Madden (based on legendary coach and broadcaster John Madden) is the undisputed king of the video game football hill, but there are plenty of other titles that have captivated players throughout the years. Most of them are no longer around, due to industry consolidation, licensing deals or pure bad luck. But each of them can still bring a smile to the face of virtual gridiron fans.
First published in 1988, the game is now one of the industry's best-selling titles on an annual basis. Its release each August, in fact, is a nightmare for some HR departments, as it's not uncommon for fans to call in sick to spend that first day playing the game. The 2012 installment registered first-week sales that were 10 percent higher than last year's game and 19 percent above the 2010 version. To date, it has brought in more than $3 billion for Electronic Arts.
If there was one game that could have given Madden a real challenge, it was Take-Two's NFL2K line. Adored by fans and praised by critics, the game teamed with ESPN to offer a different take on how football had traditionally been presented in video games and saw its popularity increase each year. That came to a screeching halt in December 2004 when EA signed an exclusivity deal with the NFL, essentially killing the competition.
Instead of focusing on strategy, the Blitz series celebrated the rough side of football — specifically spectacular tackles. It started as an arcade game in 1997, but quickly found its way to home consoles. When developer Midway lost the NFL license in 2005, it ramped up the violence to an over-the-top level, winning some fans. The game, however, wasn't popular enough to save the company, which was liquidated in 2009. EA has brought Blitz back this year as an Xbox Live downloadable title, but at the request of the NFL it has dialed back the violence levels.
This arcade favorite from 1988 didn't feature any NFL licenses. Instead, the game was played by robots, which either had to score or get a first down before the ball exploded. (The robotic players would explode after too many hits, as well.) Realistic? Not even close, but the game's use of two screens and four simultaneous players made it a favorite quarter-gobbler among mall-goers of the time.
This EA series was, in some ways, a kinder, gentler Blitz. NFL pros were taken off the field and made to play by street rules, meaning seven-on-seven teams with no fouls and few penalties. Instead of focusing on hits, though, Street focused on style, rewarding players for huge plays or taunts of their opponents. The game did well, but not great, and was cancelled in 2006 after three installments.