Back in 1985, Irem released this game, which has the distinguished honor of being the very first football game for the NES. It fit in with the simplistic, arcade versions of every popular sport that the Big N was pushing out during the console’s early year, despite not simply being named “Football.” Of course, then it would have to be “American Football,” which wouldn’t make such a great title.
It could also be because “Football” was already taken – by Atari in 1978 with what is widely considered to be the first true sports video game, and also the first arcade game to be controlled by trackball. However, Atari’s Football was a gray screen with players made up of X’s and O’s. 10 Yard Fight featured color, and nine-on-nine short, little human-shaped players. Both games still played about the same though, which is to say, it’s only the basics. If you’re looking for something serious, Tecmo Bowl is closer, and the Madden series much later on will deliver, but 10 Yard is still a reasonably fun football game.
Like most early NES titles, 10 Yard Fight was originally designed for the arcades and got ported two years later for some quick home bucks. The arcade version featured the same gameplay here, except it was limited to a time-based scoring system. You always played offense, and had a minute or so to beat a level by scoring a touchdown or end your game by failing to convert on 4th down. Success would just send you to a new scenario, and as a new “level.” Luckily, this gameplay was expanded when brought home to the NES. You now play through four 30-minute quarters, though time is accelerated. You will also now play both offense and defense, changing sides when appropriate by the traditional rules of American Football.
If you win a game, you’ll advance upward through the ranks, from high-school football up to the Super Bowl. Football sim purists won’t like the total lack of selectable teams, players, playbooks, formations, or anything you would expect out of today’s licenses. But as a dated arcade game, and a very simple replication of the basic concepts of the sport, it can be rather fun.
The only option you have when beginning the game is to select your difficulty. When the game starts, you’ll be a nameless player on a nameless team. On offense, you’ll always control the player with ball. There are no plays to select, really no plays at all, just three options – take off when you get the ball for a QB sneak, pass it laterally left or right and start running (which is the safest, and most likely to get positive yardage), or to throw the ball to a single distant receiver. This receiver is almost always covered, and you can’t lob the ball over the line – if it touches anyone on the opposing team, it’s an automatic interception. However, if you can ever miraculously draw a clean line from the QB to the receiver, it’ll be off to the races. All the normal rules of football apply here, though you can still do many things that wouldn’t make sense in regular football, and you can’t punt.
On defense, your still control only one member of your team, and cannot switch between them as you might expect. Instead, before the snap, a player on the right of the line and a player on the left are selected at random and will flash either A or B above their head. You select which player you want to control, based on which side you guess the opposing team will run up. This is literally just the total wager it sounds like. If you’re correct, you’ll be in a good position to deploy the pain train. If they’re wily and go the other way, your teammates will give chase and eventually stop the runner, though not as quickly as you would have.
Remember that you cannot switch characters, even after the snap. You’ll have to awkwardly turn your guy around to give chase, or simply wait for your teammates to do their jobs, while mumbling curses and bleeding yards. Your coworkers aren’t terribly stupid, and neither are your opponents, but you are certainly the smartest player with the fastest reflexes so it helps to guess right. You can either run into a player to tackle them, or press B to dive at them, stopping them instantly if you connect.
That’s really all the game has to offer. The teams get marginally smarter as you progress in the ranks, but the gameplay never changes. The graphics are, of course, ancient, but still look clean enough to understand what is going on. Scrolling is a little jumpy, and characters flicker when they overlap, but both are easily forgivable, as is the terribly slow foot speed of everyone in the game. The controls for both offense and defense could be considered “optimized.” There aren’t useful moves like jukes or speed bursts, but you are given everything you need to play the game. The controls can be a bit sluggish though, which is more the fault of the slow player speeds than anything else.
Sounds are primitive at best, but still good for a game of its era. There are sharp whistles simulating crowd noise, musical tunes when you get a touchdown or first down, and a scratchy, almost military drum beat as you charge down the field with the ball. If you’re expecting top-quality graphics and presentation, you’re going to be let down. Yet if you haven’t been spoiled by flashy modern games, you won’t have any problems here. The graphics’ lack of technology don’t get in the way of the gameplay.
In all honesty, there’s really no practical reason to go back to this game. Though if you’re at this site, you’ll likely have reasons of your own – and therefore, 10 Yard is not a bad game to pick up. A two player option is included, which can be rather fun in its own right, and the computer offers enough of a challenge to keep the game interesting. It’s amusing to see that even a game from the dark ages of the 80s can still bring on the same intensity as football games of today. Maybe it’s just a quality of the source material, or maybe its just a sign that enjoyable games can continue to be so decades later.
Basic, but still enjoyable, arcade football game.
No simulation by any means, and proof that we’ve come a long way in sports games