Yankee sport, it's brill ain't it? All those burgers, hot dogs, barbecues in the car park, massively overweight gridiron geezers and cheeky cheerleaders. No wonder Phil "The Industrial Freezer" King volunteered to go Stateside and check out a Superbowl full of glitzy sport sims...
4th And Inches (Accolade)
The title refers to the most dramatic of do-or-die situations, and this excellent sim certainly isn't lacking in excitement. The game is viewed from an elevated sideline position. Player sprites are small but nippy, with the screen flicking to follow the fast action.
Plays are selected by pushing a joystick direction or fire on a series of menus: formation, play and runner/receiver. You then get to control your quarterback (pressing fire to do an automatically aimed pass), followed by the ball-carrier. This is where one of the game's strong points comes into play: your team-mates are excellent at blocking opposing tacklers - use them well, and you can go on lengthy runs Barry Sanders would be proud of.
Tactical depth includes the option to fake field goals and punts, do onside and sideline kicks, use of timeouts to stop the clock and player substitutions. Sadly, there's no league option, just two teams, but the computer is tricky to beat - and you can have even more fun against a friend. 87%
Cyberball (Domark/Hit Squad)
In the future, gridiron could be even rougher - too rough, in fact, for humans to play. In Cyberball the players are huge robots, which is just as well 'coz the ball is a time bomb! Instead of having several downs to make the yardage, you have until the ball explodes, injuring its carrier - a useful tactic is to deliberately chuck it to the opposition when it's about to blow. Also unlike the present-day sport, there's no kicking game at all - you even get to do a World League-style goal-line play for the point-after-touchdown.
Three types of offensive plays are available: Pass, Run and Option - each bringing up a sub-menu of moves randomly selected from the program's huge repertoire. In practice these are relatively easy to execute: running's simple enough, while passing requires switching between three static targets and timing the throw. Even though there's only six players per side, it all works well enough.
With just four teams and no league, the solo game lacks long-term interest, but the two-player mode is always worth a throw. Originally only on cartridge, Cyberball is now out on budget cassette. 80%
TV Sports Football (Cinemaware)
This terrific (sadly disk-only) conversion of the legendary Amiga game features typical attention to detail and slick presentation from American sport-sim masters Cinemaware.
There's a full 28-team league, played in exactly the same fashion as the NFL, with six divisions and end-of-season play-offs culminating in the Cinemaware Bowl. At the start of the season you can even alter each team's player ratings and names, and whether it's computer-controlled - if you've got enough mates you could even have 28 human players competing!
There's also a one/two player exhibition match and a handy practice option. The latter is very useful for beginners, enabling them to get used to the many offensive formations and plays, and an innovative control system. Running plays are easy: just press Fire to hand the ball to a running back, who you then control, trying to beat defenders on the overhead-view, vertically scrolling pitch.
Passing is slightly more complicated: first you pull back on the joystick to get control of your quarterback, then move left/right to aim the pass, holding down fire for the distance. It takes a bit of practice as you have to anticipate your receivers' movements (shown by play diagrams) and throw ahead of them. Once you get to grips with it, though, it's a very effective system.
Although on the sluggish side, the action is tactically accurate and you really need your coach's hat on to beat tough computer defences. With the clear overhead view, impressive 3D field-goal sequence and neat TV-style presentation, it all adds up to the greatest gridiron game around. 91%
Superbowl Sunday (Nexus)
My idea of a super Sunday is having a lie-in till lunchtime, scoffing a whole roast lamb, then having an afternoon nap till teatime! But come the real Superbowl Sunday, I need sustenance on tap to stay up till the small hours watching the spectacular culmination of the NFL season.
Superbowl Sunday's showing its age a bit now, but it's still worthwhile if you enjoy the tactical side of gridiron. This is a pure strategy game (based on an Avalon Hill boardgame) with the action played out automatically after play selection. The latter extends to choosing a formation and runner/receiver on offence; 12 special set-ups on defence (including dime back, blitzing of linebackers and man-to-man coverage on various offensive players).
With the crude graphics and lack of arcade action, this tactical depth saves Super Sunday from being a duffer. Interest is boosted by the ability to play authentic Superbowl finalists (a total of 40 teams) against each other. 77%
Grave Yardage (Activision)
Featuring a 'flying eye' ball and ghoulish players, this isn't your average sport sim. In fact it isn't very sporting at all: you can even change the rules and customise the pitch, burying mines to surprise the opposition!
As well as selecting from a wide range of plays, there's player substitutions and control of the arcade action. The latter is well implemented with some amusing graphics, though not as slick as the superb presentation screens with their brilliant animated sequences.
The literally monstrous variation on the gridiron theme adds a lot of extra fun to a well-designed, playable game. 75%
GFL Championship Football (Activision)
If you've been watching this year's World League, you'll have noticed how crap the London Monarchs played. You'll also have seen a brilliant piece of technology known as the helmet-cam: this tiny camera fits inside a player's helmet to show an incredible view of bone-crunching tackles.
GFL features a similar player's-eye view and even some garbled (realistic?!) quarterback speech. Sadly, your part in the 3D arcade sequences is limited to moving your joystick to follow a sequence of arrows. Consequently you never really feel in control.
On the plus side, there are plenty of plays to try out and 28 teams to choose from. Best fun with two players. 68%
Remember the 1986 Superbowl, where the Chicago Bears (including The Fridge) trampled all over the New England Patriots? Well, this is the official simulation of that event, and ironically the computer opponent proves about as tough as the Patriots!
Mind you, the graphics ain't up to much either: a crude overhead view with the players represented by dots! However, some glitz is added by brilliant 'scoreboard' replay sequences.
The strategy is sound if a tad shallow and, while the solo game is a complete washout, two-player matches prove an enjoyable tussle. 63%
Touchdown Football (Ariolasoft)
This looks awful with monochromatic, splodgy sprites and jerky scrolling. It doesn't play any better either. With only six players per team, the strategy is limited.
You can choose a formation and receiver patterns, but the arcade action is very crude. It's hard to advance the ball up the pitch so there isn't much scoring - my first few matches resulted in nil-nil draws!
Lacking authenticity and excitement, this woeful sim gets sacked on the first play. 40%
On-Field Football (Activision/Firebird)
This hopelessly outdated sim has only four players per team and a totally inept computer opponent. Plays are chosen from an unwieldy menu system, then you control one player during the resulting action.
No strategy is needed as the computer team reacts identically each time, so you can keep repeating the same play. Graphics are just as bad: fat, blocky sprites even worse than those in Touchdown Football. 29%
Mind Games American Football (Mind Games/Argus Press)
The first ever gridiron game looks dead antiquated now. It's a pure strategy game with plays selected (from a handful of choices) by offence and defence, and the result shown on a simple overhead view.
Compared to the likes of Super Sunday it's more primitive than Corky Caswell! 20%
Addictive Games' attempt at doing for gridiron what they did for soccer (Football Manager) just doesn't work. It looks very much like an adapted soccer management game. You even have to select players for your offensive/defensive teams for the whole match - no unlimited substitution here! Bot that the players have any individual role - the outcome simply depends on the totals of the team's run, line and pass abilities.
And what elaborate plays do you get to select during a match? Yep, just run, pass, line plunge or kick. No tactical sophistication here, folks. And how's this for realism: you only get two downs instead of four! There aren't even any game quarters; just a time bar!
To top it all, an appallingly minimalistic match 'view' illustrates the play with unanimated matchstick figures, only two of which ever move. Utterly, utterly pathetic. 12%
RBI Baseball 2 (Domark)
Not only is this a very realistic, simulation with all the correct rules, loads of player statistics and 28 authentic teams, it's the most playable baseball game around.
Unlike some other sims, it's not almost impossible to hit the ball. The pitcher-batter confrontation is just about perfect, viewed from behind the large, well-drawn batter. Even with 90mph fastballs, you have enough time to move your batter around the plate, deciding when (and whether) to swing. Time it perfectly and you can hit it out of the ground (to see fireworks and the length of hit).
With an average hit, though, the action switches to an elevated view of the field. Here, the pitching player gets control of the nearest fielder to dive or jump for a catch, or throw the ball to a base. The batter has full control of his runners, advancing any of them to the next base. Don't be too eager though - realism extends to the 'tagging' rule; if the ball is caught, runners must return to their original base.
As with most American sports, baseball involves a fair bit of tactical substitution, and RBI 2 isn't lacking here. Pitchers can be substituted when they tire out (they take a couple of matches to recover); as can any of the batting side (for a big hitter or fast runner).
The icing on the cake is a fabarooni league option (on disk version only) - an entire season can be played, culminating in the World Series. A special code given after each match means there's no need to save your position to disk.
More realistic than World Series, more playable than Hardball, this is the baseball sim that hits a home-run every time. 93%
Hardball (US Gold)
This was one of the earliest C64 baseball sims (over six years ago!) but still ranks among the very best. The huge pitcher and batter sprites are animated to perfection. The scene looks stunningly realistic, and plays that way too.
The pitcher selects the type of pitch (fastball, curve, screwball, etc) and aims it. In a split second the batter must decide whether to swing, and if so, where to aim his bat. In fact, this might be just a tad too realistic as it's very difficult to hit the ball cleanly. The result is a realistically low-scoring game. When the ball is hit, the screen switches to an elevated view of the left-right side of the ballpark.
As in RBI the players all have individual stats, and can be substituted and the batting order shuffled. Although there's not as much hectic base running as in RBI, matches are very realistic and two-player games incredibly tense. 88%
Street Sports Baseball (Epyx/US Gold)
This Epyx game has a lot of novelty value with streetwise kids playing ball in a parking lot or on waste ground. The individual players all look distinctive in their hip street gear, and their abilities vary a lot more than in most baseball sims.
Some of these guys are hopeless, sometimes dropping easy catches and throwing the ball very slowly. It can get a bit frustrating at times, but for light-hearted fun (especially two-player games) it certainly hits the spot. 76%
World Series Baseball (Imagine)
Imagine's early attempt isn't the most accurate of baseball sims, but makes up for this with good playability. There's no detailed player stats (not even names), and the general lack of realism is typified by a strange pitching system. The ball is seen zooming along a horizontally scrolling window and its movements can be dramatically affected at any time by the pitcher!
Despite this, games tend to be free-scoring with lots of hectic base running and fielding. There's plenty of good ol' razzmatazz too with colourful graphics and jolly tunes. 73%
Tony La Russa's Ultimate Baseball (SSI/US Gold)
Just as you'd expect from strategy masters SSI, this is packed fatter than my lunch box with statistics and tactical options [Don't exaggerate! - Ed]. In fact, you can choose to play a purely managerial game, leaving the computer to control your players. As well as selecting the starting line-up and batting order, pinch hitters and runners can be substituted at any time, plus pitchers who must first warm up in the bullpen (you can even see them doing this on the fielding screen!). Comprehensive fielding options enable the alteration of infield and outfield positions to cover certain tactical situations.
Of course, the pitcher has several types of pitch to select from, and the batter also a choice of normal, power, contact and bunt shots. The aim of the pitch is determined by how long a joystick direction is held, while swinging the bat is accomplished by pressing Fire.
As with Hardball, hitting the ball takes a lot of practice, so matches tend to be tense, low-scoring affairs. When a good shot is hit, the ball crawls along the fielding screen at a leisurely pace, chased by equally sluggish fielders.
True baseball fans will appreciate the tactical realism, but playability is definitely lacking. 70%
On-Field Baseball (Activision)
Without doubt the weakest of the bunch, this features a strange side view of the ballpark with crude monochrome players. It looks bad, and it doesn't play particularly well either. The novel pitching sequence features a split-screen view; overhead on the left, 3D behind-batter on the right. Timing the swing is easier watching the former, but you have to keep an eye on the latter to see if the pitch is unhittable. It's enough to make you go cross-eyed! The fielding isn't any better with the small, single-screen field, and control often switching to a fielder you don't want.
Even player drafting and a four-division league can't make this game a big hitter. 51%
Two-On-Two Basketball (Activision)
This disk-only sim looks very primitive with tiny players and two flick-screen end-court views. The emphasis is on strategic plays, chosen via joystick direction before the action. But with only two players per side, there isn't much scope for clever moves - and your stupid computer-controlled team-mate often passes the ball to you when you're closely marked. It's slightly better with a human team-mate.
With no mid-court play and exciting counter-attacks, it's just like a few friends practising in the gym. You'd have more excitement dunking a biscuit. 43%
Jordan Vs. Bird (Electronic Arts)
Michael Jordan and Larry Bird may be the megastars of the NBA, but their computer game wouldn't even make junior league.
There's no proper basketball match, it's just three dull sub-games; one-on-one, 3-point shooting and a slam-dunk contest. The latter's the most interesting of a rotten bunch with the choice of several fancy dunks, including the famous Air Jordan. Not that they take much doing; just careful timing of the Fire button.
With minimal gameplay and wobbly graphics, it makes a complete mockery of the two heroes - blimey, Jordan's hair's even turned white! 28%
International Basketball (Commodore)
The original Commodore classic is still the best in the basket (apart from soggy chips, of course!). The emphasis is on furious end-to-end action on the horizontally scrolling court.
Player control is easy with automatic ball-bouncing when dribbling. Holding down Fire determines the length of throw when passing to team-mates. Stealing the ball is accomplished by running up to the ball-carrier, then stepping left or right - but go charging in too fast and a foul is called.
Going for the basket is a bit tricky at first: when you jump up you can spin in the air to aim, but you have to get the length of throw just right to score. Shots can be blocked, and even caught in mid air, by a jumping defender.
Unsurprisingly, two-player games are fast and fun, but there's also a nifty computer opponent - very tough to beat on the highest of nine skill levels. 87%
Superstar Ice Hockey (Databyte)
The speed and uniqueness of ice hockey make it a difficult sport to simulate, but disk-only Superstar is a fine effort.
At first sight it doesn't look impressive with its small, blocky players and dull rink. It plays okay though, with you controlling a single skater all the time. Your computer team-mates are pretty intelligent, passing the puck around smoothly. The ability to hack and check opponents adds interest - though you can end up in the sin bin!
Where this sim really scores is the managerial aspect. As in the real sport, there's a lot of substitutions to make, offensive/defensive tactics and player recruitment/trading. A realistic league with play-offs provides a good long-term challenge. 74%
California Games (Epyx/US Gold/Kixx)
What's this doing in a US sports feature? Well, we know some smart Alecs would only have complained if we didn't cover it, and it is the best of the classic Epyx multi-eventers.
The six events are all very distinctive, requiring vastly different skills. Probably the most famous is the Surfing, with your dude 'hanging ten' in front of an awesome wave. You can enter the tube, curl round for 360 degree turns, and even leap above the water to do amazing aerial spins. It sure is great fun.
Just as radical is the Half Pipe, with your skateboarder performing handplants and aerials - when you master the accurate timing required.
Equally skilful, but more sedate, is Footbag. Kick, knee and head the little sack to earn points in a sophisticated scoring system, with bonuses awarded for complicated combinations.
Both Roller Skating and BMX involve negotiating obstacle-strewn horizontally scrolling courses, performing stunts in mid air. Possibly the weakest of the events is the Flying Disk, but even that's good fun trying to catch the Frisbee in different ways (jumping, diving, etc).
Presentation is superb with loads of options, world records and superb multi-player mode. All the events feature excellent cartoonesque graphics and gorgeous backdrops. But most importantly they're all really well implemented, requiring a combination of skill, tactics and daring. Triumphant! 95%
Powerplay Hockey (Electronic Arts)
Ice hockey is one of the few sports that the old superpowers, USA and USSR, were both good at. Powerplay simulates the titanic struggles between the two ideologically opposed sides.
Once again, you only control a single skater with computer team-mates. However, awkward passing and shooting controls are hard to get used to, and your team-mates aren't much help.
Management is limited to switching between three teams of players. And of course, with only two sides, there's no league option. Not so cool. 50%