Madden NFL ’96
Developer: High Score Productions
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Well my friends, I think it’s safe to say that an era has ended in the NFL. Things are changing big time. Soon enough we will be watching our favorite team’s play eighteen game regular seasons instead of the traditional sixteen (I’m sure fans in Detroit, and Cincinnati are really looking forward to those 3-15 seasons). The NFL is also making the game softer, Steelers Linebacker James Harrison was fined a total of $100,000 this year for making the kind of career ending hits that made Lawrence Taylor, and Mike Singletary Hall of Famers. What’s worse is, If things don’t work out between the NFL and its players during the current collective bargaining agreement, we may be looking at another strike shortened season such as in 1982. We could possibly even see the NFL bring out the “Scabs” like they did in ’87 or even no 2011 season at all.
Needless to say, we’ve been long removed from the good old days when John Madden and Pat Summerall used to call Sunday afternoon NFL games on Fox. Those were the days when Americans fell in love with EA’s John Madden Football video games series and turned it into one of the longest running franchise’s (and most profitable) in the history of the industry. The Madden games have been released on everything from the Commodore 64 to the Wii, but the franchise’s run on the Sega Genesis in the ’90s was where it developed its distinct style of gridiron simulation and became the household name that it is today. It wasn’t without a fight though. Sega’s NFL ’95 for the Genesis was highly innovative compared to the Madden games of the day, not to mention it looked and sounded much better than Madden NFL ’95. The two football franchises were at war, and with Sega acquiring NFL superstar Dion Sanders endorsement for its 1996 game, EA knew it had serious competition for Madden NFL ’96 on the Genesis. The result was one of the best looking and sounding 16-bit football games, and the very first modern installment in the series that is still running strong today.
When your playing around with the eight Madden games on the Genesis, the first thing you’ll notice that stands out about ’96 is the uncharacteristically good music and sound quality. With the exception of one or two tracks, the music in the Madden Genesis games range from forgettable to downright terrible. The Genesis version of Madden ’96 is the exception in that it has the best music and sound of all 16-bit Madden games thanks to critically acclaimed American composer Tommy Tallarico. The intro has an actual sample of the NFL on Fox theme song, and a nice long one at that. Tallarico was known for using real sampled sound effects in games as much as he could, within the limits of the cartridge space he was allotted to by developers. With Madden ’96 Tallarico used a lot of really nice sounding samples. The in-game sound effects actually sound like real plastic pads smacking together, as opposed to the “chugga lugga” sound effects used in other Madden games. The whistles sound like real whistles, the quarterback’s pre-snap banter actually sounds like a human voice, not a barking dog.
In fact, the voice samples in Madden NFL ’96 are among the best on the Genesis. Even though the commentary doesn’t run like Sports Talk Football, there is much more of it than previous Madden games, and John and Pat sound just as good here as they do in the first few 32-bit games. The crowd even makes different sounds during different situations throughout the game, such as chanting “De-fence,” or doing the “stomp-stomp-clap” thing from the opening of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” My personal favorite sound effect is the bone-breaking celery crunch when someone gets injured followed by Summerall’s classic line “oh no, there’s a man down.” As for the tunes, Tallarico did a great job of integrating sampled instruments and sounds into synthesized FM music for this game. The bass and snare drums are sampled and sound very crisp and deep. The short “touchdown stingers” that play after the home team scores a touchdown are the highlight of the music in the game, some feature sampled horn instruments and sound really good (“When the Saints Go Marching In” plays when you score as New Orleans playing at home).
William Robinson and High Score Entertainment’s development work on Madden ’96 was their third Madden game for the Genesis. With the graphics they stayed with the digitally rendered style of Madden NFL ’95 (as opposed to the hand drawn style of the older 16-bit games), with a few very nice upgrades. The main improvement over ’95 is the great looking field, and highly detailed, better animated player models. During gameplay the graphics are very pretty and colorful, with a very detailed, high resolution shine to them. The field has a great grassy textured look to it, with actual home team logos in the end zones. All of the team colors are very sharp, and vivid, and the player sprites look amazing. Even though there are seemingly no white guys on any of the teams, each of the twenty-two on-screen player sprites are very detailed. From the numbers on the uniforms to the stripes on the socks, right down to the taped wrists, more attention was paid to the fine details of the graphics in ’96 than in any other Madden on the Genesis (or SNES).
The animation was also bettered over ’95, with improvements to the previously choppy diving and tackling. Quite a bit of animation was added to the game as well. At the opening kickoff the kicker will wiggle his fingers before raising his hand to signal the umpire, Quarterbacks will actually stick the ball out faking a hand off during bootleg plays, running backs will dive over the line of scrimmage on short yardage situations, receivers will drag their feet to stay inbounds for receptions. The players do a lot of little things in ’96 that just push the series over into the full on simulation that we play today. The Genesis port of Madden NFL ’96 is also one of the fastest moving football games on the Genesis. The action moves very quickly, and the nice graphics hold up very well at the high speeds without any frame rate issues, or sprite flickering. A lot of attention was paid to the small details of the graphics, everything looks great in Madden ’96, even better than the Genesis ports of ’97 and ’98. Even with the absence of any fancy scaling, or rotation effects I would argue that Madden ’96 on the Genesis is perhaps the fastest moving, and best-looking American football game of the entire 16-bit era.
While Madden NFL ’96 is easy on the eyes and ears, its problem is that it really isn’t all that much fun to play. High Score killed away the arcade spirit of the original gameplay for Madden NFL ’95 and made ’96 even more difficult, with quite a steep learning curve on offense. Most of the same controls from ’95 were cleaned up, with A fourth button introduced (the start button) for laterals, and fair catches during kick offs, pushing off of defenders as a receiver, and throwing the ball away as the QB if no receivers are open. Moving the chains on offense can be quite a challenge unless your playing with San Francisco (Jerry Rice is almost unstoppable in this game). Completing passes, and breaking tackles seems much more difficult in this version than before, the game may even feel cheap at times. It really depends on which team you play with. One thing I do enjoy about Madden ’96 is how quickly you can play a game. It seems like the clock runs faster than usual, not to mention no loading at all, allowing you to play a few quick games in no time at all.
The problem with the gameplay is that it just doesn’t really feel good. What made the old Madden games great was the way they felt – the way the controls felt, the way it felt when the players collided and bounced off of each other. The way it felt to clown on your friends by spinning out of eleven tackles and diving seventeen yards for a touchdown. EA just kind of lost that feeling with Madden ’95 and ’96, it seems like it forgot in trying to make the games look better and play more like the real thing that the games were after all supposed to be fun to play.
Madden ’96 does have a few nice features. All of the players from the 1995 season are in the game, You can even create your own player and send him through the “Scouting Combine.” The combine gives you a series of mini games (forty yard dash, agility drill, receiver catch drill, defensive back drill, and a ten yard fight) to determine your created players overall rating (and the round you’re selected in the draft). The “combine” games aren’t anything special, and mostly consist of tapping buttons as fast as you can, or staying in between two obstacles on a course – nothing to write home about, but a nice little diversion from plain old football nonetheless. You can also trade players and sign free agents for the very first time in the series.
One of my absolute favorite things about ’96 is the ability to unlock over eighty classic championship teams with a seven button combination code (CCAACAB unlocks a team of the game’s developers for example). Each Super Bowl team up to the ’94 Niners, as well as several classic ’60s AFL and NFL teams all have their retro logos and uniform colors intact. Scattered throughout the retro teams are actual names of some of the greatest players to ever play the game. You may be surprised to find out that great Hall of Famers like Walter Payton, Ray Nitcshke, and Dan Fouts are actually in the game, you can even play as O.J.Simpson. The unlockable championship teams are fun to play around with, and rather easy to unlock simply by pressing random buttons on the team select screen.
For High Score Entertainment, Madden ’96 was a huge improvement over ’95 on the Genesis, and EA’s last Madden game tailor-made for the “Blast Processor” before moving on to the Playstation and Saturn. The graphics, music, and sound make Madden ’97 and ’98 on the Genesis feel uninspired (even though those games have more balanced difficulty and gameplay). Unless you’ve been living in America for the last twenty years or so, I would recommend other, more enjoyable football games on the Genesis such as Tecmo Super Bowl, or even earlier installments of the Madden series like ’92, or ’93 (or the Walsh College Football series). However, If you know your Xs and Os and want to go back to a better time in the NFL, Madden NFL ’96 is a nice little snap shot of the NFL in the ’90s. Madden and Summerall made a great pair back then, like a Farley/Spade partnership. The two just weren’t the same without each other, and no other duo set the mood for watching football like they did in those days. Even though EA was reserving the fun gameplay for its college football games of the time, Madden NFL ’96 is quite playable for knowledgable football fans and definitely stands out from other Genesis football games in the music, sound, and graphics departments, a surprisingly high quality game for such a dirt cheap price. So stock up on Genesis football games and get ready for a long Fall.