Truth be told, I don't own Pele's Soccer. Instead, I have the Sears Tele-Games version of the title, which is just called Soccer. It's the same game, but I do wish I had that nifty cartridge with Pele's smiling face on the label. By the way, it's my understanding that this game represents the first time a celebrity - Brazil's own Pele, naturally - actually endorsed a video game.
The goal (no pun intended) in Pele's Soccer is to simply score more goals than your opponent. The player(s) are treated to an overhead view of the action and the large, green field scrolls vertically (a novelty in 1981, I understand). The scrolling field is a wonderful touch as it truly adds some depth to the game - you've got a long way to go to get near the opponent's goal, and a lot of territory to defend if your rival goes on the offensive. The scrolling is very smooth and visually pleasing.
The player is in control of a forward and two backs which stay in a triangular formation which is so rigid and consistent that geese flying south for the winter would be envious. While the rigid formation does impose some limitations on the player, some subtle strategy can be utilized, too - that's a pretty large formation and it can be difficult for opponents to get around it. Also, with a little practice, one can pass the ball within the formation pretty effectively and use that ability to set up shots or move the ball down the field. The team controlling the ball is slower than the squad on defense, so some strategy is necessary to take advantage of that fact, too.
As for goalies, the computer controls them and does a good job. Getting a shot around a goalie is harder than one might imagine, by the way.
Now, graphically, this thing looks downright horrible. While the large, green field is nice to look at and scrolls wonderfully, the players are represented as ill-defined blobs fighting for a square soccer ball. At least the colors are basic and the screen doesn't get cluttered with a bunch of garbage, so I guess you could say the graphics are either clean or spartan. Fortunately, screen flicker is not an issue in this title. One nice touch is a fireworks display which is shown whenever a team scores a goal. Considering how hard one has to work to score a blasted goal on some of the harder games, it's nice there's a bit of fanfare involved when a point is scored.
And, yes, you do have to work at this game to get a score. It's rather like honest-to-goodness soccer in that respect - a lot of work which results in, mostly, blocked goals. When you put in Pele's Soccer, just get ready for a sore wrist as you'll stay quite busy guiding your players all over the field with your joystick. The control is pretty precise and allows the player to zip down the field and take shots with an impressive amount of precision.
There are 54 game variations here and Pele's Soccer is a rare game in that the variations are actually appreciated. There are 27 one-player games and the same number of variations for two players. In the one-player games, the player can select goal size, the speed of the game (from slow to fast teams) and the skill of the computer. Team speed also impacts the amount of time in each half - halves are three-minutes long in slow games, four-minutes long in medium games and five-minutes in fast games. In two-player games the player can select the size of the goal, team speed and whether or not penalties are allowed. Penalties are enforced when the ball goes out-of-bounds (there's a kick in, at that point). There are no penalties in the one-player games as the ball simply rebounds off the sidelines and goal lines.
The sound in this game, like the graphics, are spartan. You get a whistle when a half closes or the ball is put in play. There's also a rather "clunky" song which represents the players running up and down the field. The aforementioned fireworks display is accompanied by some convincing white noise which represents a cheering crowd.
All in all, this is a very basic game, but one which is still enjoyable. The computer provides enough of a challenge to make the game intriguing for one player, but it's hard to beat the two-player variations as this game will bring out the competitor in anyone liking both soccer and the 2600. Heck, I rather hate soccer and I still enjoy this game!