Genre: Sports Developer: High Score Productions Publisher: Electronic Arts Players: 1-4 Released: 1995
Every mid to late summer, I go through these droughts of gaming. I’ve been playing baseball games since April, and late July feels like it’s too soon to play Bill Walsh College Football. Parties, cookouts, trips up to the beautiful Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and working at an amusement park all add up to a lot of excuses to not play Genesis for most of the second half of the summer. For that, I apologize to each and every one of my loyal readers.
The year 1996 (well, really mid-95 to 1996) was kind of a turning point for video gaming, and nowhere else do I feel that this was as apparent than the EA Sports offerings on the Genesis. Look at NHL ’96 and then ’97 (and even ’98!); they’re all the same game, virtually, besides the obvious roster and musical updates. Even Sega was guilty of this, making the same World Series Baseball games and re-releasing them in ’97 and ’98. There wasn’t even a ’96 game! Must have been that year where they began skipping the current year for the next one or something.
Anyway, today’s offering is College Football USA ’96, or “We Didn’t Feel Like Paying for the Bill Walsh License Again” College Football ’96. While everyone else was jumping ship to the PlayStation or Nintendo 64, 1996 was the first or second year I really started hitting the rental stores playing all of the suddenly discounted Genesis games they had for rental. But is it a good game, or is it a Vince Lombardi moment of frustration? Well, let’s crack open a cold one and turn the TV to the game.
Well, the game sure starts a lot like last year’s effort, and it’s the first of many things that are a lot like Bill Walsh College Football ’95. Basically the first thing that I actually even notice is different (besides mundane things like the music and the pretty basic title screen) is that there are a LOT more teams. I counted 108 teams (well, Wikipedia did, but I counted them before I went there, I promise!)! That’s more than likely every Division 1 team available at the time. The menu this time has a pigskin backdrop, and the menu music tries to sound as much as a college marching band as a 16-bit system can.
There are multiple different play options for this game, and this is the first college football game to offer real bowl games such as the Rose, Fiesta, Sugar, and Orange bowls. Of course, now that the game features real bowl games, my copy won’t let me select a season to play so I can play the bowl games! When I emulate the game, it doesn’t work either! How ridiculous is that? Maybe it has something to do with the battery, or lack thereof.
The best improvement in this edition is the speed and graphics. College Football USA ’96 runs for me like no other game I’ve ever played on the Genesis. Like a ’65 Corvette, I tell ya. There are also a few new animations that make the experience more worthwhile as well. New referee animations when a points are scored, the pass is incomplete, or there’s a penalty. There were a few new penalties as well, such as holding, just to name one. I don’t know how they call holding, but I guess it adds a dash of realism. The field and stadium during the pre-game looks the same sans Bill Walsh. It feels oddly empty, like being the only person in an amusement park after closing hours when everything is shut down, and all of the lights were off.
Well, anyway, the game plays a lot like the previous efforts with a few more bells and whistles that might have kept a few people from jumping ship. The most prominent of these features is the music. For the most part, it’s great music, but sometimes when you score, the “marching band” sounds awfully cheesy. Other than that, the music is par for the course, and if you’re a duffer like me, you’ll take par. One thing I don’t think it achieves is that it makes the game any more special.
When I completed a handful of games for this review, I thought of the perfect analogy to sum it all up: have you ever been to a neighborhood store or bar and the national conglomerate bought it out? That’s the feeling I get from College Football USA ’96, that it has lost its soul. But hey, it’s football, right? It’s a great game on its own merits, but I want a game that’s more “local watering hole” and less “Buffalo Wild Wings.”
SCORE: 7 out of 10