Play Action Football

Game Boy

Review by Will Matson



Graphics: 7

Sound: 6

Gameplay: 8

Overall: 7

Play Action Football is one of the first football cartridges for the black-and-white Gameboy. It is a scaled down version of the same game that appeared on the NES and Super Nintendo. The Nintendo Entertainment System version came out first, to lukewarm reviews. That version was quietly followed by this Gameboy port which slipped through almost unnoticed. Lastly, the Super Nintendo got "Super Play Action Football" shortly after its debut, again, to lukewarm reviews. Of the three games, the Gameboy version is arguably the best strictly from a gameplay standpoint. The two console versions suffered from very slow gameplay, a poor view of the action on field and difficult control schemes. Let it be said that Nintendo didn't exactly create a franchise with this series but the initial push for the NES version indicates they obviously had it in mind.

The graphics are clear and serve the purpose. While the players on each team are undistinguishable, you are able to easily tell apart the two teams. The title screen and the screens for mode select and play calling are adequate. When playing, the characters are fairly small but the action on-field during a play is easy to follow. It is easy to tell where you are on the field and how much progress you make on each play, because the yardage markers are very easy to read. The best scenes are the enlarged scoreboard shots after a team scores a touchdown or kicks a field goal/extra point, even though it is always the same shots. Another nice touch is the enlarged football shown on screen when a close first down is being measured. To sum it up, the no-frills graphics may not be the best you'll see on the Gameboy but they are good enough to get the job done. There is nothing muddy here and there are no graphics that will make you squint.

There are three music tracks, and it does get repetitive. The first one is used during the title screen, the second one during the team selection and the third is played on field. You may tire listening to the music track used during each play, since it never changes. The sound effects are fairly primitive. However, the sound effects do match up with the action on screen. There is a sound effect for a pass, for a tackle, for a dive, etc. Limited digitized speech is used by a referee to recognize a first down or touchdown. Overall, the game sounds are slightly above average. The use of the speech indicates that the development team did what they could and put in some effort.

This is a standard game of football, complete with four 15 minute quarters. The game clock is a little bit faster than real time. Play Action Football is limited by two buttons, but it does make the experience user friendly. Somebody playing this on the go will probably appreciate a football game that isn't very complicated. A first time player can pretty much learn the controls within a couple minutes without even reading the manual. The in-game action is smooth. The B button is used to throw a pass, take a dive or make a handoff (on certain plays). The A button is only used for a limited burst of speed during an offensive or defensive play. You can take advantage of the speed burst ten times during a single play before pushing A no longer has an effect. This is helpful for catching a player on defense or gaining a couple yards on offense. Take advantage of the speed burst, since there is no reason not to use it. An unlimited speed burst was possible in the more-advanced NES version, but it would wear down the energy levels of the player using it. There are no energy levels for the players here. Pass plays can be tricky to complete, but that isn't a gameplay thing. The user simply needs to be careful and follow the routes laid out on each play. If you pass too early, the player will not have finished the route and may be out of position. The player controls one player; usually the quarterback, running back or receiver on offense, depending upon the situation. On defense, this depends on which play is selected. For example, zone plays will have your player-controlled guy start out located in the secondary. Switching a player is no difficult process if you need someone closer to the ball carrier on defense.

The play modes are as follows:

1P VS COMP- a single exhibition in which you can choose your own team and your opponents

1P PLAYOFFS- a tournament mode in which passwords save your progress as you compete for a trophy

1P VS 1P- two players face off but you need a Gameboy game link

2P VS COMP- two players undertake an exhibition against a computer opponent with a game link being a prerequisite

There is no actual "season mode" in here and neither the players or teams are real. You don't get individual stats or even fictitious player names. However, at the end of each quarter you do get to see how much yardage each team has racked up on the ground, in the air and overall. You also get to see how many first downs each team has earned. There are eight cities to choose from and they do not have team names (not even fictitious ones) but they do represent eight of the powerhouse NFL teams of the time. The team logos look fairly similar to the real NFL logos for that particular city. For example, the Chicago team uses a logo similar to the Chicago Bears, the Denver team has a logo that looks a lot like the 1990 Broncos logo. You get the idea. It is worth noting that the NES version did license real players. The fact that the Gameboy version doesn't have real players, teams or a season mode has no impact on this reviewer's overall score.

The play style in Play Action Football is arcade all the way, with NO emphasis on simulation. Based on the game system this is on, that is understandable and probably the best way to go. There is little in the way of artificial intelligence and you can use the same plays over and over again on offense or defense. While there are four levels of difficulty, the AI does not go up significantly from Level 1 to Level 4. The main difference is that the opposing team moves much quicker at the higher difficulty levels. This makes it much harder to break tackles, march down the field or stop the opposition on defense. Playing the computer at Level 1 is a pure romp. Once you have a little experience and are in the zone, you'll be able to torch the computer consistently to the tune of Arena Football League scores such as 70-0. On the easiest setting, is possible to rack up close to a thousand yards of running and passing in a single game while holding the computer opposition to negative 30 overall. At Level 4, you can still win handily but if you aren't careful the computer can burn you for 50-60 yards (sometimes more) on a single play. It is virtually impossible to catch up to the computer receivers on the highest levels if you aren't close enough to them once a pass is caught.

The game allows for eight plays each on offense and defense. The offensive plays include the standard run and pass plays, along with the punt and field goal. A button allows you to view four plays to a time and the arrows let you select the play of your choice. The defensive plays are set up the same way and include a variety of zone and blitz defenses. One of the things I like about the game is that your playbook varies depending on the team you choose. It is actually based (loosely) upon the offensive and defensive plays that were staples of the NFL cities represented, circa 1990. This gives a little bit of strategy to the game and means that the team you pick does have an impact on the outcome. Some teams in Play Action Football are more geared towards running the ball, based on their playbook, and others have strong passing plays. Oftentimes, 8-bit football games had nothing whatsoever to separate one team from another.

Overall, Play Action Football may be short in content, bells-and-whistles and even realism, to some degree. However, the easy to pick up gameplay is the calling card here and it far exceeds that of the two more powerful console versions. The 1-player exhibition game is a good time killer and a challenge, depending on the difficulty level. You can pass an entire afternoon playing the Playoff mode. Playing against a human opponent presents more of a challenge. The name on the cartridge says "Football" and this cartridge delivers. The no-nonsense gameplay is a nice alternative to more recent football titles. The lack of 1990 NFL rosters actually keeps this from feeling dated. Play Action Football was one of the black-and-white titles for this system, but you don't really notice this during a game. Color may have added a little something to this game, but it was hardly necessary. This is a respectable addition to any Gameboy sports library.

Tips: These tips apply only for Levels 1 and 2 against a computer opponent.

On defense, the 5-3-1 Blitz is foolproof and works almost every time. In fact, you don't need any other play. The 5-3-1 puts your defender in the middle of the action and allows you to stop the computer during running OR passing plays. The player you control is in good enough position to sack the quarterback almost every time for a large loss and stop nearly all running plays with little or no ground gained. If a pass is thrown, the 5-3-1 blitz does allow you time to get back and either block the pass, intercept it or tackle the defender before he picks up yards after the catch. While there are other zone or blitz plays which work all right, a lot of them position the defender you control too far away from the action. The 5-3-1 positions the player-controlled defender right in the middle breathing down the line of scrimmage. Please note that you will want to incorporate a very healthy diet of zone plays if you are playing the computer on Level 4, due to the speed of their receivers.

On offense, you can use the Shotgun pass play over and over if you pick a team that uses it. The pass is downfield for good yardage and even if the pass play breaks down, you are positioned where you can break through and run for a decent gain if need be. The Lead Option does make for a good running play, though, if you prefer to remain a purist. Again, on Level 4, you need to actually pay some attention to play calling.


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Last updated: Saturday, July 30, 2005 09:20 AM