SNES A Day 17: John Madden Football

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Approximate Release Date: November 1, 1991
Genre: Football Simulation
Developer: Park Place Productions
Publisher: EA Sports

It didn’t take more than a few minutes before I developed a headache playing John Madden Football.

It’s so jerky.

It’s a little unfair to slam John Madden Football too badly; much like Pilotwings, maybe you had to have been there. But from a modern perspective, it doesn’t seem impressive. No licensed team or player names, no season mode, a basic create-a-team option … there’s just not a lot here.

There are a full 22 players on the field at once, which most NES-era football games never did. John Madden Football even features a good selection of plays to choose from before the snap, and it’s organized well. Digitized voice samples are in the game, and they’re surprisingly nice sounding for 1991.

But actually playing John Madden Football is frustrating. Every player looks exactly the same, making it so, so easy to lose yourself in a scrum. The player sprites don’t have much animation to them, so it’s difficult to know when someone is close enough to tackle. I think it’s the lack of animation that makes this game so difficult to watch. It reminds me of watching a stuttering video because it looks like there’s a ton of missing visual information. It also makes the game feel highly unresponsive in-game. It never feels like, for instance, when I press the button to throw the ball to one of my receivers the ball is actually thrown. It takes a tick or two for the ball to fly.

These early Madden games formed a foundation that is still being used today, but the Super Nintendo just isn’t powerful enough to simulate football well. When I think about Tecmo Bowl on the NES, the reason I played it for hours was because they used football to simplify and abstract down to the essentials and create a fun game which worked within the technical constraints.

There’s no fun game here in John Madden Football.

Tomorrow: The sequel to the world’s most accurate childhood job simulator comes to the Super Nintendo in Paperboy 2.

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