What’s this? Another (mail order only) American football coaching sim swaggering onto the Amiga gridiron? Last month’s readers will remember my review of the essentially identical American Football Coach, a game that fumbled the ball in its attempt to reproduce the ups and downs of the NFL. This month’s offering is a slicker, more professional package (complete with sampled speech and digitised action stills), and – as there is surely only room for one American football management game in this country – looks likely to eclipse the earlier offering totally. Or not?
Unfortunately things aren’t quite so cut and dried. In some ways this package offers more, in others less. To be concise (for some strange reason the rest of the AP team have yet to be convinced of American footballs’ page worthiness – Philistines! - so I’ll have to be brief), Touchdown offers very little hands-on, real-time decision making. Your playbooks are severely limited (14 offensive and 10 defensive plays), so the emphasis is strongly placed on pre- and post-game analysis and backroom coaching.
The chance of each play’s success is calculated with ruthless statistical efficiency, based on a play’s default likelihood of success (large gain plays are obviously riskier than short rushes) and then tailored (before the snap) by the following criteria: your opponent’s team’s choice of play, the skill of the players in your team that will be directly involved in the play (you get marks out of a hundred here – yes!) and (correspondingly), the skills of your opponent’s relevant opposite numbers.
So, deciding which plays to base your offensive and defensive strategies on is best done before kick off. Train up your players as best you can, compare your team’s strengths and weaknesses with the scouting report from your opponent’s camp and see which plays place your strongest jocks against their weediest. It’s as easy as that. Obviously you’ll have to break up the plays throughout the game, but you’ll already know which ones you’re going to rely on.
The results of all this planning and tactical play calling is displayed immediately (if a receiver catches a ball or a running is successful then the gain in yardage pleasingly clicks up, pinball style), with the aid of pretty but ultimately superficial (after your first game you’ll ignore them) digitised stills. Every now and then a sampled voice shouts ‘Touchdown!’, but it’s heads down for the next play.
That’s not quite all though. Between matches there are other coaching decisions to be made too – including scouting for new team talent. As seasons come and go, players grow old and college rookies come up for grabs. You can painstakingly tweak and tailor (or completely replace!) your team as you see fit by introducing this new blood, though an easier way to victory is simply to elect to coach one of the better NFL teams to start off with. (This is a neat way the game gets around the problem of difficulty tuning, actually. The potential for different difficulties of game is sort of built in).
So is the game any good? Well, yes – it is a inconsequential kind of way. There is nothing here to get really excited about, but because presentation is so slick, it is both easy and fun to play. What it isn’t is the definitive American football coaching sim – looks like we’re still waiting for that, and (sad to say) I think it’ll be a fairly long wait too.