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SUPER PLAY ACTION FOOTBALL: A CHRISTMAS RETROSPECTIVE

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TO THIS VERY DAY, I CAN STILL HEAR THE MENU MUSIC PLAY IN MY HEAD. AND IT BANGS PRETTY HARD TBH.

Like many people my age, video games were instrumental in growing my love of football. You didn't have to wait for Saturdays or Sundays to get your fill, and you could also just keep running that one play over and over again because the computer couldn't stop it. It was the early 1990s, and we delighted in the simple things like trying to get triple digit points.

The first football video game I ever got was Super Play Action Football for Super Nintendo. It was Christmas, 1992. I was seven, and my older brother and I got the Super Nintendo and a couple games as a joint present. I'll never forget too, I got my hopes up for it so bad and thought we didn't get it, and then our dad brought it out after I had resigned myself to playing with like, an actual basketball instead. Needless to say, I freaked the entire hell out like the Nintendo 64 kid.

This was before the Madden franchise really took root as the football video game of record, so this game was Nintendo's own shot at putting together a football game. And, my God, was it terrible. You could play as NFL, college, and high school teams, which is to say you could play as NFL, college, and completely made up teams. While they did go to the length of at least securing the NFL licensing agreement, they did no such thing for college teams. This led to the greatest naming chicanery I've ever witnessed in my life.

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Fluke. Two Lanes. Spice. Runoverya, which I'm fairly certain is supposed to be Columbia, but I'll never be 100% sure. This is incredible.

The longer you look at the team select screens, the more incredible stuff you find. Even ignoring the ridiculous substitute names for private colleges not named after states, there's absurdity on every line. There's the silly "St of" naming convention. We have some throwback conference groupings in here too, such as what appears to be the SWC and a gaggle of independents like Miami, Penn State, Pitt, and Florida State that joined conferences like, a month after the game was made. Then there's the strange inclusion of Division I-AA teams, but only some of them. Like, we got half the Ivy League, Big Sky, and a dotting of other teams like North Dakota State, a team whose inclusions was far ahead of its time. Unless they're talking about some other "State of ND".

Once you had selected your teams, it was time to get to the actual gameplay, which was... well, it was real bad. For whatever reason, the game designers thought it necessary to make this game a diagonal scroller.

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WHY ARE THE LINEBACKERS LINING UP WITH THEIR HANDS ON THE GROUND?

There's nothing inherently wrong with setting up a football field like this, though I always found it intensely disorienting that by pressing up on the directional pad, the players would actually diagonally up and to the right. But worse than the spacial oreintation of the game was the actual gameplay. It was just brutal.

There were approximately four fast players in the entire game. One was the kick returner for BYU, errrhm, "Salt Lk, UT", which, figure that out. But nearly every player in the game was just so slow. If you were able to return a kickoff for a touchdown, it would genuinely take about a minute to go from end zone to end zone. The camera was zoomed too far in to see every player on the field, too, so it was pretty easy to have about 20 of the 22 players on the field off screen at any given time. All you had to do was throw a screen pass or have your tight end stay on his block on a toss sweep.

The one wildly unrealistic part of this game that turned out to be a positive was the stiff arm action. It wasn't so much a stiff arm as a savage punch. Rather than holding the defensive player at bay for a few yards before being tackled, a properly-timed stiff arm in this game would just level the defender. It was so brutally effective and unfair that it was the only juke move you needed.

This was a game that was designed by people that had never watched football before, let alone played it. I don't consider having played football to be a requirement for being knowledgable about it, but even just the slightest level of experience with the sport would've fixed like, 75% of the problems with this game. They didn't have to fix the stiff arm though, because that helped make up for the fact that players basically moved at an army crawl when they had the ball.

And yet, for all the reasons this game was objectively bad, I loved it. I mean, yes, I dropped it like a bad habit as soon as Madden '94 came out, and maybe my childhood nostalgia is getting the better of me (it is), but there was something simple and pleasurable about this game. It felt like a real and honest attempt to make something good by people that had no idea what they were doing, and as someone who frequently has no idea what he's doing, I identify with that on a deep, basic level. Plus, the theme music let the beat bang.

Yes, the game was bad. And like most sports things in my life, that hasn't stopped me from trying to enjoy it.