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Mike Ditka Power Football

Genre: Sports Developer: Accolade Publisher: Accolade Players: 1-2 Released: 1991

There is no shortage of football games for the beloved Genesis library. Between Sega’s in-house efforts and EA’s sports machine, the genre was well-covered, but a few intrepid smaller developers tried their own takes on the formula with varying mixtures of simulation and arcade styles; this early effort from Accolade was one that doesn’t seem to have blipped onto many fans’ radar. So which is it? Forgotten fun or obscure relic?

This is an early title from one of the “cheaper” publishers for the Genesis, so expectations have to be tempered. From the outset, you can probably guess that Mike Ditka’s game won’t hold a candle to the slicker and more brand-name John Madden productions of the same time-frame. Sports games would eventually become infamous for reusing the same engines year after year, but in 1991, developers were still ironing out the wrinkles of gameplay, trying to find that winning mix of strategy and fun. Some of these games aged well, and some became dated as new improvements came quickly in the mid-90s. Power Football, unfortunately, falls into the latter category.

The most important thing to emphasize about this game is its user-friendliness. Any retro fan knows that old sports games’ AI and mechanics tend to be unforgiving, forcing you to repeatedly hone your skills. This adds to the realism, but tends to make for a less-than-pleasurable experience for gamers who just want to have a good time. Power Football is a pleasant break from this stereotype, offering plenty of customization options and skill levels. There is some small strategic element in that each player has stats such as speed and accuracy which decrease as each game wears on, so you’ll want to check periodically and substitute if your quarterback gets worn out, but you likely won’t have to bother. No team really stands out as better or worse than any other.

It’s one of the few football games I’ve seen that offers the ability to pause the game while you line up a pass to one of your players, allowing you to take some time to figure out the best move. Perhaps this hurts the fast-paced rush, but I found it eased one of the toughest parts of football games for me – finding an open player to pass to before getting sacked within a half second by the opposing side. Passing options range from Beginner to Advanced, so you can pick which play style suits you better. Once the pass has been initiated, you have to move the receiver to a red circle and then hit A to make him catch the ball, and this can get clunky. Unless you line him up right to the center of the circle, he’ll more than likely stand there and watch the ball hit the ground while you mash the button.

I have personally never been spectacular at the sport of football, whether it’s played virtually or in real life. I did enjoy the brief time spent with Power Football, however, the game just doesn’t have the charm or pizzaz to make you say, “Just one more game!” At any point, I could have switched off the console and not cared about the outcome, as the game doesn’t do enough to set itself apart and doesn’t make an effort to rise to anything but a basic level of playability in order to not be a completely broken mess. Power Football is competent, but not much more can be said about it than that.

The graphics are typical for 1991, bare-bones sprite work that gets the job done. The extent of the Ditka licensing doesn’t seem to go beyond a few quotes about each team before the game starts along with a grainy digitized picture of the coach. The music is just one continuous 20-second loop – the standard plinky, under-utilized sound – and after a few minutes, you’ll be reaching for that volume button. Mute that weak stuff and turn up some metal; perhaps that will give this game a shot of much-needed adrenaline to keep you from going comatose before the end of the first quarter.

Is this game worth playing now, with so many other options available? It depends on what you are looking for in a sports game. Hardcore simulation buffs should look elsewhere for their fix, but anyone looking for a simpler game to ease them back into the retro mode might consider Power Football for at least a minute, but probably not more than that. Though the accessibility works in its favor, very soon your mind will start wandering and you’ll be switching back to one of the many Madden iterations, the brief fling with Ditka’s game wiped from your memory. This is a sports game that can boast neither arcadey fun nor simulation goodness, but rather tries to straddle a strange sort of middle ground that ends up feeling utterly generic.

SCORE: 4 out of 10

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