"Well, it's football on the TG-16... and that's about it."
When I was buying the TurboGrafx way back in the day, one of the things I didn't want to get into was having to buy the yearly updates for the Madden, NHL and FIFA series. I thought it was a great thing that NEC had struck a deal with CinemaWare for the TV Sports series. I could just buy the one game for each sport and enjoy that ad nauseum without needing to get suckered for shelling out more money for an update on an annual basis, and I was already familiar with TV Sports Football, having played it on the Commodore 64 and Amiga. Great news, eh?
I hate reviews that compare the same game on different platforms. Why do I need to know what the Xbox360 version looks like in a PS3 review? I don't own an Xbox360, so where's the relevance? However, having played TV Sports Football on older platforms, and seeing what could have been, and what I was expecting, I feel that some comparison is necessary. It's also required, due to how CinemaWare was marketing it's games at the time. The whole concept for the line was that you were supposed to feel like the games were being telecast, like the game you were playing was on TV, not just playing on a console. On the other platforms, there was a fantastic opening sequence that would show the field, an introductory graphic, a funny, fictional sponsor, and then move into the studio so that Turk McGill could set up the action for you. It was a fantastic presentation for the time, and even though the football game that followed wasn't the best out there, it sucked you in and made you want to play more. It should have been a great showcase for what the TurboGrafx-16 could do, with it's 16-bit graphics chip and 512 colours.
Sadly, almost all of that excitement is missing and so is the showcase opportunity. Turk McGill is still there in the studio, but he feels more like a gatekeeper to the action than a studio host. Outside of an occasional "Hi Mom" shot when someone scores, the rest of the bells and whistles are lost, and there's precious little besides a mediocre football game.
It's a full football game, 11-on-11 action on a 100-yard field. All teams share the same playbook, with three offensive formations, plus special teams plays, and three defensive formations plus special teams. Each offensive formation has four plays that are selected using the D-Pad. Pressing I while selecting with the D-Pad flips the play, effectively doubling your options. On defense, each formation has four schemes: defending the run either between the tackles or outside the tackles, pass defense (effectively a Zone), and blitzing.
The passing interface was novel for it's time: you'd hold the I button to throw, and a little X would shoot out along the same trajectory as the ball. When you release the I button the X would stop, and that would be the target zone for where the ball would land. Aiming and timing your throws took patience and practice, and when you got good at it, and were able to lead a tighhtly covered receiver into catching a perfectly timed pass, it was quite satisfying. Punting uses the same interface, but kicking field goals and extra points switches to a behind-the-kicker-and-holder perspective, a beautiful graphic that shows the snap, hold and kick. It's effectively a Quick Time Event: you have to aim where to strike the ball on a small graphic in the bottom right corner, so that the ball will travel to wherever the goalposts are located on-screen. This view was featured most of the early promotional material for the Turbografx-16, and rightly so.
The game does not have a pro license, so all the teams and players are fictional, although the developers did put themselves in the game as players. Each player has skill rankings in four areas that mean different things for their positions: strength, for instance, means how far a QB can thrown the ball, how well a LB can tackle, or how well a RB can break tackles. The static rosters mean that there's no franchise mode, just basically new season after new season. Those seasons are ten games long, and the top two teams in each four team division make it to the playoffs. Those two teams will square off to see who wins the division, and will take on the winner of the other divisional playoff for the championship. Some of the materials for the game say that the game will keep track of statistics, but the only stats kept are wins and losses.
The graphics were okay for it's time, but certainly not anything special. The home team is outfitted in blue, and the away team wears red, and the player models, while a little small, are drawn well. The player motion is not bad either, but not super realistic, and the biggest gripe is that when a player dives, it's just short of 'leap tall buildings in a single bound'. Graphically functional, but nothing more.
The sound was okay as well. The game features limited digitized speech, which was very cool, and the in-game sound effects were good as well, if a little over-dramatic, but that theme song that plays incessantly from the time the system is turned on until the opening kickoff, and then again after the final gun, will drive you up the wall.
The game play is where the game falls down, and this has more to do with the series than any limitations of the Turbografx-16. The field is 100-yards long, but only about 30-yards wide with how they shoehorned it on the screen. Each team does use 11 players, but on offense you only have three eligible receivers: The Tight Ends are part of the offensive line graphic, and are not usable in the game. That leaves you, usually, one WR and two RBs. With the narrow field that doesn't leave a lot of room to maneuver, and to make matters worse, the defense can impede offensive players at will: there are no pass interference penalties in TV Sports Football. Running the football is a total crapshoot. If your offensive line doesn't open a hole, that only leaves you a tiny corridor between the useless Tight End and the sideline, where there's usually a defender waiting. What all this means is that the player can effectively stifle the computer at will on defense. Just pick the 3-4 defense. The corners and safeties line up 15 yards back from the line of scrimmage to snuff out any deep balls, and four linebackers patrol about 5 yards back from the line. Any receivers that come downfield can be blocked from running their routes without penalty, and the running backs can be thwarted as soon as they try to turn the corner. Playing offense is still somewhat challenging, but when you can stop the other team on defense with the above strategy, that really gives you an unlimited opportunity to get the ball back on offense and do whatever you have to do to take or extend the lead. That gives the replayability factor of the game a huge hit.
Knowing what the series was about, this was never going to be a great football game, but the loss of all the details that made TV Sports Football speacial on other platforms, either due to the TG-16s limitations or developer apathy, really take away any reason to make this a must-have game. The only reason to get this game is if you 1) are trying to collect every game for the TG-16, or 2) only have a TG-16 or TurboExpress, and therefore can't get the much-better John Madden CD Football. I personally like this game enough to give it a 5 out of 10, mainly for nostalgia purposes, but as a reviewer, I can't give it any more than a 4.
Community review by Brockleigh (December 21, 2015)
When not gaming-on with his retro consoles, Brockleigh can usually be found playing (Gridiron) football, watching football, playing football games, reading about football, administering to his fantasy football team, and cooking.
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