SNK’s Cure for Touchdown Fever

December 14, 2011 at 12:51 am | Posted in Reviews | 7 Comments
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SNK’s Baseball Stars is one of the most popular baseball franchises in video game history. While best known for the Neo Geo and some of the best arcade action ever, SNK also dabbled in the home console market with a number of NES releases. The original NES Baseball Stars game is always a trendy choice in debates about the best baseball game ever because of the customization and options the game provided. Baseball Stars gave you the ability to create your own players and teams, and boasted the ability to earn money by winning games which could then be used to upgrade the attributes of your created ball players. It was essentially a sports game / role-playing hybrid that stood out despite the familiar look of 8-bit baseball titles at the time. With Baseball Stars a hit in 1989 and with a precedent now set for success in sports gaming, would SNK make a successful foray into the North American Football market with Touchdown Fever?

Yes, those are single yard markers which highlight how bad the proportions of the field are

SNK initially released Touchdown Fever in the arcade in 1987 (ok “Touch Down Fever” as labeled in the game; much like Foot Ball, it seems most Eastern companies were not real big on compound words), followed shortly thereafter by a release on the Famicom (the NES in Japan) in 1988. Three years later they decided to bring the game over to North America (I’ll speculate it was to get a piece of Tecmo’s pie), which is some serious foreshadowing into how this game was received and ended up turning out. Touchdown Fever ignores many basic tenants of the game of football and the design and execution are extremely poor. The game play is broke, boring and repetitive, leaving little initiative to play through the game. Touchdown Fever is essentially the anti-thesis of Baseball Stars.

Tough draw with the pink uniforms but better than just red and blue teams

Touchdown Fever has your basic U.S. city team selection and offers either an exhibition game or a tournament. On the plus side, each city has their own uniform color which, as we’ve seen here already at Retro Sports Gamer World, isn’t always a given. The first glaring mistake in this game is the layout and proportion of the field to the players. I’m pretty sure the label on the NES cart is of an adult male in a generic football uniform (to not infringe on any copyrights). Here it looks like you’re playing in a Pop Warner league filled with 9 year-old kids being yelled out by self-indulgent parents who want to live vicariously through their son’s minor accomplishments. See how everyone is crammed into about five or six yards? Both teams should be covering about fifteen yards between the running backs on offense and the defensive backs on the defense. Because the yard markers are so far apart, you can throw a long post pass and still be short of a first down. You’ll hit some holes with the QB running the ball and wonder why you only picked up three yards of real estate. This makes offense a real grind considering all the yards you have to make up to get anywhere near the end zone.

The play-call screen which included a map of where the heck you were on the gigantic field

The game runs at a good speed, which is the only saving grace when staring up at what looks like a 300 yard field. Each play gives you an “A” and “B” receiver/running back to get the ball to (you can even lateral to an “A” and “B” player on kickoff returns) and before the play the camera pans sharply to the left and right, as if to show you the entire field and where your players are. This is pretty common in Madden games today as you are able to look down at your wide receivers and check coverage. In Touchdown Fever the whole exercise is pointless since all the players are super small and all crammed into the middle of the screen! Stretching left and right quickly is good for inducing seizures and that’s about it. The bunch-ball mentality and pedestrian play options are where the game shows it is hardly like the NFL. You’re pretty much running a high school or old college wishbone offense with all the running and throwing laterals at any time to your “A” and “B” guys. There are long passes as well, but you have to watch out for real shoddy interception programming. I can have a guy open downfield and have the ball intercepted by a guy two yards in front of me. While you are limited to really basic play calls on offense, you are more engaged than normal as a wide receiver in this game. Once a pass is thrown, you are given control of the receiver and you have to run down the ball to ensure you make the catch. This proves exciting when you’re trying to catch a screen or a throw back from across the field. If you miss, the ball just keeps going until it goes out-of-bounds. The quarterback IQ in this game is on a Vince Young wonderlic score level with some of the rockets you’ll fire backwards that just keep going and going. The playbook is very bland with two run plays and two pass plays (aptly labeled short and long pass) and you don’t even have the ability to pick plays on defense! You just sit and wait until the CPU makes their decision and you line up in a pre-determined defense against that formation accordingly.

The halftime show couldn’t hold a candle to Tecmo Bowl.  I think that’s a cow between the six chicks.

Defense is fairly easy as you get to select either the “A” or “B” player pre-snap and then just cut off the computers runs or stand three yards in front of their intended receiver so you can snag an interception. Unfortunately there isn’t a tackle button and you find yourself just trying to get in front of the computer and nudging against them until they finally fall over. With such a long field, you would assume that special teams has a heavy influence on the outcome of the game but the entire kicking game is flawed. With the disproportioned field markers, punts only go about 20 “Touchdown Fever” yards (which look more like 50) so it is very hard to pin your opponent with bad field position. You cannot kick a FG unless you are inside the opponent’s 15-yard line; otherwise you end up comically punting back to them even if you think you are setting up for a very easy 37-yard field goal.  The logistics around the whole kicking game were just incredibly poor-planned.

Choreographed celebrating and lamenting after a score

Despite all the good will from the Baseball Stars franchise, Touchdown Fever was a colossal letdown and a very flawed football game which showed little in the way of excitement or execution.  Despite this misfire, SNK would not abandon the sport.  While they packed their bags and left the NES,  they had one more football title to share with the gaming world, and it would bless their very own Neo Geo (cue foreshadowing exit music).

Afterword: Succumbing to the Fever Again

After first exploring Touchdown Fever on the NES, I was very interested in what the original arcade game was like.  Fortunately for me, SNK has revived this arcade game on two different platforms and I can honestly admit that I spent $20.00 in total hunting this 1987 relic down (or 5x the price I paid for the NES cart).  Touchdown Fever first appeared on the PSP title, SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 0,  a follow-up to the very popular SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1Volume 0 was a compilation of SNK arcade games from before the Neo Geo MVS but was never released in the United States.  One of the benefits of Sony’s PlayStation Portable is that it is region free so it was off to eBay to import the game.  I found a seller with Korean versions of the game brand-new for $16.99 (free shipping), and two short weeks later I had the game.  Despite the game being in Korean, I was able to navigate to Touchdown Fever and fumble through a couple of menus to start the game.  The graphics were solid for 1987 but the actual game took up just a small middle column of the PSP, resulting in things being pretty tiny and hard to follow.  The actual game was very short and pretty unsatisfying.

Recently, SNK Playmore (no one re-releases their catalog like these guys) released Touchdown Fever as a Ps Mini on the PlayStation Network.  Priced at $2.99 (there’s that $20.00 total), I was intrigued enough by the game being ported to HD to give it another whirl.  Admittedly, this was my first SNK Ps Mini so perhaps this is the norm with older arcade releases, but the game was again heavily shrunken down to just a portion of the screen.  The background was the old arcade marquee so that was ok, but what was inexcusable was the actual game and on-screen instruction image (that lasted five seconds and was only a picture of the old arcade instructions; no PS3 controller direction) being cut off vertically in the widescreen mode.  To go along with this misfire, there is no online manual to give you the first clue as to how the game plays.  The emulation seems slow and takes forever to select a one-player game (I’m still not sure what button does this – I think circle.  I hit them all and nothing works for a good ten seconds).  Once you’re in the actual game, the graphics have the classic SNK style and are pretty good for being 25 years old.  I am curious though as to what planet, and under what galactic rules, this football game is played on.  When you hike the ball you can immediately throw a bomb down the middle and somehow, 25 yards down the field, there is a receiver to catch the ball.  Where the heck did this guy come from?  This quirk aside, my complaints with this release are less about the original effort and more so with the PSN release.  The most challenging control to figure out (the opening image is useless here) is that the L1 and R1 buttons are what control the direction of the passing arrow.  Once you discover this, the game becomes a bit more playable (the laterals are still alive and well – including 20 yard throws behind you) but it is over quickly, especially when the CPU scores first on some obnoxiously long pass.  After putting in more than enough time on this old dog, I can firmly say that the NES game is the way to go if you really must catch Touchdown Fever.



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  1. An apt commentary on, indeed, a misfired game. But LATERALS, man. Laterals.

  2. I think I set a Twin Galaxies record for using lateral four times (maybe it was three) in one paragraph. I *really* wanted to emphasize this unique tidbit apparently (especially on kickoffs!), and after re-reading, I made a couple changes so things flow a little better 🙂

    To your question in our tweets> Touchdown Fever definitely outlaps John Elway’s Quarterback. The plays are limited but the action is faster, the graphics are a ton better and TD Fever at least has a single player experience.

    Everybody should check out – love the site

  3. How about some 1987 Touchdown Fever arcade action? Learned this guy is tucked away on a SNK compilation.

    SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 0 is a PSP-only release that never made it to North America. Fortunately the PSP is region free and I found the game from a seller in Korea for $16.99 new (free shipping to the US).

    There is also an early baseball game from SNK on the disc that pre-dates Baseball Stars.

  4. […] and proportions of the field compared to the players is pretty accurate (This is the opposite of Touchdown Fever on the NES).  The graphics aren’t bad for an 8-bit offering and the menu screens […]

  5. With the recent PSN release of the original arcade game, I have added an Afterword section to detail my experience with the original Touchdown Fever.

  6. […] a Ps Mini on the PlayStation store, take a trip back through both the arcade and NES releases at Retro Sports Gamer World. Share this:TwitterFacebookStumbleUponRedditMoreDiggLinkedInLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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