Super High Impact is a 1991 football arcade game from Midway that takes all of the penalties– and as many of the more advanced rules as possible– and casts them aside. It’s a sequel to High Impact Football, which hit arcades a year earlier, and laid the groundwork for one of Midway’s best-known arcade games: NFL Blitz. The game was a blast to play back in the early 1990s; I played the coin-op some, but most of my experience with it was via the Super NES version, which I played against friends and against the CPU. How does Super High Impact for the Super NES hold up today, 23 years later? It’s time to go under the hood and review.
Super High Impact teams have nine players on offense, nine players on defense, and a kicker. This is different from the standard eleven players on offense and defense, but it’s certainly acceptable. There aren’t any individual players, and there are no player attributes. Each team is equal, except for the city represented and the colors worn. This means that there isn’t a statistical advantage for picking a certain team over another. Want to play as Team Europa? Go for it. They’re just as skilled as the Cincinnati Not-The-Bengals. It’s the skill of the player in control– along with some interesting occurrences that the game will add to keep things interesting– that will determine wins and losses.
The play-calling screen in Super High Impact may be a bit intimidating, as seen in the photo above; however, each offensive play has options to either run or pass– so picking the wrong play isn’t automatically a bad thing. Defensively, there is some difference between plays as to how the computer-controlled players will react, but it’s still possible to use the human-controlled player to blitz the quarterback, stay close to the line of scrimmage to guard against the run, or drop into coverage against the pass. Experimentation with the different plays during practice games will go a long way to learning what each really does.
Once the play is selected, controls are simple. On offense, the B button begins the play and is used to pass. Picking a receiver is as easy as pressing either up or down on the D-Pad, to choose the respective receiver to throw to. Unlike Madden and other football sims, only two-receiver sets are used in Super High Impact… so the passing game is simpler. Unfortunately, passing takes some time to pull off, so players must move the quarterback around to give him enough separation from defenders. If not, a sack– or worse– is bound to happen. The running game is easier, and since players don’t have different attributes, the quarterback functions fine as a runner. Players can either bounce him to the outside and press the R shoulder button to get away from defenders past the line of scrimmage, or they can try to rush him up the middle.
Defensively, the B button selects the human-controlled player before the snap and switches to the defender closest to the ball carrier after the snap. Just as on offense, the R shoulder button provides a one-time boost. If used just before making a tackle, a power tackle is performed that can jar the ball loose or can blast the pads and uniform off of the ball-carrier. It’s possible to play the ball in the passing game, but it’s a worthless effort more often than not. Passes sometimes fall incomplete on their own, or can get intercepted automatically if thrown into a group of defenders.
What makes Super High Impact stand out from many other football games is how much it celebrates violence. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that Ed Boon— who would go on to co-create Mortal Kombat— was one of the developers of the original High Impact arcade game, along with Eugene Jarvis. While there aren’t any fatalities here, there are the pad-separating hits (described earlier) and players who roll around in pain while screaming about their knee injuries. The animations for the pad-separating hits are funny, but not graphic. Going for big hits on defense should be a priority.
There are also fights in the game, which can break out at any time. After “FIGHT!!!” is shouted by the game’s announcer, the screen displays two meters that are filled as players rapidly jam on all of the buttons. As the meters fill, the players can be seen fighting on the field, while picture-in-picture boxes show some fisticuffs of their own. The first team to fill its meter wins the fight, and the announcer finishes it off by exclaiming, “Somebody get a body bag!” The fights don’t play any part in deciding the game’s outcome, so they’re strictly for bragging rights. At halftime and at the end of each game, Fight wins are tabulated and have their own line on the Stats screen.
One other violent (but admittedly fun) feature of Super High Impact is the Hit-O-Meter, which is seen above. Sometimes after a big hit, the game breaks away to this screen and the announcer grades the “awesomeness” of the hit. Weak hits earn ridicule from the announcer and rankings like Granny or Dweeb. More violent hits can earn Wicked or Awesome ratings… and, if a hit is violent enough, it can break the meter and earn an Outrageous rating. Like the fights, these sequences are merely for bragging rights– but they’re fun to watch, and it’s always interesting to see and hear what the announcer thinks of your hits.
The best way to play Super High Impact is to set the length of each quarter to just two minutes, as it is in the coin-op. Games tend to drag if the periods are longer, and the scores just get ridiculous. Two-minute quarters keep the scoring in check and often work to keep the scores close. One game I played (on the hardest difficulty setting) ended with a score of 28-27 in my favor, after scoring a late touchdown to win. Five-minute periods can see combined scores over 100 points in matchups against the CPU, and are usually skewed in the player’s favor. These longer games just aren’t as much fun, at least in my view.
There isn’t any kind of Season Mode or round-robin play in Super High Impact. This limits replay value somewhat, as there’s nothing to keep players coming back day after day to play the game. This was a problem with the coin-op, too– as it was with the arcade machine and the home conversions of an earlier Midway sports game, Arch-Rivals. There are some leaderboards kept, as seen in the image above, but these aren’t saved once the power is turned off. While this lack of consistent replay value is certainly a flaw, it’s still very possible to enjoy Super High Impact in short bursts every so often.
Beam Software did a decent job of porting Super High Impact to consoles for Acclaim, the game’s publisher. Visually, although the digitized characters look a bit muddy, the overall look of the game is reasonably close to the coin-op original. There’s no slowdown to speak of, and there’s a nice screen-shake effect after violent hits. The players are a bit non-descript on the screen, but since there aren’t any individual players or characteristics, this is fine. The game’s sound is quite good, featuring decent music, a few choice lines of trash talk from the players, and chatter from the over-the-top announcer. For 1993, this was a solid aesthetic effort… and I do think that it holds up okay today.
Just as Arch-Rivals has ties to NBA Jam, Super High Impact and NFL Blitz are related. The play-calling screens in the two games are identical in their 3×3 layouts, and there are an equal number of legitimate plays and made-up plays to choose from. While the violence had to be toned down by quite a bit to get the NFL to sign off on it, Blitz still retains some of the edge that Super High Impact carries with it. Fights and the Hit-O-Meter are replaced by some brutal tackles and hits in NFL Blitz, including a selection of wrestling moves and the ability to hit players after the whistle. Both games are also usually powered by offense, with a lot of points on the board for both teams. Defensive plays can prevent a touchdown or two, but this is more the exception than the rule.
After further review, I recommend Super High Impact. Arcade sports fans and casual football fans will enjoy the game’s accessibility and how easy it is to learn, and some fans who think that football “has gone too soft” will get a kick out of the big hits, fights, and the Hit-O-Meter. Purists and football simulation fans may not get as much out of the game; it doesn’t have either the NFL or NFLPA licenses, there are only 9 players on a side versus 11, and the rules and penalties have been severely relaxed or even thrown out. Although the game doesn’t have extras like a Season Mode or a battery backup to save stats, Super High Impact is a great choice when you feel like playing a simple and quick football game… and maybe causing a few injuries while you’re at it.