It’s not like EA’s stopping anyone from making football games without the NFL license, although that’s pretty much been the case ever since. And the brave few that tried to push forward without those three magic letters saw results far too disastrous to be described in a sports metaphor.
Great Football | 1987
Since Nintendo was considerably more focused on the kiddies, you could say Sega really botched the opportunity to appeal to an older audience with the limp-dick performance of its Great Sports banner.
Above: The patriotism’s so bright, you gotta wear shades
How could it possibly succeed? The name alone implies the quality fell somewhere below “Excellent,” Exceptional,” and most importantly for the time, “Super.” Plus, the developers had so little faith in their own AI they had to comp the CPU controlled team points at the start of every game just to make it interesting.
NES Play Action Football | 1992
Nintendo may have abandoned first party footballery today, but they back in the NES days they hit the gridiron running. NES Play Action Football opted for a isometric view of the field so as to give players the illusion of 3D. At least it distinguishes the final product from the zillion or so other football games available on the platform.
Above: Oh yes, Play Action Football’s discarded brilliance even got its own Nintendo Power cover to go along with the in-game appearance by forgotten mascot, Nester
Obviously, hopes were high for NES PAF, as it was as heavily touted as flagship titles were during the launch of the NES Four Score Satellite thingy, Nintendo’s ill-fated attempt at cramming two extra players into a single game. But hey, it TALKED a little! Again, back in the day that really meant something. Today we skip cutscenes!
Super Play Action Football | 1992
Super Play Action Football followed suit, albeit with unremarkable results that would ultimately end the franchise. However, if the game can be remembered for anything it’s the ability to play from high school into college, and on into the pros with licensed NFL teams. And you thought the Madden series had done everything.
Above: Nester’s cameo was out, Mario was in
Space Football: One on One | 1992
Above: Why did we even bring this up?
Okay, this would barely count as a football title, but the developers apparently fought tooth and nail to maintain the sport’s terminology, in spite of being essentially a game were two players squared off as sentient Air Hockey paddles. Sure, a single player per team used a hoverboard to push a ball into a “end zone” to score “touchdowns,” however the “space ball” was automatically fumbled every four seconds to keep things moving. And futuristic!
Above: “Touchback, For Great Justice!”
[And now I’ll step aside and let Brett Elston wax nostalgic about THE ONLY game in this article that deserves revisiting. Take itBrett]
Mutant League Football | 1993
The best way to teach people new things is to sneak the information into their minds without them knowing about it. So, even if you vehemently hated football as a child, there was a good chance the blood-soaked ogres and spiky aliens of Mutant League Football sucked you in and inadvertently taught you the sport’s many, many rules. While the core game was pure football, with audibles, hail marys and wholly ineffective running plays, the extra wrinkle of “supernatural freaks violently smashing the shit out of each other in space” made it seem cool, but in a nerd-appropriate way.
Above: Geek, jock, who cares – we just wanna play
Above: Plus, if you weren’t careful, you might accidentally learn some actual team names
To be honest, the blood and gore were the main selling points. If MLF were just monsters strictly adhering to the mile-long rulebook, it’d be just as boring as the real thing. Instead, each team has a few tricks up its collective sleeve, letting you throw dynamite at incoming opponents or change the ball into a bomb, just waiting for someone to intercept a pass.
Above: Watch the body parts fly
Mutant League Football sprang from EA, back when it was an unrestrained house of ideas. Its success led to the less exciting but equally bloody Mutant League Hockey, and even to the creation of a horrible, horrible animated series starring Bones Jackson. EA even got a bit ahead of itself with Mutant League, promising a Mutant League Basketball in the INTRO to Mutant League Hockey.
Sadly this idea, outside of NFL Blitz, hasn’t really been revisited. You’d think with EA now in complete control of the NFL license someone would try to do something similar, make a non-sports-gamer sports game that doesn’t require hours of legal negotiations. Then again, EA probably still owns the rights to this and could stand to rake in even more if they did it right themselves. Well, get it on it EA.
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