Genre: Sports Developer: Iguana Ent. Publisher: Acclaim Players: 1-5 Released: 1995
Remember when you actually had a selection of football games to choose from? When there was some healthy competition to spice up your options? Madden was already burning up the market even in those heady days, but there were still plenty of other choices. Especially on the Genesis, which offered such games as NFL Prime Time, NFL Football, and a host of celebrity-endorsed titles. There was also NFL Quarterback Club, a series that had two installments on the Genesis and one on the 32X. This last one is the subject of today’s review, and it couldn’t be timelier. The end of summer is on the horizon, after all, and frosty days with the ol’ pigskin beckon.
To correct myself, I guess it isn’t an ‘installment’, technically. In reality it’s just a port of NFL Quarterback Club ’96. But surely all the 32X’s extra power was put to good use, right? Say it with me, world-weary Sega fans – “Wrong!” This is another dismal 32X ‘upgrade’ of a sixteen-bit game, meaning that improvements are minimal and mostly confined to additional colors and animation.
That’s not to say the game itself is bad. Quarterback Club, like its Genesis counterpart, is flashy, slick, and easy to learn. The artwork is designed with the limitations of the medium in mind, resulting in onscreen players that are leaner and tougher than the chunky doughboys we so often see. They animate well, from the diving tackles to the (numerous) touchdown celebrations. Whilst Madden and co. moved in a choppy, robotic manner, here the gridiron minions mill about with surprising realism thanks to a drifty physics system. Receivers accelerate and decelerate fluidly, even skidding during abrupt 180s. All of this makes the running game much more enjoyable and adds another layer of challenge to defense as well – those pesky enemy players can sometimes squeeze through your line like a greased pig. Gone are the impenetrable scrimmage fronts and doomsday tackles, as well. Thanks to a nifty option called “power shuck,” a fierce, button-hammering showdown decides whether tackler or tackled comes out on top.
All the usual suspects are present as far as teams and players go, along with the intriguing ability to select any of the “Quarterback Club” to play on your squad, regardless of real-life team affiliation. This leads to some interesting dream scenarios, but would be much more useful if the game engine actually centered on the passing game. You see, despite the bold title that leads one to think of ball-tossing heroics, NFL Quarterback Club doesn’t really encourage passing. Why? Because it’s so darn hard to get the ball into a receiver’s hands! I can only stand so much frustration, and after a string of incomplete passes I finally down into a healthy rhythm of running the ball. The computer’s defense is always in your way, screwing up receptions and swatting away the ball, even if you actually manage to get your throw timed to your receiver’s run correctly. With practice I was able to get a decent completion percentage, but passing is decidedly riskier than in other 16-bit football sims.
Luckily there are tons of plays to choose from – over four hundred, in fact. All the formations are available in multiple range categories, and each setup has several plays to choose from. And all of them can be flipped laterally, just for good measure. What’s great is that the selection of plays was clearly more than just a random assemblage of letters and arrows; each has a specific tactical use and a good coach will find a whole array of stratagems at his disposal. Even the special teams sport a variety of approaches. In case you get outwitted by the opposition, you can always fall back on line-of-scrimmage audibles. (“Set…Blue 38…Red 52…set…hut!”)
Speaking of which, the voices are actually quite clear. The referees speak most of their lines and the on-the-field action is quite remarkable. There’s still that hilarious chorus of grunts whenever the ball is hiked, but the audio is clean and actually adds to the experience. (Which is not the case in most 32X games.)
It might come as something of a surprise to all of you, hearing such praise given to a Quarterback Club game. But although the franchise floundered pathetically in later years, it started off strong on 16-bit consoles. That said, whether or not it’ll finally bump Madden off the queue during the football season is going to come down largely to personal preference. As a reviewer I can assure you that there’s nothing grievously wrong with NFL Quarterback Club, and also that it has a few things going for it that the equivalent Madden games don’t have. For those of who enjoyed the stock Genesis editions of this series – go for it. The 32X upgrade won’t blow you away, but it’s the definitive 16-bit port and can be had for a pittance. Those who grew up with Madden should probably just stick with what they know and love.