John Madden Football


For a brief spell, probably around the time the Super Bowl came to the BBC, I was following American Football. It was fascinating in its own way, though far more fascinating to play in Madden NFL 11 than it ever was to watch.

It's a long series, Madden, and the line goes all the way back to John Madden Football, cramming as much of the sport into a cartridge as was possible. Did enough get crammed in there to make it a game worth playing, though?


There is indeed a lot crammed into the cartridge, from teams to tactics, set-ups to simple controls. Well... simple in some sense of the word.

There are plenty of options for playing how you want, and it's picking your favourite strategies that make Madden games great. Forget all that tactical rubbish of picking the right play for the right situation, just hail mary it into the end zone.

Anyway, with three buttons and pictures to follow, you can't go too wrong in picking a play. It's the executing of that play that just had me noping all the way to the Quit option.

It looks pretty good, don't get me wrong, but I had absolutely no clue what I was doing to trigger runs or initiate throws or - and this is really important in football - to catch the goddamn ball.

I don't mean that as in I didn't know how football worked. I've got the gist of that. I don't mean that as in I didn't know the controls either because you can work them out during plays - at the cost of losing ground to your opponents, usually.

In truth, I don't actually know how I mean that I had no clue what I was doing, I just know that it felt wrong. Even wrong is the wrong word. It wasn't fun. It just wasn't fun to play a fun game of football.

And then New England just froze and did nothing. Absolutely nothing. The clock ran out and they continued to do sweet fuck all. I could call for a time out, so the game hadn't frozen, but after four plays, having the opposite team just do nothing was the final nail in the coffin. I was out of there. I still don't know why that happened, or what was going on.

Further Frustrations

I hoped I would have more luck with the SNES port, but it's the same story. The layout is simple and easy enough to follow, but you immediately get into the play itself and my game falls apart. Who am I controlling? That highlighted guy, obviously, but who is he? Did I give it to a runner? I'm running. I didn't want to run. Pretty sure I selected to throw it somewhere.

Next time around, I did throw it. A nice little heads up display of my targets showed who was getting marked and who was in acres of space, so, naturally, I threw it to the open man. Which meant the ball sailed miles over his head. Like, not even close, it was abysmal. Again, I quit in frustration.

Final Word

I want to stress the point here that I actually find the modern Madden games to be pretty good. I'm not the best at them by any stretch of the imagination, nor have I played any recently, but I know for a fact that I had fun playing them and played them far, far longer than I played John Madden Football.

Two horrible experiences in the first five minutes of a game is going to absolutely cripple it in the eyes of the player. I'm exaggerating my anger and frustration, but I hope the point comes across that if something bad happens before something good does, you're going to have a bit of a struggle on your hands.

As it turns out, the most fun I had with John Madden Football was hearing P2 say "Is that Donald Trump?" when seeing the title screen. Yet I know that this game had to at least be good enough for a single sequel, otherwise, it would never have become the juggernaut of sporting games that it is today.

There's something to this game, there has to be. Accessible controls on top of easy to pick up but difficult to master gameplay is common enough for it to probably be the case here too, but I just can't imagine myself in the mood to try it again to know for sure.

If you want to see how far back the series goes, and how well it was presented, more so on the Mega Drive than the SNES, then, by all means, track it down and have a kick about. Personally, I'm going to need to put on a few game faces before I enter into this huddle again.

Fun Facts

The now standard behind-the-Quaterback view for American football games originated with this one. And it works, so well done on your programming, Mr. Madden.

John Madden Football, developed by Park Place Productions, first released in 1990.
Versions played: Sega Mega Drive, 1990, via emulation.
SNES, 1991, via emulation.