Championship Soccer ’94

Super Nintendo
Released in 1994 by Sony Imagesoft
Grade: B-

This speedy, simplistic soccer game has its charms and provides a tough challenge, but I can’t imagine spending a whole lot of time with it.

Where it falls in the series

Most sports video games are easy to find at dirt cheap prices, but the famous Sensible Soccer series seemed to require more of a quest and more of an investment for someone in North America … or so I thought. I did some research and voila! Apparently I could enjoy “Sensi” on an American SNES, retitled Championship Soccer ’94, for only $11 plus shipping!

The series has a gazillion editions starting in 1992 on the Commodore Amiga, but Sensible World of Soccer, released in 1994 on Sega Mega Drive, seems to be the champion of the franchise. Nowadays, you can easily download updated versions onto an Xbox One or PS4.

Praises and gripes

In some ways this game is realistic: teams use actual formations, the field is big, and you need to pass a lot. And in other ways it’s ridiculous: it moves fast, goals are scored often, and players aren’t ruled by realistic physics.

The controls are ultra responsive and ultra simple — pass, shoot, slide tackle, that’s it — and there’s almost no finesse to this game. Each player glides along the surface with only one speed, there’s no speeding up and slowing down. You can only juke a player out if your guy is much faster. You’re just stringing together quick little passes to get closer to the goal. Defenders steal the ball automatically, or they can lunge from 10 feet away with a superhuman slide tackle. The ball curves in the air and apparently responds to the D-pad, which looks pretty nifty, but doesn’t have a huge impact on the game.

The default length of a game is six minutes, and you’ll usually end up with scores like 2-1, 1-1, and 1-0. Goalies are tough, but the action is just so fast that there are plenty of scoring opportunities. Is it fun? Yeah … I mean, I think … I don’t really know. It’s fun to score goals, but defense can be frustrating. The game automatically switches players for you, which is maddening at times. And even the wide view sometimes seems limited, as the key player in your passing strategy is somewhere just off-screen.

You can select from formations and strategies that were impressive at the time, and there are a ton of international, pro, and “custom” teams. (They aren’t actually custom; they just have silly names like “Pizza Toppings” and “Fruit Town.”) You can set up various leagues and tournaments, and choose from three difficulty settings. There are different playing surfaces and weather, but this just affects the shade of green on the field, not its physics.

Oh! One very notable downfall: you can end up matching teams wearing similar uniforms and you can’t tell them apart. And Oh! I forgot to also mention that the game plays the same chugg-a-chugg heavy metal music during every game.

Anyway, it’s fun but very basic. It’s a decent “drunk dudes hanging out” game, where you can laugh at how stupid it seems in this day and age.

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NBA Jam: Tournament Edition

“It’s good!”

Super Nintendo
Released in 1995 by Acclaim and Midway
Grade: A

It’s classic NBA Jam action with a few bells and whistles, a guaranteed fun time.

Where it falls in the series

It’s the followup to the original NBA Jam, with nearly identical gameplay. NBA Hang Time came next, but the SNES and Genesis versions seem like sloppy ports of the next-gen installments. NBA Jam and NBA Jam: Tournament Edition are easily the two best basketball games on SNES.

Praises

This is frenetic 2-on-2 basketball with no fouls and no out of bounds and players jumping 20 feet in the air for dunks. Passing and shooting fit well into the scene too, and the control is delightfully easy to pick up.

There are five difficulty settings, and the CPU is stifling on the highest setting, sometimes shoving you and taking the ball before you get past the half-court line. It was the first in the series to support the 4-player multi-tap, which made it a party favorite back in the day.

I’ve read some people say that the gameplay is tweaked from the original, but I don’t think so. The only difference I notice is a few more dunk animations. It definitely contains some added features though: 3-man teams with substitutions between periods, “tag mode” where you can switch control between your players, and the option to sprinkle the floor with goofy power-ups and “hot spots” worth 4 to 9 points when you shoot from them. There are also more codes for secret characters and outlandish gameplay enhancements.

By the way, nobody ever seems to mention that there’s not actually a tournament mode. You couldn’t even do pen-and-paper playoffs against the CPU because you can’t choose your opponent. Instead, you play through the game by beating all 30 teams from worst to best.

In comparison to Genesis, some say the SNES graphics are better, but it’s hardly noticeable. In fact, I think the Genesis version moves just slightly smoother, and has snazzy music, which SNES doesn’t. The SNES controller’s shoulder buttons are nice to use for turbo though.

You can’t go wrong with the first two NBA Jam games on either system. They’re classics and still fun to pick up every now and then today.

NCAA Basketball

“Ambition is the last refuge of failure.”   -Oscar Wilde

Super Nintendo
Released in 1992 by Nintendo
Grade: D+

Don’t click away just because I’m giving this such a bad grade. This game has something to it, but it’s unfortunately also plagued with weak gameplay.

Where it falls in the series

This is the only entry in this series. The quasi 3-D technology here is also seen in SNES games NHL Stanley Cup and Tony Meola’s Sidekicks Soccer.

Praises and gripes

At first, this seems like a choppy, slow-moving, and downright ugly basketball game. I mean, look at that blue space! It looks like the court is floating in another dimension!

The camera follows the ball and rotates around so the basket is always in view, scaling players to give you a sense of depth. It may have been impressive in 1992, but then why don’t I remember this game being very popular? This was on the market before NBA Live’s smooth-moving 5-on-5 basketball and NBA Jam’s supercharged 2-on-2 dunkfests.

Well, the gameplay just isn’t all that fun. Players are slow, they stop immediately when a defender is in their path, the controls are delayed, the dunks are unspectacular, and defense is frustrating. You hardly ever get a steal, and you really need to anticipate a shot to have any chance of blocking it.

But this game has some rare qualities, especially for a game from 1992. Whatever teammate you’ll pass to depending on your direction has a little cursor over his head in green, yellow, or red, to show you how safe the pass would be. That’s clever, right?

You can adjust defenses or offenses on the fly with the shoulder buttons, and they drastically affect how your team plays. In fact, I’d say that offensive teammates play more like real basketball players in this game than in any game for at least 10 years, if not more. They’re actually running plays! There are even explanations of each play in your coaching options menu. Did I say coaching options? Oh wow, yeah, there are those. You can choose for your team to crash the boards, and you can get them to be aggressive about getting on the fast break.

There are three CPU difficulty settings, back when those were hardly ever a thing in sports games, and with five conferences worth of teams to choose from, there’s a good range of challenges against the CPU.

The game isn’t super realistic, light on fouls, steals, and loose balls, but somehow it feels fairly genuine, with enough missed shots and logical AI happening out there. The gameplay woes make playing this game an exercise in patience, but if you’re determined, you may be able to have some fun with this.

NCAA Football

Super Nintendo
Released in 1994 by Mindscape
Grade: C-

This one was a pleasant surprise. I was expecting trash. It’s actually very playable and pretty cute. It’s also limited and one-dimensional.

Where it falls in the series

This was it for Mindscape’s football efforts.

Praises and gripes

It’s got a side view similar to the Tecmo games, but the physics are more like Madden, with some momentum and looseness. The action is plain and simple and very easy to control. Quarterbacks press a button to shuffle through receivers and press a button to throw. Defenders have an effective dive to take runners down.

On the downside, the “switch player” command is delayed, and there’s no juking, no turbo, and pretty much nothing else. Also, deep receivers run off screen and the cursor can get hidden at the top of the screen.

The playbooks aren’t bad. No need to fuss with formations — you have 50+ offensive plays (including some option plays and reverses) and 30+ defensive plays (which are curiously lacking any man-to-man coverage). The logic favors offense heavily, and even with 5-minute quarters, competent players will rack up 50+ points in a game, easy.

It’ll take a normal gamer maybe 20 minutes to get the hang of this game, and the fun will run out in about an hour max. The action is just too basic, with receivers usually standing wide open, in place, ready to catch passes. There’s not enough unpredictable chaos, except for the occasional fumble.

The game is deep with teams but very, very light on options. No difficulty settings, no coaching adjustments, not even a season mode.

Tecmo Super NBA Basketball

Super Nintendo
Released in 1992 by Tecmo
Grade: D-

The only reason to play this game is to help yourself appreciate how far basketball games have come.

Where it falls in the series

This is the sequel to the not-so-super NES version. It’s one of the last games to include Michael Jordan during his playing career, and when the Sega Genesis version came out a year later, he wasn’t in it.

Gripes

If that retro side-scroll look seems charming, believe me, the charm wears off quick. Not even Tecmo’s classic cut scenes can save this game. It’s bland and boring, lacking any basketball-like dynamics.

Players run in slow motion and behave like simple machines. There’s no driving to the hoop, just passing around for a jumpshot, which inevitability looks ridiculous. You can get a fast break off a long rebound, but sometimes the camera doesn’t even keep up as you pass ahead to your teammates. Defense feels like a futile endeavor, and fouls occur randomly and often, leading to silly-looking free throws where the player takes a jump shot! That lack of attention to detail sums up this poor attempt at video basketball.

Sterling Sharpe End 2 End

Super Nintendo
Released in 1995 by Jaleco
Grade: D+

This is a Madden clone that’s sorely missing the fluid action and football logic of Madden.

Where it falls in the series

It’s one and done for End to End. I guess that’s what you get for putting the word “end” in your title… twice!

Praises and gripes

On the surface, it may seem like Madden with slightly better graphics. It’s even got similar scoreboards and playcall screens and a referee animation after every play.

But the movement is stiff and sticky. Players don’t collide and bounce off each other at all. Runners stop and start like little machines.

The football logic is even further behind. Outside runs work like magic, as defenders become statues the moment an offensive lineman touches them. Inside runs never pick up more than 2 yards. Passes often miss their mark, and defenders make improbable interceptions. It’s all out of whack.

Maybe if you and a friend can agree not to use outside runs, there’d be something to this game. But that’s kinda ridiculous. This game feels like a prototype shipped to stores prematurely.

By the way, it’s got NFL cities and colors, but no names. And also, the game takes too long between plays, in case I haven’t killed your interest in this game enough yet.

Super Batter Up

Super Nintendo
Released in 1992 by Namco
Grade: D+

If you like basic gameplay flaws with your retro charm, this game is for you!

Where it falls in the series

It’s on its own in the U.S., but it aligns with the first of five editions of the Family Stadium series in Japan.

Gripes

Look, I’m pretty hard on these old-school baseball video games. If you like RBI Baseball, you’ll probably like this, because it’s basically the same thing.

It’s got the same goofy pitching system, where you steer the ball in mid-air like a sorcerer. It’s got the same CHEAPEST MOVE IN VIDEO GAME HISTORY, the fastball down the middle that suddenly drops and bounces in the dirt as the batter flails helplessly.

In the field, it’s no picnic fielding batted balls with no AI assistance, and you need precise timing to throw as soon as your player has control of the ball, even though the simplistic graphics give you no visual cue when that is.

The pace from pitch to pitch is quick, but it could be a little quicker. There’s some cute music and cut scenes and generic stadiums, and it all seems familiar even though I didn’t play this game as a kid. It’s got an MLBPA license: player names and city names, but no team names or logos.

If you go nuts for slight variations of the same old primitive baseball gameplay, give it a try. Otherwise, I don’t recommend it.