, even though we finally had shot and passing meters. Yet, ball physics were still very primitive.
While the presentation was excellent, the same couldn't be said for the graphics. Players shine like they are covered in oil, and character models are basic, lacking individuality. With the scarcity of content, the game was quickly forgotten, although it sold very well. Except for the orchestrated soundtrack, there's nothing unique and special about the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Play it only if you are nostalgic for this FIFA series era.
9. Viva Football
Regarding obscure association football games, Viva Football or Viva Soccer is the best example. Yet, this is the most ambitious World Cup title ever made! Instead of focusing on a single competition, in Viva Football, you can play as any team from 1958 to 1998! Yes, every nation, including those who didn't qualify! If you want to take the 1958 Netherland Antilles national team to the World Cup, you can do it! The full qualifiers are also present, with realistic groups and rules. For example, in some early World Cups, there were no penalty kicks to decide the game. Instead, there would be a replay! Finally, all player names are real, and we have yet to learn how they did it!
Thankfully, the game features decent graphics and gameplay, similar to FIFA '98. Also, check the bizarre intro video, focusing on controversial World Cup moments! With so many teams and players, individuality is limited, even though the research took 18 months. Finally, the American and European versions are much different, as the latter is more difficult. There's no other game like Viva Football, and it's doubtful it will ever be!
8. World Cup '98 France: Road to Win
France '98 was a massive inspiration for game developers, and Sega wanted a piece of it! Therefore, we got World Cup '98 France: Road to Win a day after the actual tournament began! Like Konami, Sega licensed the game only for its Japanese release but in a more limited form. The rights included only the official emblems and mascots, but not stadiums or real players, excluding Japan. Yet, their names are (mostly) similar to real ones and editable. Luckily, the game features all participating teams and even an accurate schedule. Alternatively, you can play qualifiers, but only with Japan.
As for the gameplay, it heavily relies on Sega Worldwide Soccer 98. This means it's semi-realistic, closer to FIFA '98 than Konami's efforts. Furthermore, individual play is overpowered, and you don't completely control the shot. However, you can direct players via analog stick, unlike in mentioned rivals! Although decent for Saturn, the graphics are also limited, but with a smooth frame rate. Nonetheless, it's still way better than FIFA '98 on the same platform, which is really choppy. World Cup '98 France: Road to Win is an oddity, a decent title that will forever remain obscure. Still, if you love this edition of the World Cup, try it.
7. 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
As the 2018 FIFA World Cup was coming close, EA Sports still hadn't said anything about the official game of the championship. As it turned out, the company only announced it as a DLC for FIFA 18! Therefore, many fans were worried that we'll only get a basic release. Unfortunately, that's what happened, as this free expansion focused on the final tournament. Thus, we could only play as the qualified teams, with a few more outside of that. At least it had all 12 stadiums, unlike the 2022 Qatar World Cup expansion for FIFA 23, which featured only two!
As this is only a DLC, there are no visual upgrades besides new intros and menus. Similarly, the commentary is refreshed, but only by a little. Thus, the lack of care is evident everywhere. Unfortunately, EA couldn't even replicate actual rules, so you can have only seven substitutes instead of 12. The only alternative to tournament play was the Ultimate Team, but even that failed miserably. A small player pool meant you could easily create a super team and lose interest in a few weeks. While it's hard to argue against free DLC, we would still prefer a standalone game, as it would have a massive replay value.
6. 2006 FIFA World Cup
FIFA 06: Road to World Cup is one of the early releases for Xbox 360 and, strangely, exclusive to the system. While it offers vastly improved graphics over previous releases, it also includes World Cup mode. Furthermore, qualifiers are back, but this time, only in Europe. Yet, even that would be understandable if the game didn't lack club teams! Even though it was developed for two years, this title feels empty, missing almost everything from the regular FIFA 06. Thankfully, things improved a lot with the following 2006 FIFA World Cup video game.
This title included 127 nations from all regions, tripling the number from the 2002 FIFA World Cup game. Therefore, after almost a decade, we could play as Hong Kong, Pakistan, Tahiti, or some other exotic sides. Still, more than 70 teams were missing, so the qualifiers weren't realistic. Yet, this was a step in the right direction, with some new options, like Global Challenge mode. Through it, we could relieve many historic situations and even change the outcome. With slight gameplay improvements, this was a good game overall.
5. Neo Geo Cup '98: The Road to the Victory
Neo Geo wasn't about sports games but had an excellent Super Sidekicks series. As the World Cup '98 approached, SNK joined the hype train with this particular release. The game includes an impressive 64 nations, and even a short qualifying, before putting you in a realistic group stage. However, that's where the authenticity ends, as the game lacks licenses. Still, most players have recognizable names and appearances.
The gameplay is identical to Super Sidekicks 3, as it relies on individual efforts and numerous arcade elements. However, that works well, providing fast gameplay and occasionally changing the camera for penalties and free kicks. Surprisingly, there are fouls, and you can even receive a red card. As the only 2D game on our top ten list (and one of the best Neo Geo games), this title holds very well today, with detailed sprites and bright colors. Furthermore, the default difficulty is fair, so you can clear it with a single coin.
4. World Soccer Jikkyou Winning Eleven 3 - World Cup France '98
While EA Sports had the worldwide license for France '98 World Cup, Konami still kept the rights for Japan. Therefore, the game contained real players. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case with the international release - International Superstar Soccer Pro '98. However, even the Japanese version lacks a bit, with the tournament hidden behind a generic name. Still, you can select a realistic schedule and play in real-life-inspired stadiums. Additionally, there are continental cups and even qualifiers.
However, where this release truly shines is the gameplay. Compared to EA Sports releases, everything is better. Unlike FIFA, players have individual traits, including different heights. Furthermore, you have complete control over the shooting and way more realistic ball physics. Interestingly, the game received an enhanced edition months later, with updated kits and squads. There were even some gameplay advancements, like an improved shooting system. Even though the game is in Japanese, you can easily find a fan translation patch. Furthermore, you can enable English commentary in the menus. While the presentation is much better in EA Sports game, this title easily beats it in gameplay.
3. FIFA: Road to World Cup 98 + World Cup 98
FIFA World Cup video games existed before EA took the license, but they could have been better. Besides the official logos, none featured real players, authentic kits, and stadiums. Even worse, the gameplay was average at best. Thankfully, FIFA: Road to World Cup 98 changed all that. For the first time, we could play as any nation taking part in the qualifiers with licensed players. That meant that we could mostly enjoy realistic qualifications before the final tournament. Yet, for the full experience, we had to wait a bit more.
Weeks before the FIFA World Cup, we received World Cup 98. While it was heavily based on FIFA '98, the game still improved with minor gameplay updates. Yet, the focus was on brilliantly recreating the World Cup experience. As FIFA '98 covered the qualifiers, this game featured only eligible teams, plus a few more that didn't make it. Yet, this focus enabled EA to cover every detail, from authentic jerseys, players, stadiums, and even stadium advertisements. The menus are also gorgeous, featuring beautiful backdrops as the tournament mascot runs around. Finally, we could enjoy World Cup Classic matches, playing World Cup finals from the past, including some controversial matches! It's hard to describe the hype behind this title, as no other World Cup game has matched it since. Even though Winning Eleven 3/ISS Pro Evolution '98 had better gameplay, its overall World Cup atmosphere was lacking.
2. 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa
EA Sports created the most complete World Cup experience by introducing the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa! All 199 nations participating in the qualification were in the game, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Furthermore, this was the first FIFA World Cup game featuring qualifiers and the final tournament! This includes all ten South African stadiums and a realistic schedule. Yet, it wasn't all perfect. For example, the game needed more first qualification rounds in some zones like CONCACAF. Furthermore, you were locked into a single zone. For example, you couldn't take on AFC and UEFA qualifiers in the same campaign.
Still, this was by far the best World Cup game, with improved gameplay over FIFA 10. With modes like Captain Your Country and Story of Qualifying, there were plenty of things to do. It also helped that the graphics were excellent, with exquisite menus, at least on PS3 and Xbox 360. Furthermore, we also got the official World Cup songs! Even though the gameplay is much better in the current FIFA games, this edition is still highly playable.
1. 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil
While the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa was excellent, EA Sports fixed everything wrong with it in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil! For the first and only time, we could play the realistic qualifiers. This finally meant that we could start from the earliest phases, reliving the British Virgin Island campaign for some massive upsets. Of course, you could still play the fully licensed finals or other modes from the previous edition. That includes scenarios from the qualifiers and later downloading new ones from the finals. For the first time, we could also see some managers, and even Sepp Blatter, as the FIFA president.
The only disappointment about this game was that it wasn't on PS4 and Xbox One, even though both platforms were available. While the game still looked impressive, there's no doubt that newer consoles would further enhance them. That fact became even more critical as this was the last standalone FIFA World Cup game. Still, this is the ultimate World Cup experience, and as it now works on emulators, you can play it there to further sweeten the graphics. Hence, you need it in your collection!
While EA Sports lost the FIFA license, the governing body of the association football reassures they will give it to someone else. Therefore, let's hope this will mark the return of the official FIFA World Cup video games as standalone products. Until then, we believe that almost every game on our top ten list deserves your attention. Alternatively, you can also try FIFA Classic Patch, which will transform your FIFA 14 or FIFA 16 into a historical FIFA World Cup experience!
What are some of your favorite World Cup video games? Do you believe that the 2026 World Cup will receive a standalone game?
Cover photo: Personal archive
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2014 Brazil remains my favorite because I could take some obscure Caribbean team to the World Cup. The gameplay does feel dated now, but you get used to it. The biggest problem is probably that it's hard to dribble past other players, as that's way to easy in the current FIFA games.
December 07 at 05:24:40 PM
You found some pretty obscure titles, but there's also Tecmo soccer game about 1998 World Cup. It seems that was the golden time for World Cup games.
December 05 at 11:09:08 AM