|What's Thanksgiving without a little Turkey?|
As of late, however, the traditional teams that play on Thanksgiving Day have been a little less than spectacular (particularly you Detroit Lions). Yet there is good news! If the games fail to be as enthralling as maybe they should be, the realm of video games provides a bounty of great football games to fill the gap. Obviously in the time in which we live the absurdly successful line of Madden NFL games is the go-to in the event of a complete Dallas Cowboy collapse. But don’t be so hasty to grab that XBOX360 controller! Classic systems have a lot to offer in the way of football fun. Sure, they lack the depth of modern games. You can’t own a franchise and trade players, you can’t run a hot route if you see a Cover 2 defense (chances are good a Cover 2 defense is going to be out of the question anyway), heck the players may not even have names or be recognizable as humans, but old school football games still have a lot of charm and can be a lot of fun.
That is the focus of this Closer Look Thanksgiving Special: Classic football games from my favorite system, the Atari 2600. Yes the ol’ VCS features a veritable host of tackle football* games, from the simple, and succinctly named Football, to more thrilling titles like Super Challenge Football, and even the recently released BLiP Football! But can football games for the 2600 be any fun at all? Heck, can they even really capture the essence of the sport with a system that has such limited capabilities? Let’s find out.
*Please do not confuse tackle football with that sport that little girls and Europeans play called “soccer.” While some call this sport “football” from time to time, it should not be confused with the American sport that men play. (also note that I am pretty much kidding about this. Soccer, “futbol,” is just fine if you like sports where the games last like eight hours and the final score is 1-0 if you are lucky. Riveting.)
We start our Thanksgiving adventure at the beginning: Atari’s Football. This is 4-on-4 football at its finest. And I mean every word of that sentence. Having said that, this game is actually pretty impressive for what it is and when it came out. Sure there are only 4 players per team and those players possess all the mobility of a wet brick, but you do get 5 plays to call for each side of the ball, you can pass on any play that isn’t a punt (a nice nod to the “option” play for you college football fans), and the basic rules of tackle football remain intact. The game must be at least a little good because we played it non-stop back in the day. We would have actual tournaments and marathon session of Football. And somehow, through sheer determination and lack of better options, we got good at it. Passes were routinely intercepted, tackles behind the line of scrimmage would occasionally turn to real-life fisticuffs, and a win meant bragging rights, at least until the next game started five minutes later. Sure, this was all we had in the way of video game football back then, but if it had been unplayable, we would have just gone outside or God forbid made a stab at setting up that incomprehensible Electric Football game…shudder…
But we can’t be expected to play 4-on-4 football all day, not when the VCS is capable of so much more, like, oh say, 5-on-5 football! Yes, kids, that’s right, real 5-on-5 football is possible for the 2600 and it is coming your way from your good friends at M-Network in the form of Super Challenge Football! Real pigskin action where you create and call the plays! Unlike Football, Super Challenge Football allows you to design your own offensive and defensive plays. At the start of each play you give each player on your team (they call them linemen, but in football logic nothing about that makes sense) an assignment. You can send them out to receive, stay in to block, run a fake pass route, etc. On defense you can assign pass coverage or send defenders in to rush the quarterback. SCFootball also features a side-scrolling playfield, a fairly impressive feat for the time. However, there is some trade-off. There is no kicking or punts of any kind. You have four downs, fail to get a first down and you turn the ball over on the spot. The scrolling isn’t silky smooth and there is some stutter if you really get a run going.
The upsides of Super Challenge Football greatly outweigh any of the above drawbacks. Designing your own plays lends a customization to the game that the five static plays in Football sorely lack. “Programming” your plays is simple and quick. The action is fast-paced and smooth (except maybe when you are running and the field is scrolling to keep up). Your players actually move with some agility and speed although the defenders do move faster than your receivers (I recommend a zigzag strategy). Defensively, you have more strategy options and getting your players into position to make a play is easier. The passing game is simple, but requires smart decision making. Perhaps the most impressive features of SCFootball are the graphics. Of all the VCS football games, SCFootball may look the best. The field is bright green with clean markings including yard numbers. Down and distance markers are also present on screen and the score displays are large and sharp. Despite having ten players active on the field, there is no flicker and while the players are of the typical hunchy, lumpy M-Network stock they are solidly rendered.
Super Challenge Football is a winner and definite fun for two-players, but what if you don’t have two players? So far, both of our VCS football games have been excellent two-player affairs, but having a friend to play with sometimes isn’t an option. Fortunately, our friends at Atari were also aware of this and created a second football game as a part of their RealSports game line. RealSports Football is a complete departure from their original Football offering and like SCFootball, RSFootball is a side-scrolling tackle football game that also features 5-on-5 action. But that is where the similarities end.
Continued after the jump!