Thursday, September 29, 2022

NFL Football '94 Starring Joe Montana

NFL Football '94 Starring Joe Montana dropped Sports Talk from the title, even though it retains the signature play-by-play commentary

Sega CD Summer is out! This is the second entry in the Sega Tote Series

My brother and I were major sports fans as kids (and to some extent, we are both still kids and sports fans--he'll be the first to admit that).

We were the type of kids to get Baseball Stars 2 on the original Nintendo, set up a league, and watch, in real time, the CPU vs. CPU games that didn't involve our team so we could do commentary.

I distinctly remember my brother and I creating a list of features we'd want in sports games. While the wide-ruled notebook in which we jotted down ideas is without a doubt gone, we came up with some doozies for the 8- and 16-bit eras:

  • Play-by-play commentary
  • Instant replays
  • Highlight packages
  • Home and away broadcast teams
  • Featured "Game of the Week" graphics packages
  • In-season situational stat tracking
  • Alternate jersey options
  • Signature stadium music and atmosphere (including crowd chants)
  • Multiple seasons as the same franchise with free agency and drafts
  • Career mode that takes you from high school through college and the pros
  • Printable box scores and game writeups
So, um, yeah. These weren't exactly achievable for Nintendo and Sega consoles of the time. Some games, like Micro League Football on the PC, had several of these features. Many of them would become part of sports games as systems became more powerful over the years. Series like NBA 2K and MLB The Show do many of these things right.

It's probably why NFL Football '94 starring Joe Montana stuck with me over the years. While the game doesn't have a franchise mode, you can play an entire season with stat tracking and league leaders. The graphics were incredible for the time and still hold up well, thanks to rotoscoped animation and a bevy of selectable camera angles. You can choose to "zoom" in on run plays to really show off the graphics.

But the signature feature is the commentary featuring Lon Simmons. It keeps up fairly well with the action, although it will fall behind sometimes. I was always impressed with the amount of variety in the play calls. And while the voice is clearly digitized, I think it sounds pretty darn good when considering the era.

While the game is NFLPA and NFL licensed, the announcer doesn't call any players by name other than Montana. It is pretty cool to play with the Chiefs and hear "Montana lines up in the shotgun." Otherwise, players are referred to as "the running back" or "the tight end" or "the receiver," etc.

Simmons manages to inject some actual emotion into the game with lines like, "Oh, my!" and "I can't believe it!" A reactive crowd adds to the atmosphere.

NFL Football '94 Starring Joe Montana features "all" 28 NFL teams of its era, You won't find the Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans, or Jacksonville Jaguars on this one. The NFL hadn't expanded to include the Panthers and Jags just yet while the Oilers remained in Houston and the Browns hadn't bolted for Baltimore.

The rosters on the game are incredible, featuring some of the NFL's all-time greatest players. Jerry Rice, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, Derrick Thomas, and Reggie White all appear. Montana's there, of course, although it's the Kansas City version. 

As for my beloved Indianapolis Colts, the game wasn't very kind. They were saddled with Jeff George on a team that would go 4-12. Clarence Verdin was a good returner, so there's that.

Listen, NFL '94 may not be everyone's cup of tea. That's fine. But in an era where multiple companies made multiple football games, it was really great to have something out there to keep the Madden series honest and innovative.