Yet again, another glorious season of glamorized professional football is upon us. And just like last season, all the players have been placed in a giant Yahtzee tumbler and strewn across different teams. Though there is no such thing as a true franchise player anymore, I still absolutely love everything about the sport. I love the game so much that I would have even tried out for football in high school had I not been blessed with a willowy wicket frame (and scathingly good looks) that would be broken in half from a minor collision with the other team’s punter. So I’ve stuck to the version of football that relies on the electron and binary code instead, and the only health risks involved are contracting rickets.
Madden 67 was released this last week, via midnight release to less-than-glowing reviews for the tenth year in a row. I have read several reviews of the new Madden game and they have been unanimously been not impressed with any discernable changes from this version from the last. I’m not about to drop sixty bucks for a game that has merely just been repackaged and does not include the words “Final” and “Fantasy” in the title. I’ve just come to the realization that football video games have plateaued long ago and buying into the next year’s game with nothing new to offer but roster changes would be sacrilege to the greater games that came before it. The football video game peaked all the way back in the nineties with Tecmo Super Bowl III and has been in a slow state of decay ever since. I just thought for this new season where anything is possible, I would attempt to showcase the inception, rise and fall of electronic footballing.
And while you’re at it, get the fuck off my lawn!
Prehistoric Rumble Football Game
This was actually a little before my time, so it’s somewhat of a mystery to me how this was much fun. I’ve watched lots of YouTube demonstration videos on these things and I don’t quite get it. You line up all the players in a formation and then power up the playing field and then all the game pieces all collectively have a seizure and eventually the ball carrier falls down. I knew including this as a video game was a stretch, but since the “action” and “life-like athletics” are all powered by electricity, I thought it at least deserved an honorable mention. But to be fair, it took consoles twenty years before they had enough graphical power to display half of the crap going on this playing field.
Mattel’s FOOTBALL game (1977)
Back in the days before the first console was a born, there was a handheld football game that simulated the sport (poorly). This was done with red LED lights that traveled from one goal post to the other. It was incredibly hard to tell what, if anything was going on and it required you to have a very strong imagination, trying to humanize the equivalent of a monochrome Lite-Brite. I remember this not holding my attention for very long and I would go back to huffing markers when they still had all those awesome chemicals in them.
NFL FOOTBALL for (Intellivision -1980)
This game has always had a soft spot in my heart, even if it mostly was a giant cloud of obscenities uttered by my dad as he played against his friends. In the Intellivison-imagined version of football, you play 5 on 5, Team Yellow vs. Team Blue. I guess if I was going to try and figure out the physical team they were supposed to represent, I would put my money on a never ending matchup between the Steelers in those disgusting bumblebee jerseys and the Chargers. The gameplay was a huge improvement over the little red LCD lights we had grown up on and the players actually looked somewhat like people, even if there were not enough players on the field to look realistic.
The worst part of NFL FOOTBALL for the Intellivision was the control. An overlay was used on the keypad, and when plays are selected in the huddle, if you fail to break huddle or accidently pick two plays, the game makes the most horrible error noise which any time a button is pressed and also freezes the game indefinitely. If you managed to pick a single play and did not freeze up your game, then you had to perfectly time your throw with those horrible little painful rectangular buttons on the sides of the keypads. This was not much fun and actually was better in the offshoot Sharp Shot, where you just threw the ball at open receivers, using the game coding from NFL FOOTBALL.
John Elway’s Quarterback (NES -1987)
I’m always going to have a raging boner for this game for two reasons. First, I won my copy of this game by calling the Fan Line for the Super Mario Bros. Super Show every day at 3:45pm for a month. Yes, I did win my copy of JEQ from a syndicated cartoon about plumbers and Steppenwolf, but it is a genuine signed copy by the man himself, before he became the guy who sells used Corollas.
Second, you could cheat. The graphics in this game were pretty deplorable, (even by 1987 standards) but what made it fun was if you used the “normal play” from the playbook. The secret play was a shovel pass to the running back that was 40 times faster than anyone else on the field. You could run from goal line to goal line and take up an entire quarter of play before anyone even got close to touching you. Using this strategy against your friends led to many bridges bring burned, several lonely lunch periods and many controllers broken.
Tiger Electronics Bo Jackson Hand Held LCD game (1990)
Tiger was a strange company that tried to win the Gameboy market before the Gameboy was invented. They put out hundreds of crappy LCD games based on real licensed videogames that lacked color, music or fun. Every possible game that was released for the NES eventually had a crappy handheld version that cost ¾ the cost of the Nintendo cartridge version. It was always a huge letdown when you spent an afternoon trying to open the blister packaging to play a game that involved a line drawing of a character moving across the screen by disappearing and reappearing a body length away.
Bo Jackson Football/Baseball was no different. You basically just controlled your little line drawn guy as he “ran” forward and missed tackles of the opposing team. It was entertaining for roughly 15 seconds and as a bonus, had a secondary baseball game when you flipped it over that was as equally as shitty. It was like getting two drowned cats in a bag instead of just one.
Tecmo Super Bowl Final Edition (SNES -1995)
The best football simulator ever programmed graced us with its existence in 1995. This game included the fresh new teams from the leagues’ expansion that year that gave us the Panthers, Titans, Jaguars and Ravens. There were very expansive playbooks to set up and customize. This was the first game to feature a “Make-A-Player” option, and you could only make one player of each position, and they could be placed on any team you wanted. There were tons and tons of silly attributes you could fill out until you crafted together an amazing player that slaughtered the competition. The memory was limited, so your player had a first initial and a last name which made for funny touchdown celebrations. “O. SATAN”, “O. BLOWJOB”, and “A. ASSCLOWN” all won multiple Super Bowl rings and MVP awards due to their custom-built physical prowess.
When playing in a full season, you could set up the teams to be human and CPU controlled, and the season would play through until your team was up and you would play through it and your stats would be placed among the rest of all the teams’ standings. It was really fun watching the CPU teams battle it out through the course of the season and it always felt awesome whenever you managed to clinch your division in week 8.
Tecmo Super Bowl III also was one of the first games to have penalties in the game, and you could set the game clock to run in real time, which led to insanely high scores like 145-3 as long as you followed the mantra of “every kickoff is required to be an onside kick, no matter what” rule. The music was terrible in this game, but in this cartridge era, adding a blistering soundtrack by popular artists at the time was not feasible. So instead, you would just turn the TV volume down and blast Spin Doctors instead.
NFL GameDay (Playstation – 1999)
NFL GameDay was a huge step up (graphically) from Tecmo Bowl by being three dimensional like a non-busty Tomb Raider instead of the traditional sideline view. Control in this game was insanely difficult, I remember I got turned off of this game from the controls alone. I tried in vain to give it a fair shot, but no matter what I could not run and I certainly could not pass or run the ball. Even though this game was a huge step up in the graphical department, it soon collected dust as I gave up on it entirely and went back to my Super Nintendo. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure I only bought it solely based on the fact of having the best running back ever on the cover
NFL 2K1 (Dreamcast -2001)
This was a shiny,cleaned-up version of GameDay, with prettier pastel graphics and improved control, despite the Dreamcast controller resembling the ninja star thing from the movie Krull. This was actually a decently enjoyable game and it consumed many hours of my life. The best option available in the game was to turn off encroachment, waddle over to the quarterback pre-snap and sack him instantly the second the football left the center’s hands. My favorite position is outside linebacker, and laying the QB out before he even gets the ball led to several games filled with laughs and scores composed almost entirely of safeties. When I got bored of this, I would plug my microphone thing back into the VMU port and go back to teaching my Seamen fish-people to fling poop.
Madden 06 (PS2 -2006)
Of all the 25 different Maddens there have been, my favorite of them had to be the 06 version. It was playable, enjoyable, and had Less Than Jake in the soundtrack. Of all the newer generation console football games, this one was my favorite, as I always had a live-in competitor with me most of the time which led to countless matchups of the Panthers against the Chargers. Madden’s voice over work was silly and never really covered the plays very good, which was equivalent to having the game‘s play by play narration done by your drunk uncle. The create-a-player was somewhat limited, despite being able to determine the player’s birth parents and customize the helmets, guards, and pads. When you then play through as that player, you lose all control of the coaching/play calling aspect, which is insanely frustrating when the coach continues to call the “send the running back through the center of the line” play 57 times out of 58. However, when you play strictly with the team roster and call plays, the players have lots of signature moves built into the playbook, including the Delhomme 60 Yard Bomb. I appreciate that level of realism in a game.
MADDEN 25 (360-2013)
I can’t really state an opinion on this game, seeing as how I have to wait for a used copy to come in cheap. I tried to rent it out of the redbox thing outside McDonald’s the last two nights and have been met with failure. I’m sure the game is pretty and has a ton of options, but I am not spending sixty dollars to review a game. Google that shit and come to your own decision.
I’m sure most of you reading this are just taking a break from Madden 25 to get away from some of the monotony of those HD graphics and the extravagant touchdown celebration button combinations. I just hoped to point you back to a simpler time when the games overall were just a little better and had slightly more personality programmed into them. I stress all of you to go back and dig out your old consoles and give them a go and remember why you fell in love with football games in the first place. This time, try to imagine the blinking red LED lights as the Dallas cheerleaders, it’s a huge improvement.