A Different Type of Football: NFL on Dreamcast

With the Euros just around the corner (for our American readers, that refers to a soccer competition, not piles of European cash...although both definitions have some validity), and with our finger on the pulse of the public as always at the Junkyard, what better time to look at one of the worlds most beloved sporting activities than now?

Actually though, the Dreamcast's 'round ball' football output is particularly laughable. I mean, there are only so many articles you can read which basically state they're all crap, with the familiar "oh why couldn't we be blessed with a PES or FIFA?" thread running through them. Instead, allow me to take you on a tour of the very best examples of a sport played in one country, whose very name makes no sense to those raised passing a ball around a muddy field at school lunchtime. Allow me to present, on the eve of the European Soccer Championships 2016...The Dreamcast Junkyard's ultimate guide to American hand egg, American carry-the-rugby-ball American football!
The England defence was no match for the Italian striker...
Unlike many of my compatriots, I do follow the noble sport of American football (henceforth to be referred to as 'football'), and when I'm not following my beloved New York Yankee Men or the fearsome Denver Buffalo Bill Packer Patriots, there's nothing I like more than to indulge in a bit of rugby-for-cowards in digital form (last joke, honestly). And my word - doesn't the Dreamcast have a solid line up of games representing the sport? A total of 8 titles replicate NFL on Sega's little-machine-that-could and whilst the quality varies, US gamers could at least take solace that none of them was quite as poor as 90 Minutes and it's butchering of our beloved Association Football code...right?

NFL 2K Series - Visual Concepts and Sega

Released in: US and Japan
Published by: Sega
Developed by: Visual Concepts
Year: 1999 (2000 Japan)
When EA threw a wobbly and declared that they didn't want to bring their toys to the Dreamcast party, Sega knew that having a top tier sports game would bring in the punters and keep the casuals happy. While they failed at this in Europe (never forgive, never forget), in the States it was a somewhat different story. NFL 2K was a game which wowed the gaming public prior to release with its outstanding graphics (and they are outstanding - great animated players run, pass and bash into each other with realism), but few thought it would play as well as its competitors. They were wrong. 

Not only did the game look and sound terrific (the commentary is excellent, and doesn't repeat all that much), it played like a dream too. It was fast, smooth and easy to control, whilst offering enough challenge with the different difficulty levels to see even the biggest NFL fans having to put some time in to perfect their game. The controls are excellently implemented, with passing a breeze (and a more in depth system to control the flight of the ball for those who wish to use it) and everything feeling intuitive rather than forced to fit the pad. An excellent replay system is also included, so you can pause and slow down as much as you like, which is especially nice when you're looking around the good looking, officially licensed stadiums. 
Wrapped up in the Sega Sports presentation (the in game presentation is particularly good, with a ticker displaying other teams scores as well as advertising other Sega games - a nice touch, and reminiscent of more current FIFA games) with clear uncluttered menus, the game was highly impressive on launch and still plays a decent game. It's not quite perfect though. The running game is particularly hard to play, if I make 20+ yards running a game it's an exception, whilst the passing game can be just a tad too easy on the lower difficulties. There's also not the largest selection of game modes here, with the lack of a franchise mode in particular a glaring omission. 

However, it must be remembered that this was the first of the 2K NFL games, a game many thought was more tech demo than actual gameplay rich title, and so whilst the lack of modes is disappointing, it's the achievement of raising the bar for all American football games to come that is to be commended here. Boasting a brilliant tutorial mode for those drawn more by the excellent graphics than the sport, NFL 2K is a bar-setting title that still plays well and is only beaten by its successors.

Released in: US and Japan
Published by: Sega
Developed by: Visual Concepts
Released: 2000 (2001 Japan)
The 2nd generation of football games on the DC are a good bunch, improved from the first batch and lead by Sega's second 2K game. Everything gets an update - graphics are improved, with a high res front end (displaying incredibly slick presentation throughout) and great detailed, high polygon players and stadia. The superb sound is back, with the commentary team still up there with the very best commentating in any sports game, and the crowds respond a bit more realistically too. Gameplay is improved in the one area it really needed to, and that's the running side. In 2K it was barely possible to get into double digit running yardage, but now you have more control at your fingers and the blocking players do their job better. The passing game is still slick, and has been refined to make it more realistic. Indeed, this realism is what wowed many gamers Stateside. 
Boasting all the teams and players, the game was one of the first football games to really allow gamers the chance to recreate the sport in such a realistic way. There's a ton of animation for every eventuality, and games proceed the way the sport really does. With the added franchise mode and some extra little bits and bobs, the game improves on every aspect of NFL 2K and deserves recognition as a game which, whilst equalled, has never really been truly ousted as one of the greatest ever recreations of the sport on a home console. For fans of NFL, it is a must; and for those who aren't, the incredible detail and graphical loveliness may be just enough to give this one a go. At the time it was the online multiplayer that really got fans going, and although this is no longer playable, the memory (the first online experience for football fans that was truly mesmerising) lives on and deserves recognition.

Released in: US and Japan
Published by: Sega
Developed by: Visual Concepts
Released: 2001 (2002 Japan)
Visual Concepts had astounded DC owners with their last two releases, and with 2K2 they rounded off their Dreamcast football career with another title that refined what had come before. It's not wildly different than 2K1, but everything has that extra bit of polish to it which makes it a slightly better game rather than a drastic overhaul. On the field, everything is as it was, with the most readable play selections and most realistic gameplay of any DC football title. Players will act as they do in the real sport (or at least, as much as you'd expect back in 2001), and the fluid animation and large amount of moves all captured realistically add to the impression that this really is a recreation of the sport done fantastically well. The front end is up to Sega Sports' usual high standard, although by now it's getting a little uninspired. 
The franchise mode is decent, although not a major improvement over last years, and the creation options are all present and correct once again. Top level commentary returns as usual, although there are a couple of issues with sound dipping in and out. Is the game better than NFL 2K1? Yes, most certainly. It's basically the same, but with the little refinements, the improved graphics, and the general level of extra 'shine' the game has, it's a better game than it's predecessor. The only problem really is with hindsight. Looking back it's easy to put it at the top of the pile, but at its release, the lack of major improvements over its predecessors and the new next gen competitors made it look ever so slightly long in the tooth. A great game then, but falling into the trap slightly of churning out a very similar game to last year's offering.

NCAA College Football 2K2
Released in: US
Published by: Sega
Developed by: Visual Concepts
Released: 2001
I don't get Americans sometimes. You don't see us playing 'University Boat Race 2K15' or getting all excited when the University of East Anglia take on St Andrews University in tiddlywinks...but in the US apparently, college sports are a 'big thing.' Okay, let's get one thing straight from the get go - I really don't know much about college football. It may attract a passionate and loyal fan base Stateside, but for most of us outside of America, it's all a bit of a mystery. 
Now I've got that out of the way, let me just say how good NCAA 2K2 is. And I mean really, really good. Taking the core of NFL 2K, the developers tweaked and tuned it to better suit the college game and in the process have made a game that, whilst receiving some criticism for certain aspects (which I'll address soon) it plays as well as any of the NFL 2K games and delivers for us non-Americans a certain amount of freshness. First of all, the graphics are great. I actually think they look slightly better, slightly grittier, than NFL 2K1, and they are as well animated, fluid and slowdown free as in any of Visual Concepts' other football titles. The stadia (a massive amount, as all 100+ teams have bespoke stadiums) look good and are far more varied than any NFL game. The presentation throughout is also of a high quality, just as in the series' other titles, with all the stats and info you're ever going to need. 
Sound is a mixed bag - the on field chatter and 'fight songs' of some of the teams sound great (including team specific chanting in soccer games would be awesome, but sadly playing along to 'the referee's a wanker' has not yet caught on); but the commentary is poor when compared to the NFL 2K games' superb play by play announcing. Gameplay is superb as always, and for me the game plays better than the NFL titles, with both running and passing games flowing well and the controllable defensive game also enjoyable. NCAA feels slightly more free flowing and more controllable than either NFL 2K1 or 2K2, although whether that's just due to the college game being played at a faster pace, I'm not sure. The game offers great depth too, with those aforementioned 100+ teams, a legacy mode (where you get to recruit high school players at the end of each season), and the usual array of modes on offer – including the creation options. For non-Americans put off by the NCAA content, I say give it a go and experience a fresher feeling game which isn't fully dependent on the known NFL teams. For US gamers, the lack of fight songs for all teams (so I'm lead to believe) and an occasional lack of attention to detail does hamper it somewhat, as no sports fan wants to see his or her favourite team depicted incorrectly. Still, this is a great game which for me equals the might of the 2K series and was a very pleasant surprise.

NFL Blitz Series - Avalanche and Midway

NFL Blitz 2000
Released in: US and PAL
Published by: Midway
Developed by: Avalanche
Released: 1999
Whilst Visual Concepts were wowing football fans stateside with the 2K series, Avalanche were converting Midway's NBA Jam style football game, namely the Blitz series. They are wildly different beasts, and whilst us Europeans never got to see the 2K series on our own blue swirled machines, we did get to see this. A conversion of the Blitz arcade machine, this adds a season mode and some other offerings but keeps the frenzied pace of the original - and it really is frenzied. NFL Blitz 2000 is to the sport of American football as Sensible Soccer is to soccer - dodgy with the rules, but all about the gameplay. The teams are reduced down to a smaller size, first downs are 30 yards not 10, and quarters last just a few minutes. It's complete chaos at times, as the pace of the game is incredibly fast, with just a few seconds to select plays from the fairly limited playbook (although this can be turned off), and then in the blink of an eye you either throw/run the ball on offence or attempt to navigate your defence to prevent too many yards being given away. 
There's fumbles and interceptions thrown around like no tomorrow, and getting sacked is a frequent end to plays. The conversions are automatic (unless you decide to run/throw for extra points), as are the kick offs, and everything is over in ten minutes tops. A full roster of NFL teams is present, although Midway have named stadiums things like 'Blitz Day' rather than the real thing, and there's a variety of pitch types and weather conditions to contend with. Graphically the players look a little blocky, but they are smoothly animated and things run at a fair lick. The game is presented in typically slick midway fashion, and a special mention must go out to the pitches themselves, which look great. 

There's plenty of pretty humorous commentary and player taunts (I especially liked the first time a player threatened to send an opponent back to their mother in a body bag. You don't get that in the simulation games), but it is rather limited as is the music generally. There aren't a massive amount of modes either, with the create a play option and the season mode decent additions to what is basically an arcade conversion at heart. It's the gameplay though that is both winner and loser here. On one hand the frenetic pace and sillyness of it all makes it compelling, and the Dreamcast controls have been mapped well. On the other hand, the frenetic pace can be just a little too fast at times - there's little time for strategy here, but then that's the point I guess. I also found the game to have an uneven difficulty, with occasionaly opposing teams seemingly nigh on unbeatable, even at low difficulty levels...but that's not a major concern. NFL Blitz 2000 set out to be a fast paced exciting arcade take on Football, and it succeeds even if occasionally you wish it wasn't quite as fast paced as it is.

For PAL gamers, note that the game isn't VGA out of the box.

NFL Blitz 2001
Released in: US
Published by: Midway
Developed by: Avalanche
Released: 2000
After a sterling effort with NFL Blitz 2000, beaten only to the 'early Dreamcast NFL best game' title by Sega's own 2K, Midway return with this 2001 edition of their less-serious take on the world of Football. Whilst it would have been relatively easy to simply pop out a new game with an EA sports style roster update, Midway have considerably changed many things from the previous attempt. The presentation has been ramped up, with crisper menu screens, a great intro movie and a generally more polished look. Sound has been made crisper too, and is still as silly as the previous years. Graphically though, it's a big improvement.

Silky smooth animation, decent player models, and the typical over the top celebrations all look great, but are rounded off by a fantastic range of stadiums and pitches (the metal pitch in particular is so silly it's awesome) and superb weather effects. If it's snowing, the pitch will gradually accumulate snow; rain and fog look great too. It isn't quite up to the standards of the 2K games, but it has an arcade charm to it. More importantly perhaps, is the game's refinement of the central gameplay. All the basics are the same, but the pace is slightly reduced this year, making the game far more capable of providing a decent strategic element as well as the fast paced arcade frolics. 

Don't make any mistake that it's vying for the 2K's series simulation crown, it's still very much about making 30 yard first downs and bowling over half the defence every run you make, or sacking the opposing QB continually - it's just been slowed down enough to make it seem a little more controllable. The controller works superbly, everything is responsive and it's a joy to play, even now a decade and more on. There's not a massive amount of depth (a few party games thrown in are nice though), but with full season mode there's plenty to do here. Another great football game.

NFL Quarterback Club Series - Acclaim

NFL Quarterback Club 2000
Released in: US and PAL
Published by: Acclaim
Developed by: Acclaim Studios Austin
Released: 1999 (2000 in PAL)
If there's one thing us Europeans can rely on is that we get only the best of the American sports games to our shores, or at least polished eye candy from the likes of EA. Unfortunately, that rule was broken when Acclaim decided that what we really needed in the absence of the glory that was the NFL 2K series was this...travesty. NFL Quarterback Club 2000 was one of three 2000 NFL games released, and it is by far the worst. Graphically it looks okay in stills, but when it starts running things fall apart. The animation is choppy (and that's in the US version...more on the PAL in a second), players run around like headless chickens devoid of any intelligence, frame rate constantly dips out (including in the play selection screens, which is a remarkable achievement. I mean, if you fuck that up, what hope is there?) and the players, whilst boasting a fair amount of animation, suffer from the problem of several of them at once using the same frames, which looks awkwardly hilarious. 
Presentation isn't too bad, NFL fans will like some of the attention to detail like team doctors running on and the half time show, and things are nice enough in that stat heavy American sports way, but the sound is disappointing, with poor commentators and generally weaker sounds than Sega's own NFL franchise. The game controls like an absolute wreck. The passing game is awful, just awful, with players dropping passes far too frequently. In fact, there are so many mistakes, it's inadvertently hilarious on many occasions. In my very first game, I kicked off, their receiving player failed to catch, ran back to grab the ball and attempted to run forward, but due to the players having to turn in large circles, ran out of bounds! Shocking.
The running game is better (read: not quite so much a disaster), but the choppiness of the graphics hurts it badly - a problem the defensive game has as well. There are a fair few modes here at least, but whether you'll want to sit through any of them for any period of time I'm not sure. If it was the only NFL game then Quarterback Club 2000 may have at least filled a simulation-shaped hole, but next to NFL 2K it looks dated, controls poorly and is lacking in just about every way possible. Oh, and if you live in the PAL regions forget it. No 60hz mode out of the box makes an already poor looking game look like a series of badly animated still screens pieced together in a nightmare inducing, awful slowdown hell-hole of a game. It's dreadful. Stick to NFL 2K.

NFL Quarterback Club 2001
Released in: US
Published by: Acclaim
Developed by: High Voltage
Released: 2000
After the terrible, terrible disaster that was NFL Quarterback Club 2000, Acclaim changed developers for their 2001 revision. Sadly, unlike the two other American Football titles donning the 2001 moniker, Quarterback Club 2001 still languishes in the lower leagues. There have been improvements over last year (although to be fair, they could hardly have made it worse), and the game's presented in a fairly robust way. The crowds sound a bit rubbish and the commentary is nowhere near the levels of NFL 2K1, but they are serviceable. The stadia look decent, and nice little touches such as the team doctors still add some atmosphere to proceedings. 
Graphically, it's an improvement over last years title - but barely. The players and pitches look better in stills, but when moving the game's engine still lags behind. Animation is still choppy and there's frequent slowdown throughout. Playing any running move meets with a mess of players on screen all missing animation frames and seemingly jerking from one position to another. The mistakes that frequented last years title return, although not quite as often, but yet again my very first play saw their receiving players fall over before he received the ball. Maybe I'm just unlucky. 
Gameplay is improved, although it's still unresponsive and confusing. The running game can be played but is often mired in confusion, whilst the passing game seems to be hampered by an unresponsive control system. There is plenty to do as always here, which is nice, and the creation aspects are decent enough, but the multitude of missing player pictures (and names, i.e. the FB's name being, er, 'FB') makes you wonder why more time wasn't put into polishing the project. Yes, it's an improvement on last year, and you can get some semblance of a decent game if you persevere and overlook the shortcomings; but with NFL 2K1 on the market at the time, and retrospectively six better football games on the Dreamcast, why would you want to?


So with all 8 Football titles looked at, where do they stand in the DCJY virtual playoffs?
Languishing at the bottom, the two Acclaim games face humiliation and the scorn of millions. If they were football clubs, a swift change of ownership, moving city, a rebrand and probably napalming all remnants of their sorry past would be the only course of action. Just missing out on the playoffs, NFL 2K and NFL Blitz 2000 are the elder statesmen of the game; brilliant for a time, their light has now faded and retirement is inevitable. That said, their memories of greatness will live on in the annals of NFL history.
Making the playoffs but knocked out in the first series, NFL 2K1 and NFL Blitz 2001 build on the legacy of what came before them, and add some fancy skills to the fray. Solid gameplay and chiselled looks builds them a solid fanbase, and ultimately it's only some exceptional competitors that keep them off the top.

In the Dreambowl though, it's NFL 2K2 that holds off the upstart NCAA College Football 2K2. Both could hold their own against the subsequent generation of console games, and are as enjoyable now as they always were when contemporary. It is NFL 2K2's gradually refined content that just allows it to hold its head high.

8th: NFL Quarterback Club 2000
7th: NFL Quarterback Club 2001
6th: NFL Blitz 2000
5th: NFL 2K
4th: NFL Blitz 2001

3rd: NFL 2K1
2nd: NCAA College Football 2K2
1st: NFL 2K2

The winner of Dreambowl is: NFL 2K2!
Agree? Disagree? Join the discussion in our Facebook group or let us know in the comments!


Stephen Robinson said...

Great article as always! Loved it! As an american I still don't understand why the sport where foot rarely contacts ball do we call this "football" I still love to play a game of it with a friend. I loved how the plays showed up on the VMU so the guy next to you didn't know you were going for the blitz!

nocarpayment said...

The order is about right..but im mostly going from memory..

daniel thomas said...

A short clarification on NFL 2K2. The game has a major bug that completely destroys the game, although I'm not sure our UK friends would have noticed. In American Football, an offensive receiver will be closely followed by a defensive back. The receiver runs his route, and the defensive player tries to either stop a completion, steal the football, or tackle the opposing player.

Each wide receiver has at least one defensive back covering him. In NFL 2K2, there is a bug where one of those backs will suddenly abandon his man, and run off to cover another receiver. This means the first receiver is suddenly wide open...you can see the problem with this. Imagine a soccer match where the goalie suddenly runs away from the net for no reason. That's how bad this bug is.

I assume that Visual Concepts was too pressed for time to discover this bug, as they were also porting NFL 2K2 to Xbox, Playstation 2 and GameCube. Needless to say, it completely wrecks the DC version. Sigh.

It's really too bad, because NFL 2K2 features improved polygon models for the football players, with greater detail and animations. The running game is also more challenging and refined. The play-by-play is already losing its irreverent sense of humor, which is too bad, because that was one of my favorite things about NFL 2K/2K1.

I don't recall if NCAA Football 2K2 includes this "runaway" bug, but its program code is based on NFL 2K2. Somebody ought to play a quick game and find out. I'd do that myself, but I'm busy writing on my book projects tonight...and procrastinating on this blog. Ack!

NFL 2K1 is the best of the three football titles on Dreamcast. It was a massive improvement over the original installment in every way and was easily the best (US) football videogame in the year 2000. I still prefer it as my all-time favorite, although most fans consider 2K5 the masterpiece. Heck, it's not like EA has made any real changes to Madden over the last 15 years. Be honest.

If we ever bring back the Dreamcast, Visual Concepts would be the first development team I'd call. Their football and basketball games are fantastic.