The Cheap Seats
Football video games are the fantasy world of many fans. Only in a computer game can a fan be the mastermind behind an offense, the front office that never makes a poor move and possess the skills that make a backup QB look like an all-star.
There seems to be no greater pastime than to square off in tournaments with friends; it’s supremely satisfying to alleviate frustration with a Redskins’ loss by playing a rematch game on “Madden.” (The Skins lost to the Giants 19-3? No problem, the Giants lost their rematch 56-10 a few hours later).
As time has passed, games have become quite realistic and complex. "Tecmo Bowl," a pioneer in the genre, had eight offensive plays to choose from: four running, four passing. The defense didn't have its own plays; rather, the player selected an offensive play to defend against. Recent “Maddens” feature hundreds of offensive and defensive plays, as well as a range of pre-snap coverage shifts, blocking audibles, hot routes and play audibles.
Not only are playbooks bigger and audible options more plentiful, but sophisticated and up-to-date physics models simulate Sundays' action as closely as possible.
Despite all that, there are still some football games from the early years that can compete with today's best. The "Madden" series has left everyone else behind in terms of technology, but for classic games, the appeal never changes.
Instead of realism, they offer playability and addictiveness. Instead of sophisticated sets of options, they offer a simplistic model of game-play that is so pure that it doesn't seem to age. Instead of a career or franchise mode, the classic games give you Bo Jackson in his prime, Darrell Green in his younger years and the dominance of the NFC East: each part provides a lasting snapshot of football in the 90's.
For those who are frustrated with EA’s "Madden" series or don’t have the time or patience to play the new "Head Coach" (it’s really a part-time job), you may be able to find some refuge among two of the classics in football gaming.
"Tecmo Super Bowl"
Any fan of early ‘90s football games has likely heard of this Nintendo classic. Don't let the eight-bit graphics, simplistic game-play, or cheesy in-game music throw you off: this is the standard in classic football gaming. Developed in 1991, it captures the NFC East in its prime.
This was back when the Buccaneers were horrible and the Patriots were worse, when the Houston Oilers still existed and when the Broncos still had ugly uniforms. Bo Jackson, Joe Montana, Art Monk, Howie Long and Mike Singletary are all featured.
The game had a huge impact that continues to resonate to this day. Bo Jackson, who now does speaking engagements, has said that he regularly gets asked about his character in Tecmo. The game (and its predecessor) regularly make appearances in fan rankings of great games.
How re-playable is "Tecmo Super Bowl"? There are dozens of fully-functioning, online leagues.
As an added bonus, emulation software makes playing this Nintendo original on your PC a snap.
"Tom Landry Strategy Football"
If “Tecmo Bowl” and "Tecmo Super Bowl" are the cure for Madden blues, then “Tom Landry Strategy Football” (TLSF) is the fix for any hunger you may have for strategic simulation.
TLSF is one of the few great football games in history that doesn't allow the user to control players on the field. (There is an ancient DOS-based classic that isn't bad, either).
In TLSF, the entire focus of the game is on the coaching: running routes for backs, formations, coverages, double-teaming, hot routes, receiving routes, clock management and dealing with weather conditions.
Each play is individually carved from a plethora of options, giving you complete control of every aspect of your offensive strategy. While it is complex, the game was designed for the average user, so the interface is clean and very navigable.
Because this game was designed for the PC in the years when computers were not so common, and because it aimed at presenting a strategic, tactics-based, it missed the same kind of circulation that the "Tecmo" games have enjoyed. Nevertheless -- and I say this in spite of the famous Dallas coach on the box -- TSLF is the best strategy football game ever made. (EA’s "Head Coach" may have its day in the future, but the first edition of the game needs plenty of work).
The next time you ever get bored during the week or in the off-season, fire up one of these classic games and be sure to come check out the view with us from the Cheap Seats.
This article was released on 2006-10-12.
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