Fooch's Note: I just noticed this FanPost, and absolutely had to move it to the front page. Excellent work!
Some birds continually tell me that the 49ers fans need to quit living in the past. Well, see, that's a bit hard, especially when some things in our past was as awesome as our football teams in video games. I always ask those birds if they even have a past and then they fly off. Interesting.
Today, whenever Madden comes out, it's the only football game on the market-and rightly so-Electronic Arts has an exclusive deal with the NFL license. In the 80s, that wasn't the case. The NFL handed its license out like Halloween candy at a flat rate and all an aspiring game developer had to do was pony up the cash. This didn't necessarily result in a good game. On the contrary, like any licensed property in video games, if you had the license, chances are your game was nothing more than a cash grab made in a matter of days.
The good part is, all the licensed NFL games had the Niners, or their players despite memory constraints. So let's live in the past and see how the Niners fared on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Keep in mind, I'm only bringing up games that either had the NFL license or the NFLPA license and those are two different things. The NFL license granted the game to use the team's name. The NFLPA license granted the game to use the players' names and likeliness. Games that had one or both will be featured.
Alright, let's do this!
The Game: This is already looking bad. Without a doubt, anyone who had an NES in the 80s played an LJN game. More than once. LJN held the licenses for anything movie related, so Terminator's 1 &2, X-men, Back to the Future, etc. were shopped to LJN. So that meant with those concepts they made awesome games, right? There's no way they could tank it, right? Think of that creativity; evil futuristic robots, mutants with Freddy Krueger claws killing other mutants, time travel-how can you mess that up?
Well, LJN managed to find a way each and every game. Their catalog is considered one of the worst ever, and as a result, LJN is probably the weakest publisher of the 8-bit era.
NFL is no different. You take your team on a horizontal field view and slowly (and I mean SLOWLY) limp your way across the grid iron. The below screenshot doesn't even begin to describe how slow this game moves.
For those of you weaned on simply selecting your favorite team out of 32, things were way more primitive back then. See, first you need to decide if you want interconference play OR a championship game OR a Super Bowl. THEN you choose your team. Screw up on what type of game you have and you will be selecting from the NFC or AFC twice. In other words, if you want to put San Francisco against Miami, you better make sure to select ‘Interconference Play.' Sure, it's just a wrinkle, but going through menus like this just to get a team selected is far from "pick up and play." Are your eyes spinning reading that? Think how exhausted a gamer must be trying to get things set up.
As far as the playbook is concerned, I read an FAQ and I still don't know how to call something. This is your playcalling screen:
You're supposed to press a direction and button combination. The problem is, there's nothing on the screen to indicate what play you're calling. After I dialed in a play I'm taken directly to this:
Am I calling an audible? What's the point of the first call if I'm going to change it here EVERY PLAY?
Then again, I probably ask too much out of LJN. If you enjoy playing their games (outside of the decent Spiderman/Venom Maximum Carnage) it fulfils the terminal illness requirements for assisted suicide in some states.
How ‘bout them Niners: Decent, I think. Here, I'll let LJN answer that question, check out this stat sheet:
I did manage to get who is supposed to be Joe Montana to throw a deep pass, I'll know if it was complete or not by the end of the 2014 season. Given the speed of the game, the ball will have come down by then.
Jimmy Raye would approve: The only thing truly predictable is not really knowing what the hell you're calling during the game. No, don't mistake this with unpredictability, I literally don't know what I'm doing. It could be a pass play, it could be a run. I'm sure the manual explains everything but I didn't have one to use in the 80s and I don't expect one now. All of you folks used to the three-window, Madden playcalling would break a controller if you kept coming back to this.
Verdict: Not worth a trip down memory lane. Stay away from this one. Don't even let someone pay you to take it off their hands. If you have one laying around though, it does make a good present to those Seahawk and Cowboy fans.
NES Play Action Football (Nintendo)
The game: Released towards the end of the NES's lifespan and published by Nintendo themselves, PAF did the opposite of LJN and got the players' license rather than the NFL license. So the 49ers became "San Francisco." At least it's cool to see Dwight Clark's mug in all 8-bit glory!
The field is neither vertical or horizontal. An odd look nowadays, but given the infancy of sports games, it was something that looked pretty cool. Nintendo's reasoning was it gave a 3D effect. I'm not sure about that, but I give it an S-for satisfactory. Here, decide for yourselves:
Controlling players though, is a bit strange. It's hard to get them running in a straight line down the field given the angle. Even when I'm pushing diagonal it's hard to run down the field. It certainly helps when I'm dodging Cowboys and Seahawks, but then again, it's not hard to dodge defenders from those teams anyways.
How ‘bout them Niners: Pretty average. Joe Montana is in there which makes QB play a bit simpler, but I never really found much of an advantage playing as the Niners. I could easily have played Miami and net the same results. But then again, I'm not really digging deep into these games so maybe I don't understand the regular mechanics.
An advanced playbook: Certainly more sophisticated than NFL Football. Yeah, I only have the same amount of plays, but at least I know what the hell I'm calling.
Elpato got left in the dark: Apparently, A LOT of people played this. I never even heard of it until the N64 days, but I usually shy away from sports games There is a certain feel to this that sums up NES sports. Even though I never played it, I feel transported back into my living room in ‘89.
Verdict: Decent, though outclassed because of....
Tecmo Bowl (Tecmo)
The Game: NOW THIS IS MORE LIKE IT! If you never played Tecmo Bowl, football fan or not, you were missing out. Like Play Action, this game has the player license but rather than just the city, the game gave alternate mascots to each team. Mascots you wouldn't even notice unless you let the game run past the opening titles. Some of the teams retained their colors though so it's not so bad. This resulted in San Francisco getting slapped with extremely ugly uniforms (
red pink and gold don't look good in pixels, I'm afraid) and getting something that looks like an eagle as a mascot.
What most don't realize is this game is actually a port of an arcade title. As standard for most coin-op transitions to the NES (Contra anybody?) the game is very, very, different than its arcade counterpart. The arcade version had bizarre color schemes and strange music while the NES port changed the music and lessened the overabundance of the nicknames. Thankfully, it doesn't go overboard with stat mongering and realistic stuff like Madden. That's probably why a great deal of actual gamers like it despite it being a sports game.
The game plays on a horizontal field with very simplistic controls. The playbook for both sides of the ball boils down to good ‘ole rock, paper, scissors. Just guessing what they do-which results in a sack, marginal gain or a huge gain/TD. Despite the simplicity, the game still felt very deep and once plays broke down, if you were good at video games, or had Bo Jackson, you could break the game and take it to the house anyways.
For whatever the reason, only 12 teams made it into Tecmo Bowl, but each one played very different.
How 'bout them Niners: The good part: We were one of the best. The bad part: Los Angeles (Raiders). All someone has to do is bust out the LA/Bo Jackson connection and you had an offense that broke the game. Bo knows cheapness.
The Niners had a different playbook than the norm. Rather than two run plays and two pass plays, the Niners had 3 pass plays and one run. You know, cuz we.. use to.. like..pass then.
Onto star role-call: The 49ers had Joe Montana (the best QB in the game) and Ronnie Lott (the fastest defender). With a great offense and defense the Niners were a force to be reckoned with.
Until your opponent chose Los Angeles.
Greg Roman would approve: Sure, it'd be nice to have two runs in this game, but echoes of the future are more than present when the only run is one up the middle. With three other pass plays to decide from, it's certainly better than those Jimmy Raye playbooks we see readers posting. With one run and 3 pass plays, choosing run every time emulates todays Niners perfectly, almost to the point you wonder if Roman plays this in preparation for a game. Oh, and there's no delay of game so you can really think hard about that pass play before running it up the middle again.
Verdict: Probably the best NES football game except for:
Tecmo Super Bowl (Tecmo)
The Game: This one got it right and then some. Let's start with the good-the NFL license and NFLPA are combined. The game has all the teams from the era and the Raiders aren't cheap (but still deadly). The whole game is balanced quite well. Oh, and remember those out of place NES tunes that grated on you? Well they gave us some better music. Sure it may get annoying, but the composition sure sounds more hectic and urgent than what we had before.
The playbook also is much improved giving you eight plays rather than four. As far as I know, the ratio of pass plays to run plays is 50/50 for each team, but the plays themselves vary from team to team. Denver could be doing flea flickers and fade routes while SF does their short yard chipping pass plays or unleashing Roger Craig on the world.
Now to the bad: The player sprites are much smaller. To compensate for the amount of memory to take in the new plays and extra teams, something had to go. It's nothing breaking though, by about two seconds into the first quarter you'd forget there's a difference anyways. Personally it seems more natural to me.
How ‘bout them Niners: Roger Craig is a beast. There's also a certain satisfaction I have picking wide receivers off and going up 28-0 against the Seahawks at the end of a five minute first quarter. The defense does seem to be nerfed a bit, but that's expected as Lott nearly broke the game in the prior ‘Bowl. Montana is still one of the best, if not the best QB in the game and that's enough for me. Take the Niners and you have an easy spot to a Super Championship (yes, that's what it's called).
Does that music sound familiar?: It should. Ever heard of a game for the NES called Ninja Gaiden? The dudes who made the original NES classic were responsible for the awesome tunes you found in this gem. You can tell it's a Tecmo game by the percussion synth. Even the compositions for NG's follow-up sequels have a similar percussion sound to it.
All I can say is Tecmo made some good music back then.
Following Super Bowl, there was only one way to go-and that was up to the Super Nintendo. No more NFL licensed games hit the NES and it was for the better. It would be nigh impossible to top this.