PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous
RELEASE DATE: 04/1989 – (US), 1989 – (EU)
DOES NOT SUPPORT: The Sports Pad
Walter Payton Football says nothing to me about my life, and yet, it is the best football game on the Master System thus far. Its top ranking sounds lovely until you consider that, by 1989, the Master System only had one other football game: the supremely neutered Great Football/Sports Pad Football. In the latter, if you were playing a one-player game, your game was limited to the fourth quarter, nothing more. Only in two-player could you play a full four-quarter football game against another person. In Walter Payton, this is not the case. Not only can you play a full-fledged four-quarter football game against an opposing team here, but you can play several four-quarter football games in a row if you so choose.
After deciding whether to play just one game in the option “Monday Night Football” or too many games in “Road to the Super Bowl,” you’ll need to choose your team and how you want time to be measured. There are two types of time, Running and Real. With Running Time, the clock never stops ticking. With Real Time, the clock stops when a player runs out of bounds or makes an incomplete pass. Neither one affects the game to a significant degree, so it all comes down to preference. Teams are organized by city, though, of course, there are no licensed teams or players; rare was the sports game before 1990 that carried a fully licensed roster or teams. And even if Sega had that kind of green to spend, their budget was probably exhausted on Walter Payton and his snazzy Sega headband.
The Huddle screen gives you play options for both offense and defense. There are three kinds of offensive plays – line, passing, and kicking – with fourteen offensive formations in all. Defense is limited to seven maneuvers. Don’t know what you’re doing? If you’re on offense, run with the ball. If you’re on defense, attack the guy running with the ball that’s not on your team. That’s what all these squiggly lines are trying to tell us, anyway. Half of the fun in Walter Payton is messing with the plays and seeing what the CPU will do in response. If you lack knowledge on the all-American sport, however, and you don’t have the original instruction manual to help you understand what each play means, you’ll have to rely on the Internet or a football-lovin’ buddy to explain them to you.
If you like football and retro games, Walter Payton Football will be right up your pixelated alley. Its got a decent amount of depth for its time, a wide variety of in-game plays, it controls well and looks good. Really, the only feature the game’s missing is licenses, but one can hardly blame it for that, given its ’89 release date. That being said, if you’re not a football fan, but you enjoy the occasional lighthearted round of virtual pigskin, you’re still better off with that other football game from 1989, Tecmo Bowl. Nintendo wins again.