It would be unreasonable to expect Nintendo to release all of its best games first on the Virtual Console, though given the company's storied history you would expect it not to have too much trouble making sure the service's initial offerings are of high quality. While several great games are available, there are also a few duds. Soccer is one of the duds.
There are seven teams to choose from in Soccer: USA, Great Britain, France, Germany, Brazil, Japan, and Spain. None of the players have names, much less numbers, so picking your squad boils down to little more than picking your favorite color. Matches consist of two 15-, 30-, or, if you're a glutton for punishment, 45-minute halves. The halves don't last that long in real time, but they certainly feel like it. There are also five skill levels to choose from. Set to level one, the game is only slightly more challenging than if you just played a two-player game with nobody using the second controller. It's a little more competitive on skill level five, but even then the game's rather easy.
On the field, Soccer is kind of like the actual sport--with an emphasis on kind of. There are five outfield players and one goalie per side. On offense you can pass and shoot. To take a shot on goal, you press the shoot button and use the D pad to control an arrow that moves up and down the goal line to aim your shot. On defense, you can run around, and that's it. There's no tackle button--you simply run up to the person with the ball and touch them to gain possession of the ball. You can control the goalie during play, but only when a player is near the penalty box or has taken a shot. None of this sounds so bad until you actually get around to playing the game. Players move at a snail's pace, as does the ball, and the game is boring from the opening kickoff to the final whistle. The controls are horribly unresponsive; you'll frequently have to press a button several times to get the input to register, and sometimes the game completely ignores your frantic button-mashing completely. It's tough to change players on defense; it's tough to pass with any semblance of accuracy; it's tough to play the game for more than 10 minutes without giving up in disgust.
Soccer's terrible gameplay is accompanied by bad graphics and awful sound. Not only are there only six players for each team on the plain-looking pitch at any given time, but all of the players look the same--Nintendo couldn't even bother to throw in a few different-sized players, as it did in Ice Hockey. There's no crowd to speak of and no referee, though there are some portly cheerleaders that prance about during halftime. The sound effects are on par with those of many of the early sports games on the NES, which means they're lousy and repetitive. Speaking of repetitive, there's a horrific tune that loops over and over throughout the match, and it can't be turned off. This, combined with the awful sound effects, will have you reaching for the mute button in no time at all.
Plenty of NES sports games have held up well and are still fun to play today. This is not one of them. Soccer is simply not enjoyable on any level. It wouldn't be worth playing if it were free, and it's certainly not worth five dollars.