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Like peanut butter and jelly, video games and the sport of football have long been two great tastes that taste great together. It didn’t take long for the two to become joined at the hip, either, with Football for the Atari 2600 seeing release in 1978, roughly one year after the console’s release. Since that time, numerous other football games have graced store shelves, from 1982’s Realsports Football (also for the Atari 2600) to the latest edition of the Madden juggernaut. Here’s a look at some of the best football games of all time.
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Tecmo Bowl series
While other football titles such as 10-Yard Fight saw release before it, 1989’s Tecmo Bowl for the Nintendo Entertainment System is generally recognized as the first truly great gridiron game of the modern era. It only had four plays per team, and usually resulted in high-scoring affairs as defense was more or less an afterthought, but it was nonetheless a giant leap forward from earlier offerings. While it did have a single-player mode, complete with post-game passwords, it was in multiplayer action that this one truly shined. An NES sequel improved on the formula, adding more plays, different modes and stat-tracking. The series lived on for a while and even spawned versions for the Sega Genesis, Super NES and Sony PlayStation, before vanish off the face of the earth for a time. Happily, Tecmo Bowl has returned, with the NES original now available on the Wii Virtual Console for 500 points and a DS version entitled Tecmo Bowl Kickoff due before the end of 2008.
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Joe Montana Football series
When Sega released the Genesis system in the U.S. in 1989, they knew that their system would have to find some way to tap into the vast football gaming market. As luck would have it, they would wind up with not one but two high-quality football series, John Madden Football (see below) and Joe Montana Football. The first edition of Joe Montana Football was a decent game, but in truth, wasn’t anything to write home about. When it was time to make a sequel, however, developer Bluesky Innovations decided to up the ante. The result was the first console football game to use true play-by-play announcing. In hindsight, the broadcasting was quite poor and robotic in nature, but at the time it was truly groundbreaking. Joe Montana II: Sports Talk Football wasn’t just a one-trick pony, however. The announcing gimmick was supported with solid gameplay, spawning another sequel (Sportstalk Football ’93 Starring Joe Montana) and eventually morphing into the NFL series.
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NFL 2k & NFL 2k1 (Sega Dreamcast)
Sega’s Joe Montana Football series would eventually fade away, but the publisher was far from done with the genre. In 1999, the Virtual Concepts-developed NFL 2k was released on the Sega Dreamcast. The game was an instant hit, winning praise for its graphics, its presentation, its vast array of different play modes, and its tight control. The 2000 sequel tweaked all of that, as well as the audio commentary, while adding the long-awaited feature on online play. While the game did not receive universal acclaim, it did have quite a following, to the point where some fans still point to NFL 2k1 as the gold standard of console football games.
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John Madden Football series
Was there ever any doubt? From its humble beginnings as a six-on-six PC game in the late 1980s, John Madden Football (or Madden NFL, as it is currently known) has grown, evolved and more or less revolutionized the way fans look at football video games. It would be the first game series to use actual sportscasters to record play-by-play commentary. It added the franchise mode, allowing players to run a team across multiple seasons. It improved upon NFL 2k1’s online modes, even allowing for the formation of online leagues via Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. It tweaked traditional control schemes, offering such innovations as the Truck Stick, QB Vision, and, on the Wii, actual motion controls like stiff-arm and pass-catching actions. It spawned other game series, including NCAA Football and NFL Head Coach, and was deemed good enough to receive both an exclusive license with the NFL and induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It has become more than “just” a game, spawning official tournaments such as the Madden Challenge and the Madden Bowl, release-day parties, and even a “curse” jinx involving the cover athlete that would make Sports Illustrated green with envy. There is no doubt that, when it comes to football video games, Madden is king.