There’s an unwritten rule that any game system’s sports library is required to have the nation’s two biggest sports represented: baseball (which we’ll get to in a few posts) and football. Back in 1987 the only 8-bit football cart around was Nintendo’s paltry 10-Yard Fight, and Tecmo Bowl was still two years away, so in the meantime Sega figured they’d try to show their console’s superiority with their own gridiron offering. But the sad fact is Great Football has often been used as the poster child for the ‘Great’ series’ ineptitude, even the failure of the Master System in the U.S. itself, thanks to some real head-scratching decisions by the programmers.
At first this seems like any other football cart, and it even has a neat animated intro. Once you hit the start button, you and a second player can choose from 12 teams, six in each conference, though there’s no difference among them other than funky names and colors. Once you take the field you view the action from overhead as you make your way horizontally down a surprisingly oversized field to the other team’s endzone. This is standard football action including passes, tackles, touchdowns and so on. However the action is hampered by some shoddy gameplay features and controls. Between snaps you get nine formations to choose from, four running and four passing as well as the kicking formation, but play calling requires you to sit at the screen while it cycles through each chart and you hit the button once your play is highlighted. The passing game is lacking since you can’t select your receivers or even aim your throw properly, you have to hold the D-pad to throw the ball in a direction and all you can do is hope one of your receivers is close enough to snag it. Same thing goes for the kicking game as you have to hold the D-pad in a certain direction while hitting the button. Also your quarterback lacks the ability to scramble, he just freezes in place before you throw the pass, leaving you vunerable to an alarming amount of sacks.
But the real notorious thing about this cart is one of the worst single-player modes of any football game ever released. Once you pick your team you kick off…and then you find yourself suddenly zapped forward to the fourth quarter, where the computer team has been spotted a random amount of points you must overcome before time runs out. That’s right, the first three quarters are skipped entirely with no rhyme or reason. Not only that, you play the entire game on offense and the computer team never gets a possession; any turnovers such as interceptions or 4th down failures simply push you back some yards and you continue on offense. Everyone knows defense matters as much as offense in any football game, and taking it out in the single-player mode leaves you feeling you’re just having a fraction of the experience. Then again the computer AI is not very smart so winning the game isn’t really much of a challenge, though they sometimes show alarming bursts of speed. The two-player mode is slighty more enjoyable but you just play a quick game and once the final gun sounds that’s it, there’s no season mode or even a playoff system.
The graphics are actually decent as the field looks crisp and the players are easy to make out, though there is quite a bit of flicker and the animation is only so-so. However don’t expect any frills or cutscenes found in other games like Tecmo Bowl; you only get a boring stat screen after each play before going back to the playbook. The audio, on the other hand, consists of some ho hum background tunes during the various parts of the gameplay that don’t do much to add to the atmosphere. In addition the game sports some iffy sound effects, a few scratchy voice samples and really bad noise you hear at the conclusion of every play that’s supposed to be the crowd cheering.
Overall it goes without saying that there’s nothing great about Great Football, it’s just simply a terrible excuse for a pigskin title. The programmers didn’t seem to have a clue how to do a football game as most of the thrills and strategy of actual football were left on the cutting room floor, leaving you with an unsatisfying fraction of the gridiron experience, even in the two player mode. It wouldn’t be surprising if Sega’s fledgling reputation back then took a big hit with this clunker, damgaing the Master System’s already-thin chances in the U.S. With the far superior Tecmo Super Bowl available for your 8-bit balling, there’s no reason to ever fire this cart up. Keep it on the bench forever.