Madden NFL 97

Well, this is a disappointing entry into the annals of football video games. What sucks about typing this is, the 1997 edition of the John Madden Football series would’ve been dandy, if you didn’t know anything else.

By this point in time, the Madden series showed us what was possible with next generation hardware, first a year earlier on the 3DO, and then appearing on the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn for this first time with Madden 97.

The PSX version is so breathtaking, that going back to the SNES edition feels inferior.

While the CD-based PlayStation version has same load time waiting, the cartridge-based Super Nintendo edition, which dropped two months later, makes you suffer with slow loading menus, prior to the game and within it. Even going between plays, selecting them and watching the players break the huddle, feels like an eternity – it’s something I loathed about the 16-bit era Madden games, but it feels like 97 is the worst.

There’s also very little in terms of upgrading from 96 to 97. I’d say 90% of the game is identical to the previous year’s, other than rosters and a few dabs of fresh paint on some menus. Yes, there’s a still of Pat Summerall, John Madden’s broadcasting partner, and I guess that makes it “better” in a sense – but it’s not as if there’s any real voiceover stuff that’s earthshattering when compared to its predecessors.

In fact, 97 just feels like more of the same – except for the computer opponents, with AI that is still universally panned to this day (no matter the difficulty setting).

Madden 97 reeks of squeezing a buck out of a rebadged Madden 96, perhaps for the sake of EA not wanting to waste too many resources on the aging 16-bit market. But what 97 does instead, is warns the consumer that the yearly franchise upgrade may be anything but that: an upgrade.

Madden NFL 97

What a fun game this is! Especially for nostalgia buffs.

The first 32-bit generation Madden dropped on 3DO, missing both Sony’s PlayStation and Sega’s Saturn for the 1996 edition. This opened the door to competitors, such as NFL GameDay, but EA Sports would make a triumphant return with Madden 97.

The first release on the mainstream next generation consoles totally blows you away from the opening sequence, which shows computer generated players and sequences from Super Bowl XXX (Cowboys vs. Steelers) interspersed with an NFL logo and panning through the streets of New Orleans all the way to the Louisiana Superdome.

Compared with even the powerful 3DO version a year earlier, this PSX release is awesome. The marriage of the NFL, NFLPA (players), and STATS Inc. licensing makes for the first game that truly felt like a TV presentation. Pat Summerall, John Madden’s longtime broadcast partner, joins the booth – the play-by-play and Maddenisms (which you can actually turn off in the settings) are still one-hitters as opposed to true commentary, but it’s progress nonetheless.

Settings, menus, controls and play calling are all much closer to the present-day games in Madden 97 as well. The level of detail is incredible, as we now have player names on the field, jersey numbers (somewhat), and yes, fully rendered home stadiums – as opposed to a paintjob in the endzones from the 16-bit era.

This version of Madden is the first to have the newly christened Baltimore Ravens, plus features real rosters for the Panthers and Jaguars, who joined the league in 1995. (They were in previous games but had fake rosters at one point.)

A full list of real free agents, as well as a salary cap are introduced. No more super teams… maybe.

The other traditional modes are here, such as exhibition or season.

So how does it play?

Much faster – mostly – than what became the painful pace of the 16-bit games. While breaking free on a run still doesn’t have the “he can go all the way” feel that’s coming later, huddles and play call screens load quickly and seamless.

Penalties get a bit more annoying, with the on-screen referee now asking if you choose to accept or decline the calls. (Which can be turned off also – and you may prefer, due to the frequency of them!)

The controls are almost identical to the modern-day games – sprint, dive, hurdle, spin… and of course, easier to pass with the shoulder buttons. The only thing missing here is the lack of using an analog stick with the original PSX d-pad, but I’ll let that slide.

In summation, Madden 97 for PlayStation is a great trip down memory lane. If you’ve followed my path from the Genesis and SNES editions, the improvements from those games to the first PSX entry are astonishing. But don’t take my word for it: try it yourself!

EA Sports Active NFL Training Camp

EA Sports was obviously looking for a way to milk the cow with their NFL license in 2010.

Among the fitness craze of Nintendo’s Wii was EA Active, an initiative to use the console’s motion controls, balance board, and other devices (such as a heartrate monitor) to help people get in shape from the comfort of their own living room.

The only problem is, as a “game”, this one looks like a total cash grab!

Unfortunately, there’s only so much which can be done these days without the proper add-on devices. The premise of working out as any player on the NFL roster, within a training camp environment (and doing similar drills) has some appeal.

The problem is, this really feels like a Madden Football extra mode than anything else.

The graphics are welcoming, and the approach makes you feel as if you’re in the game or at least living vicariously through your favorite players. There’s plenty of incentives if you want to continue, such as creating your own player and then customizing them through a team’s “pro shop”.

But the entire thing wears off so quickly that the boxed package of fitness equipment ends up in the garage next to the ab circle and some Jane Fonda VHS tapes! (And the video clips within the game, as displayed through the DVD (not HD) quality Wii? Looks like VHS!)

There used to be an online component as well, but of course, that was shutdown two years after the game’s release.

Not that anyone’s looking to play this – I only stumbled upon it on my quest to review more Wii Balance Board games – but should you have a morbid curiosity of what an NFL game that’s not Madden could look like, look not further than this fitness trainer.

At the very least it will help put you to sleep!

Madden NFL ’96

Firing up this game gave me goosebumps with memories of yesteryear.

What a great game Madden NFL ’96 was. The last bastion of 16-bit Madden football titles came to us in 1995, as the era of 32-bit and beyond gaming was dawning. CD audio on the PlayStation would set everything apart, and a game for Sony’s new console was in the works, but scrapped, leaving gamers to contend with the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis versions for at least one more season.

This NFL season was intriguing as it featured a few changes. In real life, the Cleveland Browns were heading to Baltimore, so this was their last year as a real team in the game while the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars were expansion teams with made-up rosters – one of which including “free agents” from the new create-a-player mode, freshly introduced in this iteration.

The create-a-player mode was a fun gimmick and not as truly refined as we’d get in later editions, but being able to make your own guy, complete with position and jersey number, was hella cool. The way to level them up, however, was pretty nasty and required some quick button pressing from your fingers!

Each of the NFL teams has their own “stadium” in this one, with painted endzones to match their locale. The audio has the usual boom’s and pow’s you’d come to expect, and it was the last year to include the FOX Sports NFL theme song within the game – as well as an instrumental riff lifted from Queen’s We Will Rock You to open up the game.

Pat Summerall, John Madden’s long-time broadcast partner, also makes an appearance in this game – his first.

While the FOX themes, world/league records, ditching the windows for passing and a few other tidbits made their way into the 1995 edition of Madden, ’96 really upped the ante with improved graphics and touches. ’95 had made some progress, but aside from the already aforementioned, ’96 is where it was at.

We finally got player’s names attributed in the popup windows after each play, rather than calling them out by jersey numbers – and in fact, star players had their portrait shown as well.

The playbooks aren’t all too expanded, but an often-overlooked feature sneaked its way into 1996 and that is the “Madden” portion of the playbook which would eventually grow into a suggested play category to simplify football play calling for people new to the game – real or virtual.

Overall, the game just feels crisper than the previous 16-bit entries. It plays A LOT faster, even between menu loading and placing players on the field.

For some NFL nostalgia, including the Houston Oilers, and the Rams and Raiders residing in Los Angeles, this is an old entry football fanatics should definitely checkout.

Madden ’95

After previously reviewing John Madden football games for 1993 (Sega Genesis) and 1994 (Super Nintendo) I felt it was appropriate to continue going through the series by visiting Madden ’95… on the Game Boy?

While it may seem like an odd choice, 1995’s edition of Madden marked the series’ first entry into the handheld console market. Sega’s Game Gear received a version as well, but owning a Game Boy was where it was at in the mid 90’s – and this is one game that was a must own by those standards.

For being audio and visually crude due to the limitations of the Game Boy itself, Madden ’95 is incredibly deep, even when comparing it to the previous versions I’ve reviewed. For starters, it has a full 11-on-11 format, apparently something that was an original sticking point for legendary coach John Madden to add his name to the earliest versions.

To point out the biggest glaring omission of this game, however, is that it lacks an NFL license of any kind. The 16-bit big brothers both had the real NFL teams, with Sega’s having the NFLPA license with player names for the first time of any Madden game – though you wouldn’t know it unless you were using the substitution menus (i.e. a gain of seven yards by #22, for example, rather than saying who “22” is.)

That’s why the Game Boy version doesn’t feel too out of place. EA still used the city names, albeit with fake logos. On the monochrome screen you aren’t getting home stadiums, custom end zones or any sort of differentiation between you and the computer-controlled opponent other than one team is wearing a lighter or darker uniform. Players are still denoted by number here, but if you followed your team, you know who is who just like the fancier versions.

The team selection screen is something to behold when it comes to options. Madden ’95 includes all-time teams for all of the 28 NFL counterparts as well as legendary teams, such as “Pittsburgh ’75” or “Pittsburgh ‘78”, with a least one of not two options for each franchise.

You can also adjust the game type and duration. To quickly play, exhibition is the obvious choice. You can start a new season, but to continue, as expected back then, a password system was used. (There are also Champions and All-Time playoff modes to play with the added teams too.)

As the game starts it looks like a pared down version of Madden as you’d know it. Obviously, the Game Boy only has two buttons, so a lot of the special moves or even passing to more than two eligible receivers makes the game feel somewhat crippled, yet, it plays rather smoothly and at a decent pace (unlike Play Action Football which plodded along). Due to the lack of screen size, the traditional passing windows are eschewed as well, something that was also borrowed by the Genesis and SNES counterparts of ’95.

The playbooks are mostly all there, with the option to flip plays and set audibles. Only two substitution modes are available on offense, for your quarterback or running back (“HB” or “halfback” for those in the know).

The depth of stats tracked is quite remarkable for a pint-sized game, some penalties (such as delay of game) are still enforced, and within the season mode you can even check in on scores of other games (as they were scheduled based on the 1994 NFL calendar).

EA even tried to placate us with the audio. While the football sounds like a dive bomber (especially on longer kicks) some audio blurbs such as “first down” and “touchdown” are included. Crowd noise sounds like a broken speaker hissing, but it is what it is for that time and technology.

The only thing that could’ve been left out are some cheesy cutscenes which felt more appropriate with Tecmo Bowl than Madden.

For handheld football action, this is about the best you could get at its time. I’m quite surprised how groundbreaking this title is considering the lack of details in Madden ’93 for the Genesis. I’m not at all advocating that anyone actually chooses to play ’95 over a 16-bit title, but if you have a bit of nostalgia in your bones and want to see the progression of this series, ’95 for Game Boy definitely deserves recognition… unless you choose to play it on the Super Nintendo’s Super Game Boy, which totally kills the colors and defeats the purpose of owning a 16-bit machine!

Madden NFL ’94

For how groundbreaking John Madden Football ’93 was, it’s amazing how much of a leap this series takes when jumping one year and also between platforms (from the Sega Genesis to the Super Nintendo).

It starts right as the game loads with the famous EA Sports “It’s In The Game” audio tagline and animation. Seeing this over 25 years later just sent chills down my spine as to what I’m about to review…

Obviously the SNES graphics are leaps and bounds over the Genesis just based on hardware, but it’s the included audio, mainly speech elements, that start sending you into a tizzy. This game has such refined menus and elements it’s pretty crazy.

Just choosing teams beyond the start menu shows you a huge upgrade in visuals. John Madden gives you a briefing over a panning stadium shot with moving fans. It’s text-based but still light years beyond what any sports simulation was doing at the time.

Even the referee coin toss moves to dedicated animations rather than just showing players on the field.

The “regular season” mode still relies on a password system in this edition. There are the usual modes such as sudden death or recreating the 1993 playoffs (or pitting former Super Bowl championship rosters against one another).

It’s also cool to flip through and see how each position group matches up against one another. Madden was always stat-based, but this is when I first truly remember seeing it as a player and taking it into consideration when deciding plays and more.

Speaking of plays, “flip play” is introduced in ’94 with one particular pass play allowing for a wide-open receiver 100% of the time – the bug was exploited to death by me playing with then perennial Super Bowl champions the Dallas Cowboys and their “flipped receiver” being Alvin Harper (although due to lack of an NFLPA license, only player’s numbers were shown and not their names.)

The screen also flips, or shall I say rotates, during kicking plays and turnovers, in a way that the team with the ball is always at the bottom of the screen playing toward the endzone at the top.

Instant replays also allowed you to rotate the screen 360 degrees, which was breathtaking in itself – but you could also highlight a dedicated player and watch the entire play, in slow motion or full speed, and see where the play breaks down (as it does with my Steelers safety blitz below in the screencaps!)

Fans cheer. Fans boo. Heck, you can even turn “Maddenisms” off if you choose to.

But go get buried in the pause screen (or halftime – complete with a “halftime show”) and you can relive all of your stats, which goes well beyond what was in the previous iterations of the game, even breaking down pass completion percentages and some other advanced statistics.

In other words, this wasn’t your usual Tecmo Bowl arcade-style game, but turning into a full-fledged simulation where throwing into double coverage often resulted in interceptions and relying on higher-rated players in order to make, or break, a victory.

It gets even better with subsequent years, but its easy to see how Madden started to establish itself as a yearly update and must-have game each season due to the amount of upgrades packed into ’94. In fact, this game is so much fun to relive, I highly recommend retro gamers check it out.

John Madden Football ’93

I wish I could cover every single version of John Madden Football that exists, but that would fill this website with a lot of repeat information. Instead, I decided to jump around to different versions of Madden, mainly those that are anomalies or the ones I was accustomed to playing growing up.

My first taste of video game football came at my neighbors when I tried John Madden Football ’93. Released in 1992, my favorite team (the Pittsburgh Steelers) were hardly that great (yet). My neighbor loved playing with the Chicago Bears – however, this edition of Madden would be the last to NOT feature the NFL license.

At that time, you’d have to use your own imagination and/or knowledge to know who was who in the game. One of the coolest aspects of that, was pitting a worthy ’78 Steelers squad against my neighbor’s ’85 Bears: both dominant teams of their era pitted in a fantasy matchup.

Thus, was the appeal of Madden early on. While you didn’t have the “Steelers” and “Bears” you still knew who quarterback number 12 was on “Pittsburgh” and running back number 34 was on “Chicago”. Each team still wore its faithful colors and players were statistically based on their real-life counterparts as well – and its not as if licensing were all that common outside of a big-name endorsee, such as John Madden or Sega’s own Joe Montana Football, at the time.

In other words, it was still revolutionary – kids these days just won’t understand what it was like to get a “real football simulation” with 11 vs. 11 players!

The game itself was praised and panned depending on who you read reviews from: it was largely unchanged from the 1992 iteration, with some stating Madden would be a doomed franchise with its yearly roster updates. (Clearly that wasn’t the case!)

Yet, Madden ’93 still worked well.

It carried over conventions from the computer and early console versions – such as showing a view behind the quarterback (other games showed a TV-style sideline view). While Madden ’90 and ’92 preceded ’93 on the Genesis, this version runs better without the framerate stutter and has sped-up gameplay.

The famous ambulance coming on the field was first introduced in ’92, while field conditions and audibles were brought into the series’ first console versions in ’90. Instant replay, two-player co-op, QB injuries and other game modes were all brought in a year earlier as well.

So, what makes ’93 stand out other than it being my first Madden memory?

Well, many forget that Madden originated on computers and not console gaming systems. EA had wanted to present a game that was 6v6 or 7v7, but Madden balked and would not lend his name to the title.

Eventually all was for naught, but Madden was developed by a bunch of different development teams, with some being fired in the early years. Park Place Productions had worked on the previous Madden ’92 but Blue Sky Productions took over and created ’93 from scratch. Like ’92, all of the NFL’s 28 teams were included (and unlike ’90, which only featured 16 of the 28). ’92 had one All-Madden team, but ’93 added historical teams as well as an All-Madden Greats roster.

Madden’s digitized quips, such as “he’ll remember that number” were also a first in ’93.

Quite honestly, just about everything that’s in ’93 is now taken for granted. The refreshed visuals showed referees on the field, spotting the ball and calling penalties: and sidelines also had zebras holding the down markers!

Heck, even getting drive statistics after scoring a touchdown (complete with celebrations and spiked footballs no less) was a new experience in sports games way back when.

But there’s still a long way to go from here. There are no real NFL teams or players, no fans in the stands, stats on the pause screen, manual substitutions (other than QBs), unique stadiums or even a regular season mode. (Playoff stats could be tracked to a battery-backup on the Genesis cartridge, however.)

Yet, ’93 will have some fond memories for me with the co-op play next door: but make no mistake, as I go down my Madden memories list, there are some really great games with awesome editions going forward. However, ’93 was definitely the launching point for the series, in my opinion, from which all other Madden titles are built upon.