Madden Football 64 | Retro Review | Nintendo 64 - Japan-based Nintendo Podcasts, Videos & Reviews!


Thursday, August 20, 2020

Madden Football 64 | Retro Review | Nintendo 64

by Danny Bivens

The first fully 3D Madden is and was a bit rough around the edges.
John Madden has been synonymous with American football for years. In recent gaming history, the Madden series has been the only horse in the stable when it comes to NFL licensed American football games after EA signed an exclusive deal with the NFL in late 2004. But the 90s were a bit more complex when it came to pigskin action. Numerous companies had the license and pumped out NFL games every year. While Acclaim worked out a deal with the NFL to have the only officially licensed American Football game on the Nintendo 64 in 1997, EA still made a play by releasing Madden Football 64 around the same time in late October 1997.

With the NFL license off limits to EA, they went ahead and did the next best thing that they could - get ahold of the NFLPA (Player’s Association license). While fans might recognize some of their favorite players from the era, the teams that they know and love have been relegated to the city name and usually the appropriate colors. Some teams, like “Chicago” and “Minnesota” have the proper colors, but feature the wrong colors for their helmets.
There are several modes to play through here - Exhibition, Season, Custom Season, Tournaments and even a Fantasy Draft. You can also create players, manage rosters, look at a variety of stats in the season mode and even manage salary caps. Unfortunately, there was no franchise mode available, however, I played the hell out of this game back in the day. I would keep track of multiple “seasons” of me and the Buffalo Bills winning multiple Super Bowls…excuse me, EAS Championships, all while keeping track of my career stats in a notebook.

If you’ve played a sim-like football game in the past, you’ll likely feel right at home here with Madden 64. Before each play on either offense or defense, you can cycle through a variety of plays to choose your best course of action. Unlike more modern American football games, the playbook is the same across the board - there are no team specific playbooks on offer.
For passing plays, pressing A initiates the hike, while pressing A again pulls up your available receivers and you can go from there. Running plays, or just general on the field movement with the ball for non-quarterbacks is a bit limited. You can spin, jump and stiff arm, however there is no juke function for your runner - that was introduced in the next entry in the series, Madden 99. With no juke, it can be a little difficult to get your running game going consistently. Defense is pretty standard, giving you the ability to “swim” through defenders, jump and of course tackle. The kicking game is also pretty easy to get the hang of - press the kick button to initiate the kick meter and press the button again when you have sufficient power.

There are a number of camera angles that you can choose when playing Madden 64. While I usually spend the majority of my time with the base behind-the-back camera angle, there are some broadcast-like angles that you can use that look quite nice. Not only that, but possibly in an effort to showcase that the game was completely in 3D, developer EA Tiburon implemented a “Helmet Cam” that can be used at any time. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to play the game like this, though. It’s difficult to see where the action is mainly due to the fact that you are limited to looking in the direction that you are facing. Still, it’s a feature that was ahead of its time. The feature would later find its way into NFL 2K4 and 2K5, and re-introduced in later Madden titles.
Visually, Madden 64 is rough around the edges. The character models look pretty pixelated by today’s standards but feature realistic proportions. I imagine that playing the game on a CRT would definitely smooth out the experience, but just note, playing on modern displays is less than ideal. One thing that Madden 64 did have going for it over the Playstation and Sega Saturn versions of the games was the complete use of 3D for all aspects of the game. The PS1 and Saturn versions of Madden 98 used 2D sprites for the on field players. Obviously, the N64 player models are dated by today’s standards, but they definitely put the game on another level visually in my opinion. Couple this with the realistic stadiums, weather effects and a consistent framerate, Madden 64 doesn’t look that bad. Audio, while passable and generally clear, doesn’t pack the same punch that you would find with CD based games. Madden and Summerall call the shots here, but definitely have a short script due to the cart based storage medium.

Being a Japan based channel, I like to try to find some kind of Japan connection when it comes to retro based content. In case you didn’t know, American football is liked by mainly…well, Americans. Still, the Madden series does have a somewhat interesting history in Japan on Nintendo platforms. While the N64 didn’t see any entries in the series, it did see a release on the Super Famicom, starting with the original John Madden Football. While that was released in North America in late 1991, it hit the Super Famicom in January 1992 simply as Pro Football and published by Imagineer.

Madden Football 64 might have a special place in my personal gaming history, but I could definitely see that not being the case for many. While the AI is solid, gameplay is generally fun, the running game is a bit hit or miss. Not having the NFL license and having ho-hum graphics are also a hit here. Still, if any of the positives that I mentioned throughout the review sound appealing, Madden Football 64 can be had for pocket change if you feel like taking the plunge.


Nebraska Dirt said...

I have to chime in here... I don't know how old you are, but it's clearly not fair to compare this to newer games. you had to have been there and see the progression as it happened, this game blew my mind when I first played it because of the 3D players. we've never seen anything like this before. this game will always have a high mark with graphics because of where it came in the progression. like I said you had to have been there

Dannybiv said...

Hi, Nebraska! Danny here, the guy that wrote this review. Fair enough. I should have put in a caveat of “compared visually to Quarterback Club.” The “high resolution” visual ls that Acclaim was offering looked great, but the animations in Madden 64 are way better. As is pretty much everything else in the game! I was in junior high when this game came out, so I was there from back in the day. I think the last football game I played before this one was Quarterback Club 95 or 96 on the SNES so it was definitely a jump, obviously. I think that the lack of a license hurt the game in terms of realism - no team logos, etc. Even with that said, this is probably my second favorite NFL game right behind NFL 2K5. I put in endless hours into this one back in the day and still find it fun to play today. Most people write this game off but they definitely shouldn’t!