So… here’s an oddity for football season. Jerry Rice and Nitus’ Dog Football was released in August of 2011 for the Nintendo Wii. It’s not quite NFL Blitz gone to the dogs, but Dog Football does draw some inspiration from Blitz and one other Midway coin-op. More on that as we go.

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The basic idea in Dog Football is that each team has a human quarterback and a set of six dogs on offense, and seven dogs on the defensive unit. Plays are called in similar fashion to most other football games, with a photo for each play showing how each receiver will break or where defensive players will go. The offensive playbook is a bit more complex than the defensive playbook. Offensively, it’s important to pay attention to each receiver’s drawn-up routes so that players know where each dog will be running. Defensively, it’s more simple: drop into coverage, play tight at the line of scrimmage, or blitz.

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On offense, the human quarterback will either toss the ball short to a running dog or pass deeper to a receiving dog running a route. When a dog is ready to receive a toss or pass, it will bark and a visual effect on-screen will show that the quarterback can act. Once the dog has possession of the ball, the player uses the Wii remote to lead the dog upfield toward the the goal line while steering the dog away from on-field obstacles and through agility areas for bonus A.R.F. points (which are a new addition to football rules). Players can also hold the A button down on the remote to let the dog choose the best route to run.

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As this is a Wii game, there’s a bit of waggle in play with Dog Football. Pointing up with the Wii remote hikes the football and begins the play, and pointing the remote straight ahead (just after releasing the A button) tosses or passes the ball. This takes a bit of practice to get used to, but it consistently works as it should once players get the hang of it. Thankfully, there isn’t any crazy amount of shaking the controller to gain speed. The waggle is, for the most part, held in check.

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As mentioned earlier, A.R.F. points are built up as dogs gain yards and pull off certain feats while possessing the ball. There are stairs to climb, objects to jump, and other opportunities to build these points up during a series. The payoff for building A.R.F. points comes if a touchdown is scored. Kicking the ball through the uprights nets the offense half of the A.R.F. points accumulated in a series; however, if a player gets back into the end zone with a run or pass (basically a two-point conversion), the full A.R.F. point value is added to the offense’s score. This can make a big difference in games and may persuade players to find longer and more interesting paths to the end zone instead of the more direct path. This addition is perhaps the best part of the Dog Football rulebook.

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Defensively, once a dog is selected, holding the A button down will let the dog choose the best path to the ball carrier. Waggling the Wii remote left or right will attempt a tackle. It’s not always best to let the dog choose its own route, however; sometimes it’s best to use the pointer to keep the dog a couple of yards ahead of the line of scrimmage and react to the play. It’s also possible to jam and even knock over canine receivers while on their routes, which can disrupt timing or even lead to interceptions. No penalties are called for pass interference, so don’t hesitate to get a little ruff— errr… rough with the receivers.

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Dog Football‘s biggest solo player draw is the Season mode, which allows players to unlock new dog breeds and other bonuses along the way. It’s pretty fun to play, and allows players to experience all of the teams and venues in the game (while unlocking most of the game’ goodies). There are also some neat powerups to unlock, which can give players a leg up over the competition.

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Aesthetically, Dog Football is fair. The frame rate is uneven and there’s not a lot of detail for the dogs– or human characters, for that matter. Like so many other Wii games, the character design skews more toward the cartoonish side. The field layout for each venue is different, at least, so players will need to learn the ins and out of each for the best A.R.F. results. The sound and music are okay, with Jerry Rice playing the role of John Madden and lending his voice to certain in-game events, like first downs or touchdowns.

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After playing a couple of games of Dog Football, I can see inspirations taken from NFL Blitz and from a lesser-known Midway game called Pigskin 621 A.D. The latter has a football field that’s littered with obstacles that players must avoid, or else bad things happen. Dog Football doesn’t have the death and dismemberment that Pigskin 621 A.D. has, but it does deploy quite a few obstacles that dogs must navigate around in order to either make their way upfield or to close in on opposing ball carriers.

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Jerry Rice and Nitus’ Dog Football isn’t going to challenge Madden, Blitz, or Tecmo Super Bowl for video game gridiron supremacy… but it is certainly a unique take on the sport and only requires Wii remotes to play (no nunchuks). The game is getting harder to find, however. GameStop stores are selling the game for $7 USD, while eBay prices have been trending upwards of $20. $20 is too much, but $7 might be low enough to bite on this game and try it for yourself.

You make the call!

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