It’s August and you know what that means!  We’re on the verge of yet another football season, filled with unpredictability, new upstarts getting their chance in the spotlight (we’re looking at you RG3!) and old pros starting something new (good luck, Peyton).  It also means we’re just mere weeks away from the release of Madden NFL 13, EA Sports’ latest game of digital pigskin.  This year’s version has some promising features to it, which we’ll be breaking down for you later this week in a full hands-on report.

But does a football game require the name Madden in order to be competitive?  Does it really need the EA Sports stamp of approval to be considered the best in the business?  While some fans may think so, we’ve got several examples of classic football games that have proven you don’t need big-name coaches, huge endorsements – or, in some cases, even official NFL licensing – to shine.  Some of these are bound to be favorites than others, depending on your style of play, but rest assured, no matter which one you choose, you’ll enjoy the ride as you pounce into the end zone and put six on the board.  Here goes the first-and-ten…

NFL Blitz

Back in the 90’s, nobody could put together a great arcade sports title like Midway.  After gaining millions of fans with its immensely popular NBA Jam, Midway tackled yet another popular sport, football, for NFL Blitz.  The results were monstrously impressive, between all the big hits, thunderous running plays and insane passes that made it fun for sim and arcade fans alike.  The game received good treatment with its subsequent home releases, but then the NFL yanked the license, fearing that the cartoony violence would be too much for fans.  Boo.

Thankfully, EA Sports has worked closely with the NFL to bring back the Blitz as a digital release earlier this year, and it’s available now for Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network.  Although the big hits have been dwindled down a bit (to the point you can’t hit someone when they’re down), the rest of the arcade action has stayed intact.  As a result, fans of the classic game and newcomers alike can enjoy a rollicking round of football, one that’s way better than the somewhat iffy Madden Arcade port the team tried years ago.  For $15, you really can’t go wrong with a round of Blitz.  Plus, hey, Tim Kitzrow’s back on announcing.  Kaboom!


Before EA Sports went and gobbled up the exclusive rights to the National Football League and ESPN, football games were quite a party, between the competition with the Madden games and Sega’s NFL 2K series.  Originally started on the Sega Dreamcast (with the original NFL 2K), the series has since grown into a great simulation in the following years, and 2K5 would become the pinnacle.  In it, players can take on all sorts of league options, online match-ups and gameplay techniques as they rush for the end zone or complete the key pass for winning the game.

Featuring a splendid presentation, solid controls that really let you cover every aspect of the field, and a ton of options (including a virtual Hall of Fame cabinet), ESPN NFL 2K5 also had one major ace in the hole – it was priced at a very reasonable $20, compared to the $50 that Madden was selling for.  We haven’t seen too much of the 2K engine since then, though 2K Sports did do a pretty good job with All Pro Football 2K8 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.  It’s worth checking out if you can find a used copy lying around.

Tecmo Bowl

Long before the Madden franchise was born, football fans had a limited number of options when it came to getting their gridiron fix.  John Elway’s Quarterback wasn’t a bad game at the time, and 10-Yard Fight was okay for a few rounds, but players really needed an authentic sim to pass the time with.  In 1989, Tecmo delivered with Tecmo Bowl, a superb football experience that managed to make the most of its limited control set-up, with plenty of pass and running plays to resemble actually being on the field and scoring.

Along with great cinematics, a decent choice of fictional teams, and two-player match-ups that would put later football games to shame, Tecmo Bowl remains an ideal choice for classic pigskin fans everywhere.  Nowadays, you can snag a copy pretty easily used, or you can download it on the Wii Virtual Console service for a meager 500 points (five bucks).  If you prefer to go a “next level”, you can also check out Tecmo Bowl Throwback on Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, a very good port of the classic game, touched up with better HD visuals and online play.  It’s definitely worth taking a hike with.  Several, in fact.


For our final gridiron pick, we could’ve easily gone with the technically impressive Backbreaker or even the ridiculously over-the-top NFL Street.  Instead, we decided to shift our focus on something completely different – robots.  In 1988, Atari released the arcade game Cyberball, a futuristic football game consisting entirely of automated units, running the field, tackling each other and running into the end zone.  There were several gameplay elements that really made Cyberball stand out, including a football that threatened to explode if it got jarred around too much.

The cool thing about the game was the way that Atari built the cabinets, in dual-shaped molds with two players on each side, so four could complete at once.  (Regular units were also available.)  As a result, it became an instant party favorite.  The game also saw a number of home releases, including a Tournament edition on the Lynx and, most recently, an Xbox Live Arcade port – sadly without arcade play.  (Don’t go looking for it, it’s delisted.)  Here’s hoping that the series makes a return at some point, with its exploding ball intact.  “Hut!”