The first John Madden football game was first released in 1988 for PCs. Subsequent versions were released on Sega Genesis and then Playstation.
33 years later, Madden remains the most popular football franchise of all time. Fans wait with bated breath each year to see who’ll appear on the cover. And players either brag or complain about the numerical rating given to them by the game.
That doesn’t mean, however, that there haven’t been plenty of other great football titles. Here are the 10 best not associated with the Madden brand.
Mutant League Football
This game, which premiered in 1993, is related to Madden since it is built on the same engine. But that’s where the similarity ends. Rather than players from NFL teams, the rosters were comprised of aliens, robots, skeletons, trolls, and superhuman beings.
There were also a number of challenges players had to overcome. There were landmines and fire pits and players could even die during every play.
The game inspired a spin-off game called Mutant League Hockey and even a cartoon simply titled Mutant League.
NFL Fever 2002
The main reason that Madden is so popular is because of the game play. There are, however, other reasons as well. Many players of the title like to play in franchise mode. This allows gamers to assemble a team, participate in drafts and make trades and hires.
NFL Fever, released first in 2002, has a similar option. Users could control their squads for up to 25 years. While allowing for this option, the game was also easier to play than Madden. The title was a critical success and spawned a couple of sequels.
During the early to mid-1990s, NBA Jam was one of the nation’s most popular games both in arcades and on consoles. In an attempt to mimic the success of that game, NFL Blitz was created. And NFL Blitz eventually morphed into NFL Street.
NFL Street had no interest in trying to copy the gameplay of Madden. In fact, the games took place in a sandy lot. And only 7 players were on each side rather than the standard 11. The game was a huge hit with critics earning an 81 Metascore. EA later released two more versions of the title.
NFL Quarterback Club 99
Most worthwhile football video games don’t just come out for one year. If the game experiences any kind of success, it will be produced for multiple seasons. And that gives game makers the opportunity to tweak the title’s features.
That is exactly what happened with NFL Quarterback Club 99 which took a big leap ahead of its predecessors. All 31 teams were available and this version gave gamers their first chance to play with Peyton Manning. The game was critically acclaimed with an aggregated score of 78%.
NFL Fever 2002
The first Xbox wasn’t released until November of 2001. But before moving over to console games, Microsoft wanted to create their own football game. So back in 1999, the company released the popular NFL Fever 2000 for PC play.
Following the debut of the Xbox, Microsoft moved the game over to Xbox. And its first version, NFL Fever 2002, was seen as a real challenger to the Madden series. Microsoft, however, did not keep up with its competitors and quickly faded away.
ESPN NFL 2K5
NFL 2K5 had something cool going for it that Madden couldn’t match, the presence of ESPN. Visual Concepts, the game developer, leaned into that relationship by featuring popular personalities from the network like Chris Berman, Suzy Kolber, Mel Kiper, and Trey Wingo.
Another interesting feature in the game was a celebrity Pro-Bowl mode that featured some of the biggest names at the time like Carmen Electra, Steve-O, David Arquette, Funkmaster Flex, and Jamie Kennedy. NFL 2K5 received a 92 Metascore.
EA NCAA Football
In some parts of the country, NFL football is king. In other parts, especially in the South, college football reigns supreme. So it is no surprise that the Electronic Arts NCAA Football series was wildly popular with gamers.
The gameplay was similar to Madden, but with college footballers beings amateurs, the players in the game weren’t identified by name, only by number. Despite the popularity of the title, EA discontinued the game in 2013. This February, though, Electronic Arts announced its plans to release a new version of the game in 2022.
Most football games over time have had a license to feature NFL teams and players. But that is not necessarily a necessity. That was proven by Football Heroes, a 2013 iOS-based game.
Even without the players or teams of the NFL, players loved the game. It was easy to play, featured great graphics, and has a lot of fun little wrinkles. Players could challenge other users or play against the computers and power cards allowed them to upgrade their team.
Electronic Arts NCAA Football game was not the only successful title based on the college game. Back in 1996, NCAA Gamebreaker became the first 32-bit college football game. Players were amazed at both the graphics and the fast gameplay.
When Playstation 2 came out, Sony attempted to transition the game. The move did not go well as the graphics did not hold up and reviews were poor. Still, gamers still have fond memories of the original incarnation of the game.
Tecmo Super Bowl
Players of a certain age have a profound fondness for Tecmo Bowl. The game, developed by Nintendo, was the first-ever football video game to really get it right. Tecmo Super Bowl, though, which came out in 1991, was the real winner.
The 1991 version of the game was the first to have full licensing rights and could feature all of the NFL teams and players. The game is considered to be a cult classic, especially for those who chose to use Bo Jackson. Back in 2011, ESPN voted it to be the all-time greatest sports video game.