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!

John Madden Football

This very well could be my one and only 3DO review on this site!

For those who are unaware of what the 3DO is, it was a next generation console launched in 1994 as a platform developed by Electronic Arts. The consoles would be manufactured by a number of consumer electronics companies such as Panasonic and Goldstar, in much the same way a VCR (at the time) or DVD player (years later) would license those technologies.

The CD-based system was ahead of its time, but a high price tag ($700 USD) and lack of launch day titles (and available consoles to purchase) put it behind the 8-ball. It would eventually fail as titles were delayed and Sony’s PlayStation (as well as Sega’s Saturn) were released a year later.

However, being an EA supported platform had its benefits, and John Madden Football was the biggest of them all. I can recall being at a mall and seeing a 3DO on display running this game at what was then Electronics Etc., today’s equivalent of GameStop.

Returning to this game gave me those fond memories of how advanced this version of Madden is. For starters, there’s literally no comparison between this 1994 title and the Madden 95’s released on 16-bit competitors such as the Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis.

Madden NFL ’95 for those consoles barely raised the bar from the ’94 edition, which was a leap for 16-bit platforms with a number of new features, but nothing like we’d see on the 3DO.

Done right from the start, the 3DO version includes the full NFL license. That means real teams as well as branding. However, the NFLPA licensing was absent, although player names wouldn’t start showing up on the competition until Madden NFL ’96 anyway.

Once the game loads (which is another sticking point – its super slow) you’re whisked away into the realm of Full Motion Video (FMV) with an animated opening of the iconic EA Sports crawl which fades into team logos and helmets with the famous “John Madden Football” words scrolling into view.

FMV takes front-and-center throughout the game with an actor representing an in-game referee who conducts a coin toss and makes various calls from penalties to touchdown signals.

John Madden himself has a few video scenes – they are all generic enough to apply to every game configuration with audio snippets over what one might call “B-roll” such as grainy photos of a team’s home stadium. Still, this was high-tech stuff for 1994!

In-game, a “scouting report” option may have the best feature in the game, as it will show a set amount of random highlight clips from whichever team you’re viewing.

Getting started, the game menu has its usual modes including preseason (exhibition), regular season, and playoffs. You can also play as historic teams, with one for each franchise and two All-Madden teams.

Again, the player names aren’t included, only numbers – which show in-game below the “star” icon underneath selected players. While the graphics are crude, they’re still sophisticated compared with the sprites on the SNES or Genesis. However, they’re also fairly generic with no numbers on jerseys and palette swapping for the helmet, tops, bottoms and skin tones.

But, they are big players on the screen. Larger than life and anything that preceded it.

As for the game play, it can be a bit slow and tedious. Rather than cut to play calling menus after each play, all of the players scurry around the field back to the line of scrimmage before we get to call a play. There’s a noticeable delay in the action here and after selecting a play too – all while the clocks run.

That can be a bit distracting, as is the tedious passing – which is nearly as bad as non-Madden games in some instances. Otherwise, the rest of the bells and whistles are here, including spin moves, dives and speed bursts. The game still plays like the other Madden cousins, but with a fresher paint job.

Overall, this is an enjoyable game that was far ahead of its time. Within a few years Madden ’97 will blow the doors off of this title in 1996, but we’re talking a full two years later – a lifetime in the tech world.

I would encourage any retro gamers with a hint for nostalgia to check this out, even if you only play a game or two like I did.