In today's gaming landscape, it's impossible to say "video game" and "football" without conjuring up an image of the Madden NFL franchise. The series has become synonymous with the sport, so much so that some gamers likely can't even fathom a time when Madden wasn't the only football game available. Today, new football games outside of Madden are almost nonexistent. That's what happens when one publisher (EA) buys exclusive video game rights to the NFL.
But as you'll see below, that wasn't always the case. Once upon a time football games of all shapes and sizes shared the market, each battling to capture the hungry attention of gridiron lovers across America. Many of them were even published by EA. Some, like Madden, took the sport seriously, attempting to deliver the most realistic football experience possible. Others decided football needed more explosions, and so Mutant League Football was born. It was a beautiful time. Below are some of the best (or just plain creative) football games ever made that aren't Madden.
Original Release Date: 1995
Platforms: Original MS-DOS, Later games in the series appeared on Windows PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation Portable and Nintendo DS
If you confuse fantasy football with fantasy football, this is the game for you. This is the kind of fantasy you are thinking of, the sword and sorcery, orcs versus elves kind. In that case, Blood Bowl delivers. Inspired by the Warhammer gothic fantasy universe, Blood Bowl isn't so much a football game as it is a sports/strategy simulation game that just so happens to vaguely resemble American football. Only with a lot more blood.
Tecmo Super Bowl
Original Release Date: 1991
Platforms: Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis
A solid football title all around, Tecmo Super Bowl holds the distinction of being the first football game to have licensing privileges with both the National Football League and the National Football League Players Association. Why was this a big deal? Whereas football games prior often included real NFL teams or NFL players, they never managed to get the rights to both at the same time. Tecmo Super Bowl changed that, finally allowing current NFL players to play for their respective virtual NFL teams.
Mutant League Football
Original Release Date: 1993
Platforms: Sega Genesis, PlayStation Portable
Skeletons. Killer robots. Aliens. Mutant League Football has all this and so much more. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where radiation has mutated mankind, Mutant League Football is a football title that specializes in over-the-top violence and a twisted sense of humor. The playing field is littered with deadly traps and hazards. Teams have unique "Nasty Audibles" that allow for special abilities like jetpacks, exploding balls, invisibility and more. Players can bribe refs, or just kill them as they please. In fact, you can just kill the other team in general. If your opponent loses enough players they forfeit the game. Pass interference, however, is still an automatic first down penalty. It's that kind of logic that makes Mutant League Football so much fun.
Original Release Date: 1997
Platforms: Original for arcades, later ported to PlayStation, Dreamcast and Nintendo 64. Sequels appeared on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
Let's face it: sometimes plain ol' football gets boring. That's what NFL Blitz was for. Whereas games like Madden pride themselves on an authentic football experience, NFL Blitz is all about huge hits and questionable sportsmanship. Showboating is not only tolerated but encouraged, as are late hits and pass interference. Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise then that when the original game launched in 1997 it was a huge hit. Players loved the over-the-top, arcade football experience. Though later restrictions from the NFL would force developer Midway to ease up on some of the excessive force and unsportsmanlike conduct that made the game franchise famous, NFL Blitz is still one of the best arcade sport titles to ever be released.
Original Release Date: 1978
To this day you would be hard-pressed to find a football game that puts you more in the moment than Atari Football. Sure, the graphics aren't much. In fact, they practically don't exist. You are basically playing a football playbook, controlling Xs and Os as they run across a virtual field. But it's the inclusion of the trackball that brings this game to life. Catching the football and furiously spinning the trackball with two hands in order to run your receiver down field as fast as possible manages to be both exhausting and exhilarating, but when you score that game winning touchdown you're on top of the world.
Original Release Date: 2004
Platforms: PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube
EA tried to bring the backyard style and lax rules seen in EA's popular NBA Street titles to the gridiron with NFL Street, and for the most part they were successful. In some ways, like NFL Blitz, NFL Street focuses less on rules and penalties and more on big hits and style. In fact, style is a vital part of the game. Pulling off big plays or taunting the opposing team granted style points that eventually could be used for game-changing "Gamebreaker" abilities. On offense, a gamebreaker allows a player to shrug off tackles and easily reach the endzone. On the other side of the coin, a defensive Gamebreaker makes causing fumbles and pushing past blockers a piece of cake. While it isn't as over-the-top as Blitz, NFL Street proves there is a happy middle ground between a sports sim and the bone-breaking brutality that other football-based games have aspired to.