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John Madden Football (Computers)


Company: Electronic Arts
Year: 1989
Plataform: DOS Personal Computer
Controller: Keyboard or one-button joystick.


Late 80s, North America, personal computers were starting to get a share of the videogame market, dominated by then for the videogames home consoles.

With this view, one really wants to play a quick american football match.

Sport videogames titles for the main sporting leagues of the United States of America were not able to get a rocky hold on the public in this platforms. Even if there were previous examples, it was still a fertile soil for whatever company to seriously develop games on this theme.

Electronic Arts tries its luck in this area, with a game for american football, that at first did not have the expected success, but with enough solid features to build a legendary franchise of videogames. Something that help was the high popularity of former head coach and anchorman John Madden as the face of the game.


The game incorporates features from both managerial and arcade-style american football videogames. The amount of available plays either in offense or defense was awesome. And probably, the idea that the personal computers were able to properly handle all the available options.

Accustom yourself to this screen. It’s very common in this game.

The control mechanics are relatively simple, already used in videogames we haver already written about before and consists of selecting a play from a playbook either offense and/or defense. The videogamer has de option to see how the players position themselves for the selected play to see if it’s run, pass, or defense. At any time during this selection, the videogamer is able to cancel the selection by double-click the joystick fire button.

Of course, if the videogamer picks the adequate defensive play against the selected offensive play, the rival will suffer from not advancing at all to a possible fumble. Otherwise, prepare yourself to suffer, because the rival will advance thru the field like a hot knife through butter.

After selecting the play, the videogamer has to execute the action. For example, while being at offense, either at a running or passing play, the videogamer has to pull back the joystick to snap the ball towards the QB, and then, the sequence of movements can change:

If the selected play is a pass, you have to wait a few moments while the QB must avoid the defensive players trying to sack him, until the game view changes to a full stadium view where the receivers can be seen. Then double clicking the fire button a crosshair appears so the videogamer can move and selected where to throw the pass, along with a timer that when expiring automatically throw the pass, if not, you must press the fire button once to throw the pass. Once thrown, the game closes up to a receiver which must avoid the deffensive players.

Well, here you can see who did what. It does not matter how embarassing it is.

If the selected play is a running one, it’s a lot simpler, because from the start the close view on the runner is after the ball is snapped towards the QB. The runner must avoid the deffensive players.

Even being a receiver or a runner, two bars appears at the right side of the screen, which indicates strength and speed of the player. The speed indicates how many times the fire button can be pressed for a “running boost”, then the virtual footballer increases its speed, but if the speed bar is empty, it can not do it anymore. The strength bar indicates how many tackling tries can endure, don’t think there is a high quantity, but enough for close advance plays.

At the end of every play, appears a brief resumé of the play: who tackled, who started, yards advanced (or backwards) and other info.

The game, using the technical power of the personal computers, also allows certain customization like weather in the game, time duration of every quarter, fumbles, injuries and others. We recommend start playing with the shortest time duration of the quarters and the default of every ohter option.


Considering that the company was not able to land either the NLF license, or from the Players Association, don’t expect to see teams with their right names or rosters. Instead, there are “Captain Erzast” of the players, or teams following certain patterns, available for season mode:

  • BLUE: Generic and average pro players, classic team used by rookies to get a hold of the game.
  • RED: Just like the Blue team, in case two rookie human players want to go head-to-head in the game.
  • ALL-MADDEN: Based on the best players according to John Madden. If you are familiar with the phrase “It’s an abuse using Rugal”, well, playing with this team is being Rugal. Otherwise, consider that this team is notoriously superior to all the other teams.
  • BLANK: A template so advanced players can create its own team.
  • OAKLAND: Based on the game style used by John Madden himself while being head coach of the Oakland Raiders.
  • BLITZERS: Inspired by the team Chicago Bears of the 80s, with that awesome and fear-inspiring defense. Getting also one of the best runners the NFL has seen.
  • VICE SQUAD: Do you like the all-passing, no-defense teams? Well, this is your team in that case.
  • RINGERS: Based on the powerful 4-time (at the release of the game) Super Bowl winners, Pittsburgh Steelers, with an extraordinary defense and an average offense. Expect to recover a lot of fumbles with this hard-hitting team.
  • ALL-TIMERS: A counterbalance to the ALL-MADDEN, I guess with the mission to minimize abuse of that team.
  • EIGHTERS: Using the short-pass offense of the San Francisco 49ers as template, this team is hard to defend against it.

I recommend start playing with either BLUE or RED, to get a hold of the game’s pace and mechanics, avoid the temptation of using ALL-MADDEN or ALL-TIMERS unless quick game mode. As you get more familiar to the game, try to choose a team more likely to your own preferences of how to play american football. Personally, I did a decent job playing with EIGHTERS, and later RINGERS. With more deffensive teams I was awful, but that is probably because I’m more offensive-oriented in american football.

Other Plataforms

Apple II

Ojalá y haya seleccionado la jugada correcta

The title appeared for this platform the year before, in 1988, the quality of the graphics was a bit inferior compared to the DOS version, but the playability and game options were the same.

For those of you who wanted to play in an emulator, I recommend selecting the model Apple IIc or Apple IIc Plus at least, because in prior models was unbearably slow. Personally I enjoyed playing it with the model Apple II GS.

Commodore 64

Es un poco más difícil distinguir lo que sucede, pero se puede.

Probably the weakest of these ports, noticeably slower than the other two, and with less detailed graphics.

However, and I understand it can sound contradictory, I recommend playing first in this version, because this port is useful for its speed to be easier getting a hold on how to play the game, and develop a good time to react.

For some strange reason, and probably it was personal perception, I felt that the AI of this game as less difficult than with the other two ports. The most interesting point, is that this was the first game to play for getting the screenshots for this entry.


Is it really necessary to mention? It’s true that this first iteration did not have the success expected by its creators, but the design was so solid, that founded the bases for creating new and updated games, until this day, we are getting new versions every year.

Basically all the main (and loved) features of the games saga is here: selecting from a myriad plays, the (at the time) unussual perspective, the amazing pace of the match.


At the time, I had a chance to playing the game in a PC-DOS computer. But the main diskette was faulty, so I had to wait years to finally play these first versions for computers. In the meantime, I was able to play many times the consoles versions, so I was familiar with the mechanics. But I had troubles to properly play these earlier versions of the franchise.

Would I had enjoyed it if able to play it at the time? Hard to say, the game had the solid options and customizations I like in sports videogames. Although during my high school years I used to enjoy more dynamic titles and less of managerial ones.

My personal conclusion is that, the main issue with these three ports was the control, one-button joystick, because you had to use double clicks, which make a bit confusing the play, although you can get used to it. Until the game was ported to consoles with more buttons, the franchise reached status of touchdown in american football videogames.


Sport Icon designed by Smashicons of FlatIcon licensed by CC 3.0 BY.

Remaining icons taken from Retroarch.

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