Football season is almost upon us, and there’s a cornucopia of football video games for fans to choose from as we get ready to ring in another NFL campaign. There’s no better time than now to list ten of my favorite games. There’s no particular order to this list, so number one isn’t necessarily Number One. With that said… it’s time to blow the whistle and get this 1st and 10 list underway!
1. Madden NFL 2005 Collector’s Edition (EA Sports for PlayStation 2, 2004): 2004 was a special year for football video games. In my view, it marked the height of competition between two giants in the business. Madden NFL 2005 was on one side of this battle, and the Collector’s Edition package for the PlayStation 2 was amazing. Aside from the additions that Madden NFL 2005 brought to the table– including EA Sports Radio with Tony Bruno, which was a neat presentation addition– the Collector’s Edition also added three older Madden versions (Madden ’93, Madden ’98, and Madden 2000) to sample, as well as a trivia game and bonus DVD content. Let’s not forget that the base Madden NFL 2005 game is pretty darned good, too. The Madden NFL 2005 Collector’s Edition package can be had for less than $5 complete, and football fans should give it a look if they don’t have it already. There’s a lot of football for a little money in this package.
2. ESPN NFL 2K5 (SEGA for Xbox and PlayStation 2, 2004): On the other side of the 2004 NFL Football War was ESPN NFL 2K5, which was one hell of a swan song for Visual Concepts and its NFL 2K series. I still maintain that ESPN NFL 2K5 has the best overall presentation of any sports video game, despite the game’s age. Visual Concepts absolutely nailed the ESPN Sunday Night Football presentation package and adapted it for use in every game. In addition, the implementation of the ESPN SportsCenter desk for weekly highlight shows and analysis is really well done. Chris Berman delivers the highlights with fervor and Trey Wingo does a decent job of covering the trades, signings, and injuries every week. The presentation is just part of the ESPN NFL 2K5 package. First-person football, matchups against celebrities in The Crib, minigames, and a fun core football game add up to dozens of hours of fun. It was a great deal at just $20 back in 2004, and it’s an even better one at around $5 for either the Xbox (which is the better version) or the PlayStation 2 (which is still pretty great).
3. 10-Yard Fight (Irem coin-op, 1983): While most sports video game fans are likely familiar with 10-Yard Fight for the Nintendo Entertainment System, that game is a port of this 1983 coin-op developed by Irem. In this game, players only play offense and must score a touchdown before the clock runs out. Time is added to the clock when first downs are made, but the clock accelerates as the difficulty increases. Points are earned for yards gained, completed catches, touchdowns, and any time remaining after scoring. Unfortunately, the NES version did away with the countdown timer and the scoring system, leading to a rather bland football game. The coin-op version of 10-Yard Fight, however, is still a lot of fun to play today… if you can find an arcade that has one.
4. 4th and Inches (Accolade for Commodore 64/Amiga/Apple II/DOS, 1987): This was the first football video game that I really got into, when I got it for my Commodore 64 in late 1988. The user interface bears some similarities to Hardball!— another Accolade game– but this is definitely a football game. Players can call plays, run, pass, tackle, and everything else that you’d expect in a football game. It’s not the best-looking game out there, and skews more toward the arcade side of the game than the simulation side, but that makes it easy to learn and fun to play.
5. Tecmo Super Bowl (Tecmo for NES, 1991; SNES/Genesis, 1993): Nobody should be surprised that Tecmo Super Bowl makes my list. This game improves on the Tecmo Bowl formula and adds a ton of features. All of the NFL teams– and most of the NFL players– are in this game, as opposed to a selection of NFL cities and many of the NFL players that were in Tecmo Bowl. Battery backup saves stats and season progress. Fumbles and injuries can change games. Impressive stat tracking includes league leaders in many different categories. What’s most important is that the gameplay is still very accessible. For all of the realism that the NFL and NFLPA licenses bring, Tecmo Super Bowl still holds true to its arcade roots. No penalties makes for a faster tempo. It’s one of my favorite games of all time, sports or otherwise, and no sports video game fan should be without a copy to fire up once the pigskin starts flying every September.
6. Super High Impact (Midway coin-op, 1991; Acclaim for SNES/Genesis, 1993): I covered this game in detail recently. Like Tecmo Super Bowl, Super High Impact discards a lot of the rules that can make football so difficult to play or get into. It’s all action, both on offense and on defense. Although Super High Impact doesn’t have any licenses, it doesn’t need them to be an enjoyable, in-your-face game of football. It glorifies the violent side of the sport, although there’s no blood to be seen, and it doesn’t take itself seriously. Super High Impact isn’t a season-long game like Madden or Tecmo Super Bowl, but it is a blast to pop into your game console when you feel like scoring some points and busting some heads.
7. NES Play Action Football (Nintendo for NES, 1990): This pick may be odd to some of you. Play Action Football is a slow game of football. It lacks an NFL license. The isometric view may be off-putting at times. The players aren’t detailed. I understand these criticisms, but I offer two features that make Play Action Football stand out for its time: stamina management and four-player action. Stamina, like it or not, is a part of football. Players tire after long runs or after playing many snaps in a row. Play Action Football attempts to simulate this through its stamina system, which forces players to substitute at certain positions for the best results. Sure, subbing in a backup quarterback because the starter is tired isn’t common in reality… but swapping running backs or wide receivers sure is. Also, playing a four-player game (with the aid of the NES Satellite or Four Score) is a lot of fun, and something that was pretty novel in 1990. Play Action Football isn’t the best game on this list, but it does have significance.
8. NFL Football ’94 Starring Joe Montana (SEGA for Genesis, 1993): NFL Football ’94 is the apex of the Joe Montana Football series for the SEGA Genesis and competed pretty well against Madden NFL ’94 for the title of Best Football Game that year. The reason that the game earns a spot on my list is because of its presentation. For starters, the commentary still impresses me today. It’s not perfect, but for 1993… it was amazing to hear a commentator calling plays, play results, yard lines, and scores. Madden NFL ’94, by comparison, has sporadic Maddenisms and the series didn’t even add running commentary until the next console generation. Having the camera zoom in to where the active ball carrier on the field is helps offensive players to find holes to run to. There are also small cutscenes on the scoreboard that are a nice touch. The passing game can be a little suspect, but overall, NFL Football ’94 holds its own as a fine football game and is a title that set the stage for commentary in later football games.
9. NFL Blitz (Midway coin-op, 1997; Midway for PlayStation/Nintendo 64, 1998): Like NBA Jam before it, NFL Blitz succeeds in transforming a popular sport into an addictive, over-the-top arcade game. Blitz draws a lot of inspiration from High Impact Football and Super High Impact, as there are big plays, big hits, and the scores are often pretty high. One major difference is that Blitz has NFL and NFLPA licensing, which means that players can now assume the roles of their favorite teams and athletes (from that time period, anyway). Another big difference is that the visuals received a major upgrade from sprites to polygonal characters. The players look bigger, meaner, and animate smoother. The violence from Super High Impact has been toned down, with the elimination of fights between plays and the removal of the Hit-O-Meter to judge viciousness of certain hits, but Blitz is still brutal. Players can hit each other after the whistle blows and can execute some WWE-type moves on opposing players. The home versions of Blitz also have Season modes, in addition to the option of playing and beating each team once to unlock super teams. This game is right up there with Tecmo Super Bowl in my list of favorite sports games– and favorite games overall– of all time.
10. Madden NFL 17 (EA Sports for PlayStation 4/Xbox One, 2016): Here’s a surprise: I’ve really been impressed with what I’ve seen (and played) from Madden NFL 17. I know that there are some glitches that have to be ironed out (such as kickoffs received in the end zone as touchdowns), but I have yet to run into these glitches and have really enjoyed all aspects of what I’ve played so far. The game does a nice job of teaching players as much about football as they want to know, if interested. Knowing the Xs and Os of football makes watching the sport on television (or in person) a much different experience, and it can make you a better football video game player, as well. The Skills Trainer in Madden NFL 17, in my view, excels at being as good a teacher as it does at being enjoyable. I’m having a lot of fun in the Franchise mode, as well. Finally, I can’t say enough good things about the presentation in this game. The team of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis deliver excellent commentary that is being updated weekly to add references to current league events. There are nice summaries of starting offensive and defensive lineups that could be used on any broadcast, and relevant stat lines appear with decent frequency. It falls just short of ESPN NFL 2K5 in the presentation department, thanks to a lack of a weekly summary/sports network broadcast (which Madden NFL 10 and Madden NFL 11 had), but it’s the strongest overall Madden presentation that I’ve seen and heard– and one of my overall favorite Madden games ever released.
…and there’s your 1st and 10 for September. I’m sure your list of favorite football games has some different choices. What are they? Tweet them @TheRetroReferee with the hashtag #1stAnd10, and make your voice heard! In the meantime, enjoy this year’s NFL campaign– it’s bound to be another good one.