There’ something special about sports video games from the third and fourth generations that will always captivate me. With little material to develop a storyline or level structure, programmers were able to digitally immerse gamers in the thrills of being both a fan and athlete in an exciting sport. Titles like John Madden Football ’93 (JMF ’93) embody examples both of the SNES’ successes and shortcomings in developing a complete sports game. All told, we have a fun arcade experience centered on the titillating environs of American football that is more advanced than its prequel and much more realistic than just about any of its contemporaries.
A basic “Game Set-Up” screen begins the experience by providing the rudimentary football game options: quarter length, indoor/outdoor field types and team selection. The user can choose to be either the home or away team. You can play against one human opponent (the SNES multi-tap can be used on later Madden installments) or challenge the Computer. However, the game mode options seem limited since “Regular Season” means playing just one game; in other words, what other games would call “Preseason.” You may begin a 16-team, password-sustained tournament which is like a four-game mini-season if you can win them all. Other than these two options there is a ‘Sudden Death’ mode, where the first team to score takes all the marbles. With such limited options, it’s likely that most gamers would prefer a later Madden installment in which some level of stat-tracking as well as other season elements is possible.
Yet for such an early game in the Madden evolution, JMF ’93 has a stable presentation. The opening theme is a rousing stadium rocker with some ‘Hey!’ and ‘Touchdown!’ sound bites thrown in. The avatars atop the game set-up screen representing the two teams highlighted are jumping, diving, doing handstands, and having an all-around helluvah time getting the gamer pumped. Once a match-up is chosen, Madden offers his two cents on the strengths and weaknesses on either side (‘Philadelphia has one of the top quarterbacks in the league’), as well as some peanut gallery wisdom on the sport (‘anyone who claims to be the best player in the world is bluffing’). A list of each team’s position categories — from quarterback to kicker — specifies where each team is superior with a max of two checks per position. Then a stock stadium screen announces the match-up, and we are finally ready for the coin toss.
Especially in the earlier stages of his series, Madden has shown the upmost effort toward realism regarding the sport of football. John Madden Football and JMF ’93 are the only football games I’ve ever seen in which watching teams huddle and substitute are part of the gameplay! Thus the pacing in JMF ’93 can seem lethargic. By displaying the forty-second play clock to the left between plays, it’s almost as if the user is encouraged to take his time in selecting the personnel package, formation and finally, the play. Taking half a minute just to choose your next play is far removed from the action-driven method of Tecmo Super Bowl, but a no-penalty, fantasy-injected environment is not what the man was aiming for. However, there is always the option for the gamer to speed things up by pressing ‘X’ after the completion of a play, thereby activating a ‘no-huddle’ style offense.
As much stock as Madden puts into pencil-whipping your opponent, it is the game’s arcade elements that show the most improvement. At first glance there isn’t much that distinguishes JMF ’93 from its first sequel when it comes to avatar control. Ball-carriers can spin, dive, and charge, while the defense can charge, dive-tackle, or raise their hands in attempts to deflect or knock down a pass. However, the way in which the avatars handle in JMF and JMF ’93 is night and day. Players feel much more comfortable in their environment in the sequel. All elements, from the passing/catching to the hitting/tackling are performed more fluidly this time around. There is an undeniable advancement in the running game as well. All told, JMF ’93 feels much more like the user is “in the game.”
It will never be said that Madden had no interest in the history of his sport. Therefore, included among the playable teams are some of the NFL’s most dominant rosters, including the 1976 Raiders whom Madden led to win Super Bowl XI. This is a great way to challenge yourself: play a regular team against one of the “greats,” or simply play a tournament with all the greats. For an even fiercer challenge one can play against the “All-Madden” team, a roster of the best NFL players circa 1992. Or you can face the “Madden Greats,” who are Madden’s favorite players of all time. As much fun as it is to have these extra playable teams, it still doesn’t make up for lacking a regular season mode. This is JMF ’93’s greatest flaw, and ultimately what keeps it from scoring a higher grading.
If you’re like me you have pondered how a former NFL coach and analyst could be rudimentary in helping build one of the most influential and lucrative video game series of all time. What is this Madden Magic? The first ingredient is the affable, fun-loving Madden himself. Next, you need a uniquely uncompromising commitment to realism. You also benefit by establishing a steady foundation, then make improvements on a steady, step-by-step basis. Of course, smothering your competitors by gobbling up all league licenses helps too, but let’s not get too cynical. It’s always a good thing for a sequel to advance on the foundation of its predecessor, and that’s precisely what went on in making this game. While it may not dazzle quite like it did in its heyday, JMF ’93 still embodies many of the aspects for which retro sports gamers like me will never grow weary.
Three out of five stars
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