Adrian is a mammoth NFL fan, so when he lent me this game stating he hadn’t a Scooby Doo what was going on I was rather surprised. He’s always going on about how the “egg chuckers” should be “chucking that egg” and how Blake Bortles is the best he’s ever seen playing the game… Jokes aside, he’s left it to me (Dylan) as the only Jag-owning NFL fan at AA to review this beauty. In Troy’s inimitable commentating style, “that’s not how I would do it (an NFL video game)”.
So yes, he’s made a career recently of adopting a pundit style that can only be described as Troy-ism, Troy-housery? Trying to demonstrate that his is a much bigger shlong that the (usually QB) player or team he’s analysing. He won’t let you forget that he’s won three (yes, three) Super Bowls, 6 Pro Bowls (back when players gave a damn about it) and even the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award, all with the Dallas Cowboys. Less said about the solitary Super Bowl MVP award eh, Troy? I wasn’t surprised when I heard this game existed, he would’ve been a big catch for the rights. How does it stack up? Let’s take a look.
The Atari Jaguar game is a port of the SNES game which actually received favourable (ish) reviews. It received 80% and 84% from the two reviewers at EGM. The Jaguar version looks better than its 16-bit counterpart in a number of ways. The “64-bit” power can be seen through the game’s excellent presentation and also stills of the gameplay (more on the animation later). The sprites are big and meaty and there isn’t much green space in the game.
An easy comparison to choose would be with the 16-bit Madden games. One area (possibly the only area) in which Troy Aikman NFL (or TANFL as I’ll now refer to it as) beats said Madden series is for beginners. The plays are all chosen singularly, you don’t need to choose the formation like you do in the early Madden titles. In terms of simplicity it’s on a par with the Joe Montana Mega Drive/Genesis game of which I have fond memories. You can make the game even more simple on offense/offence by just choosing supposed “Troy plays”. They consist mostly of slant/screen plays but I definitely had more joy using those than the standard plays. It’s easy to pick out a ‘Hail Mary’ or ‘Play Action’ (although there is just the one of each) if you need it. There’s even a QB sneak but that never seemed to work.
You can play an entire season and save your game to the cartridge. Although why you’d want to that to yourself is another matter.
Oh boy. From the moment the action starts you know you’re not going to have a good time. The animation is horrendous. We know what the Jaguar is capable of but none of it is applied here. What could make up for the lack of player animation frames? Good ball animation and physics, right? Wrong. The “egg” as Adrian puts it, looks comical as it flies through the sky. Or maybe that should be “wobbles randomly across the screen until it collides into a sprite, any sprite”. There’s no way of telling whether a player will catch the ball or (if you’re playing defense/defence) make a successful challenge, it’s all so random. The SNES version doesn’t suffer from this. I played it briefly to give myself a yardstick and wish I hadn’t, it’s vastly superior.
One reason (in my opinion) that the game feels so clogged, so claustrophobic, is the size of the sprites and the zoomed-in camera. There’s literally no room to breathe. Even when calling a Hail Mary, none of your receivers will achieve any kind of separation because there is nowhere to go. The game doesn’t have windows for your receivers so you have to memorise which of the receivers corresponds with which button when you’re choosing the play. And you can’t tell who’s free to pass to, it doesn’t feel as though you have any control on what’s going on.
The game’s a breeze on the easiest difficulty setting but only because the safeties, the corner-backs, linebackers, anyone on defense do absolutely nothing. Even when you seemingly throw the ball directly at them. With each increased difficulty setting the only difference is that they gradually win more 50/50s. It feels like the coin is weighted more in favour with the opposition with each increment rather than anything different happening with the players on the field.
Controlling players feels sluggish and unresponsive. This isn’t helped by the Jag’s divisive controller and its CBA arrangement as opposed to ABC. Atari were clearly in favour of reading from right to left in the second (I think?) of their big demises.
It looks bad, we’ve covered that. It also sounds really bad. The soundbites are welcome but for some reason all the other SFX in the game are terrible. The 16-bit games sound better than this and it really shouldn’t be the case. The Jaguar’s “Jerry” chip is supposedly capable of CD-quality sound – we’ve seen it on many other Jag titles, not this one though!
In addition to the claustrophobic feel of the game, you have an extremely limited colour palette. Again, the Jaguar can supposedly display something like 17 million colours simultaneously (multiple sources, I’m not going mad). About ten have been used in TANFL. To say it looks like a NES game would be harsh. A Master System game though? More plausible.
A Fistful of (more video gaming) Dollars (for Troy?)
Thankfully, no. The game was received so poorly it didn’t warrant a sequel. Aikman’s last Super Bowl was in the 1996 season so there was no worth in carrying on his video gaming legacy (although John Madden stopped coaching in the late 1970s and commentating in the early 2000s so we’ll put a pin in this theory, for now). Aikman’s Cowboys teammate, the running back Emmitt Smith, somehow got his own game on the SNES.
If you’ve got a Jaguar why not pick it up. It’s cheap for a Jag game and you can have a bit of fun if you can find a buddy to suffer it with you. The box looks nice on the shelf lined up with the other 70-odd games in the console’s library. I mean, that’s something.
All screenshots taken from Moby Games.