Genre: Sports Developer: Spectacular Studios Publisher: Sega of America Players: 1-4 Released: 1997
Ah yes, it’s that time of year. The time of year when guys across the nation get their recliners, easy chairs, and couches set up to watch good old fashioned NFL football, plus set up their fantasy leagues and even fire up the latest edition of the Madden franchise for good measure. When it comes to football video games, Madden has pretty much always been the first football video game franchise to come to mind, whether they’re a fan of the sport or not. This is for good reason, considering the Madden franchise has been around seemingly forever. Back in the day though, before Electronic Arts scooped up exclusivity rights to make games featuring the NFL and its players, EA had some competition, and one of its best competitors was none other than Sega, who released its own NFL games for a long time, going all the way to having Joe Montana as a spokesman to eventually just using the NFL moniker.
Since the early days of the Genesis, there was football. From the original Joe Montana-brand that would evolve into various Sports Talk-branded installments, to the more commonly-titled NFL ’95 and Prime Time NFL Football, Sega always seemed to have its head in the football arena. The franchise would skip a year with NFL ’97 hitting the Saturn, with this last hurrah being a swan song of sorts. Yes, NFL ’98 marked the end of an era in many ways. NFL ’98 wasn’t just the last official football game to be released for Sega’s aging 16-bit juggernaut; it was also one of (and I think maybe the) last North American games to get released for the Genesis period. EA had already released its football finale for the Genesis with Madden NFL ’98, and it wasn’t long before Sega followed suit. Despite the long running Sega brand of football that had become a staple of the Genesis, NFL ’98 really doesn’t do anything new or truly different at all than any of its predecessors, but what’s really shocking here is that isn’t necessarily a bad thing here either.
One of the things that always made Sega’s football games so accessible to me was the ease of being able to pick up the controller, fire up the cartridge, and just have fun on the field. You didn’t need to be a football expert or necessarily know what a Nickel play is or the pros and cons of lining up your offense in the shotgun formation. Yes, there is a little bit of a learning curve for those who don’t know all that much about what all goes into playing on the grid-iron, but the accessibility of a number of games in the franchise don’t really hamper the overall gameplay and enjoyment out of Sega’s NFL games. NFL ’98 follows the same kind blueprint, almost to a tee.
The football plays themselves come off as being a bit smoother than in the previous iterations of NFL ’95 and Prime Time, with throwing the ball, running it, and running defensive plays just feeling simpler to do and pull off. Granted playing 16-bit football isn’t necessarily rocket science, but with NFL ’98 it just feels like this just feels plain right, to put it bluntly. With the Sports Talk games, I always felt like something was missing from them, and while the previously mentioned installments of the series improved on what had been lacking, NFL ’98 feels the most authentic and complete of the whole bunch.
Graphically speaking, there isn’t anything in NFL ’98 you haven’t already seen plenty of times before. The graphics engine by this time was really starting to show its age, but it still manages to work for what it is without coming off as archaic. Sound effects are pretty much the same recycled crowd cheers, grunts, and hits that have been around forever in the franchise, which isn’t such a bad thing really as it all still sounds relatively good. Game modes are typical including the exhibition, playoffs, etc., all of which was pretty much standard at this point when it comes to the football video game world.
All things considered, for every little thing in NFL ’98 that we’ve seen and played over and over again before, this is probably the best iteration of the franchise to hit the Genesis. Holding a place in 16-bit history as one of the final American Genesis games to hit the legendary console makes NFL ’98 worth checking out alone, but once you get past the aged aesthetics and recycled presentation, you’ll find yourself with a surprisingly deep football game that you’ll keep coming back to for a while. You can find it pretty cheap on eBay, and there are even groups of people all over the internet that have made numerous mods to the game to include updated players and teams. That in itself serves as proof that one way or another, Sega football left a lasting impression on gamers all over the country.
SCORE: 7 out of 10