January 13, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 56  

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SPORTS

Once upon a time... NFL Football ’94

By David Lee
Gazette Staff

“He... could... go... all... the... way.”

Such was one of the many indelible vocal impressions left by NFL Football ’94 for the Sega Genesis. NF94 was one of the first games to use Sega’s revolutionary SportsTalk system, an idea that seemed solid but whose execution left something to be desired. The computerized voice sounded like a Stephen Hawking/Forrest Gump hybrid and often lagged behind the play, especially when a player broke free for the end zone. There were many instances when you’d have already scored and the voice would be saying “He’s at the 20... the 10... .”

Nevertheless, NF94 was better than its SNES contemporaries and was part of Sega Sports’ entry into the sports video game market; NF94 was designed to compete with Electronic Arts’ Madden series. Before eventually losing ground to EA in the late ’90s, Sega was able to make — and more to the point, effectively market — a comparable video game experience.

NF94 stood out due to several new features at the time, such as play-calling and on-field jukes and jives. Sometimes, the two went hand-in-hand, as was the case with the fake punt or fake field goal attempt. The ability to call plays was still a new concept, and one that came with its share of bugs. In a two-player game, you could see your opponent’s play selection, and vice versa. After choosing a play, the set of three plays you’d chosen from remained on-screen, giving your opponent a 33 per cent chance to guess what you’d picked.

However, you could really throw a human opponent off by calling one of three audibles at the line of scrimmage. There was an unspectacular run option, a quick out and a long bomb. The second option — a “212 shoot” — was nearly unstoppable and let a player nickel and dime his opponent to death.

In fact, defense was such a mystery that the best way to effectively stop another team was to rely solely on kick defenses. What supposed blitzes such as “Red Dog” or “Monster Storm” should have done, “Punt Block” achieved instead. Of course, continually choosing a kick defense meant only one man stayed back to stop anyone should he make it through. As a result, NF94 games often turned into high scoring shoot-outs.

As for player control, Sega ushered in a new generation of options. The A button let you unleash a mighty stiff-arm, which on the easiest difficulty setting lets you stop an entire special teams unit. B let you pull off the vaunted spin move, and while constant spinning could get you out trouble, it also exposed you to fumbling. Finally, C gave you a speed burst and let you dive forward.

Since the Genesis had only three buttons to make use of, the mapping of two functions to one button led to problems. There were many times that instead of gaining speed like a senior citizen who forgot his Depends, you’d dive to the ground and be pounced on by the defender. Thus, an easy TD was turned into misery.

Clearly, there were still improvements to be made to the series. The following year was one of the first games that let players be traded from team to team. On a side note, does anyone remember the old Sega ad lauding this feature? It had Joe Montana spotting an obese fan in the bleachers, jumping and yelling “Go Chiefs go!”, to which Montana responded “Oh my god... ” before being sacked.

As with all the other items showcased in this feature, NF94 is still a good deal of fun to play today. Though you might be frustrated by control or play-calling issues, it doesn’t get much sweeter than the feeling of a 60-yard Barry Sanders spin-laden run with no time left on the clock to lift the Detroit Lions to victory over the 49ers.

 

 

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