It’s helpful to be reminded every now and again I don’t know all there is to know about sports video games. Out of pure convenience I’ve fallen into the trap of granting particular sports games poster-child status. It can be easy to do having played incredible games like Super Tennis and NBA Jam: TE. Needless to say, I’d have done the same for football games, and so I dismissed NFL Quarterback Club as a hapless knock-off of the highly acclaimed Madden franchise even before inserting the cartridge. However, once I allowed myself to jump into the NFL QB original, I was surprised at how off the mark I had been in my pre-judgment.
NFL QB was a forward thinking game in several ways. Allowing the player to enter simulation scenarios for both historical and future NFL games presented an atmosphere of confidence and stability, but the real foresight was in its feature of the main man of football, the quarterback. An entire game mode is reserved for a Quarterback Challenge, in which 19 of the league’s best compete in a four-drill competition for ultimate QB supremacy. Many of the greats from the 80’s and 90’s are represented, and you can even create a custom QB who will improve with each competition entered. The most difficult drill by far is Speed & Mobility, which in itself is a testament to the “quarterback of the future” mentality.
The commands used in the Speed & Mobility drill carry over to the next two game modes. In both NFL Play and Simulation, Acclaim is in its best arcade simulation form. The football players look a bit like spacemen with their round helmet and soft features, and strangely they are uniform in size and shape. But their commands to dive, sprint, jump and spin are easily performable and pure fun. Pressing “A” near the goal line will even allow you to showboat into the end zone for a score. The set-up favors those gamers who either prefer running or have a strong back. Like most football games in this era, the matter of running down a pass can feel like a crap shoot. At the same time, the passing game is ahead of its time and allows for fast action.
NFL QB is beset to the best and worst aspects of the top-down gameplay format. While one has a clear view of the linemen, receivers in wide formation are out of sight and thus can be difficult to defend. Depth perception can be a problem, which is a particular issue when defending a pass as pass interference is over-called (resulting in an opponent‘s automatic first down). There are breaks in the action both at half-time and end of the game, when John Michaels takes center stage with a fictitious ‘NFL Rocks the Edge’ program. General team stats are displayed as well.
While only the 19 quarterbacks available in the QB challenge are registered with the game, all unnamed players on the field appear numbered accurately according to a real-life counterpart (Barry Sanders is #20, Jerry Rice is #80, etc.). Yet at times I found a linebacker-number on offense, or a lineman number in a linebacker’s spot. This seems to be an oversight of detail that isn’t a critical flaw by any means, but noticeable to anyone intimate with the sport.
Play NFL Mode offers several standard environments of full game play: Preseason, Season, Playoffs and Pro Bowl. There is one slot each to save your Season and Playoffs, and three difficulty levels. Anyone playing a season with a desire to take their team from week 1 to the big show will be disappointed in the lack of features. Stat-tracking is noticeably absent, as are any franchise elements or create-a-player. All one gets for their investment are league standings and a team score sheet displaying which games you’ve won and lost. A redeeming factor of Play NFL mode is the ability to insert a custom quarterback in, so Johnny QB has a chance to show his stuff on the gridiron. Even with its limitations, Season mode may be worth a whirl since the player can choose quarter lengths as short as one minute (that’s about one possession each!).
Setting strategy aside, I noticed while on the field a tendency in myself to be redundant with play-calling. I would find just a couple plays that seemed to work more often than not and represented a low risk factor. It’s tempting to set up a high percentage run, then audible to pass when you’re not given the look you prefer. Bread and butter is a helpful start, but just as a coach would in a real game, the player needs to be able to diversify one’s playbook. While not providing the smartest AI known to video gaming, NFL QB is good at providing diverse enough looks that the gamer is kept on his toes.
Simulation is a mode much more to my liking than Play NFL, except for the fact there is no save feature whatsoever as there is in Capcom’s MVP Football. In Simulation there are 26 historical situations, and 4 futuristic as well, which I thought was cool. The scenarios generally place the gamer in an under-dog setting to be overcome before the buzzer sounds. There is generally plenty of time given, but this in itself can be challenging because one must keep the lead. Still, the Simulation setup is a way of creating a format for level-beating, which gamers from other genres are very familiar with.
While I love the concept of game-play scenarios, Acclaim could have done a better job with making the situations more dramatic. The scenario screen poses a question such as, “The Chiefs were down 14 to 28 and couldn’t come back in the first Super Bowl. Can you?” But once you’re on the field, you realize your quarterback’s number is 4 for Brett Favre, and your defensive end’s number is 92 for Reggie White. Altering uniforms to make them time-appropriate would have been a great twist and a reason for forgiveness for redundancy.
I generally don’t look to sports games for good music, but the opening track to this one is pretty good. NFL QB came through offering that quality stereo sound SNES has produced time and again. The crowd gets pretty into it in important situations or when someone scores. Other in-game sound effects include the umpires signaling first down, pass interference, and touchdown, as well as declaring the kicker nailed it (or didn’t). There’s some diversity to what tackling sounds like, and I appreciate there wasn’t any over-effort in that regard–I don’t want to hear toughness, I want to see it.
NFL QB caters to the crowd with several multiplayer options. Using the multi-tap, you can compete against several friends in the QB challenge. In NFL play you can all be on the same team, or split up, which is uniquely shown pre-game with a group of players who can run to one side or the other. The real wisdom with NFL QB was in diversifying: while some gamers prefer the traditional preseason game or entire season, others will master the QB Challenge, and those with a will of iron can try their luck at an entire simulation series. To earn good marks, a game must do more than one thing well, and NFL QB succeeded in most regards in terms of diversification.
Summing things up
NFL Quarterback Club is a very good, but not excellent game. Steeped in user-friendly, sensible game play, it stands on its own as far as arcade simulations go. It’s as good as any late 94/early 95 sports release. In a sense it offers the gamer three good games at once. The lack of overall detail to player numbers is inconvenient. But in most aspects, I’m reminded how spoiled sports game fans are in the 16-bit era, as Acclaim, Capcom, EA Sports and Tecmo all put out very good to nearly perfect efforts. There are many crappy games in the sub-genre out there, but NFL QB Club is not one of them.
Four Stars Out of Five
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