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The First Five Sports Games


If I could understand why that asterisk is doing up there, I’d sleep far more soundly at night.

Originally an arcade game from 1983 by Irem, 10 Yard Fight game was ported over to the NES in order to be ready for the launch system. The only real difference between the cabinet and the port was the ability to play defense; the arcade was strictly for simulating the offense. The console version also added the ability to play 2 players (offense and defense) simultaneously.

This game is strange in the fact that I can’t find ANY information on the creation of the game…most, if not all NES games I can uncover the creator at least…all I get on 10 Yard Fight is that Irem created it, Taito published in the US, and Electrocoin did the same for Europe.

As far as game play, it’s glacial. Play develops slowly, and not very creatively. I saw a review of the game that described it as a racing game, not a football game; while that’s not totally fair, there is an element of truth to it. It’s strictly option football…on offense, you can only control the quarterback, and your options are either to toss to a wide out, toss to a single player in motion (always from the right) or try to keep the ball and run it. The defense swarms the player with the ball, and computer controlled AI will attempt to block them, but VERY much in the 1980s programming style; very simple, very much brute force. Defense swamps the ball carrier, and will jump to tackle (as the levels progress, the tackling gets much, much better.)

On reflection, it’s not so much a racing game as a simple military tactics game, which I guess captures the spirit of football as a field of battle.  

For all of that, the game has its moments. It is, on a very basic level, a game that captures football. It doesn’t capture it well, but I can’t imagine that the American Football scene was jumping in Japan in 1980. It has scalable AI, which you can set from high school through SuperBowl (which would immediately get sued by the NFL for simple use of the name.) It does have a limited ability to punt and/or kick a field goal. There’s a solid understanding of the rules of football…you can’t throw twice, you can’t pass beyond the line of scrimmage, it keeps a very basic track of downs and yards needed to gain a first down. The defense will block and/or intercept passes, and it does use blocking halfway effectively when the AI controls the offense.

The only major complaint is on a 2 player game, the second player ALSO gets the AI assistance on defense, which can make it very hard on player 1.


Video gaming’s first great baseball game

Of all the nuggets of the first games I was going to write, this one (and Mario Bros, because, well, SMB) were the ones I was most looking forward to. I am a massive baseball fan. I grew up worshipping the St. Louis Cardinals. My wife and I went on our first date to a Cards game (and she bought the tickets! This is high on the list of why I wifed that woman.) Playing baseball games, notably RBI 3 and Baseball Stars on the NES, are some of my favorite video game memories. I’ve owned at least 15 different baseball games, from this original NES game through Xbox One games, played (and actually enjoyed) management games like Out Of the Park, and bought extra peripherals for the Wii just to play Mario Super Sluggers (which I still think is underrated). And I knew that I’d get the chance to look up a brief history of baseball games.

And Baseball for the NES is FAR from the first baseball video game. I figured I’d find a game from the late 70s. I was off by at least 15 years.  One of the first “video” games of all time, BBC Vik, the Baseball Demonstrator, was written for the IBM 1620 mainframe, the computer used in the Gemini space program of the late 1950s/early 1960s. BBC Vik used a database of pre-programmed historical players’ batting averages, combined them with a random number generator, and “played” a 9 inning game over 20 minutes or so. While it definitely created different, random results, it was intended as more of a way to show off the immense processing power of the 1620 (20000 digits of memory!)

This is what BBC Vik’s final “score” looked like, a printed out result of the game. Not much video to this “video” game

Baseball! for the PDP-10 (made by DEC in 1966) was the first game you could affect the gameplay during actual gameplay, but was still a text-based game. Tornado Baseball was the first real “video” game in 1976 (it’s even in the Anchorman movie, very very briefly), but it was basically a throw and hit game where you just controlled the batter and the pitcher. The first true “video game” was Atari Baseball in 1979,  a sit down cabinet where two players sat across from each other and used a swing/throw button and a trackball to advance the runners. 

All of this leads us to 1983’s NES Baseball, a game designed specifically for the NES/Famicom. It was one of the first 3 games created for the system, and for obvious reasons…baseball is immensely popular in both Japan and the US, which were the two main target audiences Nintendo was aiming for. And while you’ll see this again and again (and again), the greatest video game creator of the 1970s and 80s, Shigeru Miyamoto was the lead designer of NES Baseball. (he was the creative mind behind some small games most people haven’t ever heard of, like Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros 1 and 3, and the Legend of Zelda).

As far as the game itself, it’s simple, but well-polished. Controls are basically the same as every baseball game today, with the ability to choose one of 4 pitch types then control the pitch after release. When batting, players can control swing timing. Offense can control how to advance the runners (as well as steal bases) while defense controls where to throw (and pickoff baserunners as well).

I love the little things in this game that make it a well-polished one, like the umpires fading in when they’re making a call, and disappearing when they’re not needed. (Plus they use playoff umpire alignment, with extra umps down the foul lines in the outfield, which is cool). The music is super catchy (I want the music from in-between innings as my ringtone, if anybody knows where to find it). The AI is super sharp…it doesn’t make mistakes, and it’ll punish you for stupid mistakes (you can throw the ball around the horn after an out. The computer will advance when you do).

On the negative side, I don’t like that the defensive players run like 45 times faster than the baserunner, and man, sometimes it’s brutal trying to catch a ball in the outfield (then again, this is an issue I complain about in almost every baseball game I play).

And most importantly, Team C, when they play on the road, uses the Cardinals’ baby-blue and red uniforms from the early 80s. While it’s probably not intentional (I’m sure there was a Japanese team that used a similar color scheme) it does mean that I can play as the Cardinals, even when I’m not supposed to be able to.


Mario makes his first appearance! As an angry, angry golfer

The granddaddy of all golf games. Yes, it’s only 9 holes. And it’s ONLY those 9 holes.  But man, is it a great game. It’s sweet and simple, but it allows for different clubs, the greens have an actual slope, the wind has a tiny bit of influence.

The controls are brutal (swings are fast, the sweet spot is tiny) the game is far from forgiving (out of bounds is just about everywhere) and while it gives you a distance from the tee to the hole, it doesn’t from your lie, so EVERYTHING after teeing off is an estimate.

This is the first game that used a power bar, which comes in basically EVERY golf game since, from Golden Tee to Tiger Woods. The clubs have different strengths, and have different strengths out of the sand vs off the grass. You can hook and slice (either intentionally or non-intentionally).

And across Nintendo, man, does the influence of this game show EVERYWHERE. Wii sports golf is a 3d version of the original NES course. Frisbee golf and golf in Wii Sports Resort are also different versions of the course. It’s even in the firmware on the Switch…almost all as an homage to the game’s designer, Satori Iwata. This was his first project with Nintendo, and when he passed away in 2015, he was the company’s CEO.


Another one of the early games that not much is known about. Most of the info is “released in the initial release of games.” “Allows 2 players.” I can find a manual, which doesn’t give that much more info.

But then there’s THIS interview from Wired.

NES Tennis is yet another Shigeru Miyamoto creation.

Apparently, when the FAMICOM released in Japan, there were only 3 games released alongside. They understandably wanted more than that, and to make the effort to get the new games coded and released, Miyamoto locked himself in the campus of Nintendo and got to work. Remember, Nintendo was a playing card company until the 1970s, and was still very much a card making company in 1983 when the FAMICOM was released. (It still does. It’s been making cards since the 1880s.) Miyamoto talks about telling his friends he’d seem them in a few months, and then confining himself to the Nintendo campus until the games were done. (there’s a pretty funny anecdote about the hot water from the card factory being used as a source for a bathhouse on the compound, which means that some of the greatest video games of the 1980s were created by a bunch of naked Japanese programmers.)


Anyway, now that we’re done with naked Japanese men (or are we?) creating NES Tennis was apparently an intentional effort to create an initial grouping of games with immensely broad appeal. This is a trend Nintendo will follow for the next 4 decades, with every new system dropping with a variety of games in order to snag as much of the gaming community as possible.

NES Tennis isn’t the first tennis video game…one of the very first video games was “Tennis for Two:”

“Tennis for Two” was created in the late 1950s. Players used a dial to control an osciliscope and send a ball back and forth over a net. The game was created for a visitor’s day at the computer lab, meaning what is now recognized as the second video game ever made was created to entertain families of the computer scientists as Brookehaven Labs. The second best bit of trivia about “Tennis for Two” is that after a few months, they disassembled the game because they needed the parts for a new project.  The BEST piece of trivia is that we know about “Tennis for Two” because a lawsuit over the most famous tennis game of all time, Pong, used Tennis for Two as ammunition about game ownership. Pong, the grand-daddy of all home video games, was release din 1972 as an arcade cabinet, and after a few years, was released as a stand-alone home video game. The system Atari sold ONLY played Pong, but was hugely successful for a game that was in black and white, had no net, and absolutely no ability to do anything other than launch the ball and bounce it back and forth.

Activision Tennis, for the Atari 2600, was a true tennis game, but there was no swing control…it was just Pong with the ability to go back and forth as well as up and down.

NES Tennis truly brought the game of tennis to the family room. And while it’s not much, it IS a game that brings more control and finesse into the game than any other before. Players control the service, you can mis-serve and double fault. There’s a standard return shot and a lob. There’s even singles sidelines and doubles alleys. The computer has varying levels of ability. And Mario is the referee!

It’s not the standout of the launch games. It’s not even the best of the sports games. But it’s a solid effort and impressive in a way. It was, after all, invented over a few weeks by a bunch of naked Japanese guys trying to build a game portfolio. That’s gotta be worth something.


The first time I wrote my review of Soccer, I simply wrote “a soccer game coded by someone who once overheard two guys at a bar talking about soccer.” 

We’ll get back to that thought in a minute.

Soccer is a sport that seems super easy in theory…kick the ball, don’t use your hands, and put the ball in the other team’s net.

Reality is MUCH more complicated.

My all-time favorite soccer play. Potentially my all-time favorite play in all of sport. But try explaining what’s going on here to someone who doesn’t play soccer. Why is there nobody on defense. How are there more than 90 minutes on the clock? Why is that old British man kicking the ball so hard?

While soccer really can be described in those broad strokes, there are so many tiny, little aspects of soccer that make “The Beautiful Game” beautiful, but also so incredibly hard.  How to pass the ball. Fast breaks vs methodical advancement. Simply controlling ball spin makes the game completely different. Speed vs intelligence vs ball-handling ability. The value of a 4-3-3 vs a 4-3-2-1 vs a 3-5-2. There are BOOKS written just about penalty kicks. PENALTY KICKS. This isn’t even an event that occurs in every game. It’s not like writing about the forward pass, or the jump shot. And I’m talking MULTIPLE BOOKS. This should let you know the tiniest bit of the complexity of soccer. (and I realize I’ve hit the teensiest bit of the iceberg. But hey, I only have 1000 words on like 6 games here.) (editor’s note, he ends up spending 745 on NES Soccer. This series of articles will never actually end.)

And OK, I get it. Soccer is a hard sport to turn into a video game.

See HERE. or HERE. or maybe HERE.

EVERY SINGLE VERSION OF ANY SOCCER GAME is going to have issues. I’ve seen arguments over what version of FIFA is the best (the best was between an American and an Afghan, because neither could find the words in each other’s language to make the conversation work, and the interpreter was laughing his ass off trying to keep up.) (they were both right and both wrong simultaneously).  Issues like how to control player movement are pivotal. How you pass vs shoot.. The ways you control where you shot goes BEFORE it leaves your foot. The way you select which player to control on defense can make or break a game. How you control your goaltender is a vital issue related to controllers thrown through TV screens.  Which button you use to do all of these actions AFTER you decide as a game creator what actions are going to be done.

Now imagine doing it on an 8 bit processor. On a controller with 2 axis controls and 2 buttons that can only tell the console on/off. On a cartridge that can only store a limited number of bits.

It’s no wonder this game is a hot mess. It’s not the game’s fault. It’s not the programmer’s fault. It’s 1984’s fault. 

FIFA 2020 has its issues (see HERE), and the XBoxOne has 8GB of processing power and a 1.3 terraflops of speed. That’s (tries the math, carries the 2, pulls out calculator to check math….) Well, that’s a shit-ton more than the NES. A metric shit-ton. Which is like 2.3 times an imperial shit-ton.

This brings us all the way back to NES Soccer. Upon careful consideration, despite my original thoughts on the game, it’s actually pretty impressive. It’s the first game where the players look like players. It’s the first game where you can use tactics. And you can honestly play one on one soccer with a buddy.

And yeah, the controls are miserable. Shooting is brutal. You nominally control the shot location but you’re doing it while controlling the player. (on both offense and defense, which really distracted me for longer than it should have. Swapping players is rough. Regularly you hope the computer will swap to the closer player and it won’t, or worse, it’ll swap at the wrong time and you’ll immediately head the wrong direction. The number of times the goalie was in 100% the wrong spot is too high to count. And there’s only 5 players on the pitch at once.

But hey, you can pass the ball. You can sort of pick which player you pass it to. You can control where the ball goes during a shot on goal. You can control the goalie.

And sure, there are SIGNIFICANT issues with all of those things. But it’s the first time you can do any of them.

And while the game looks like a shitshow, it’s a huge step in the right direction.

Now if FIFA could just fix the “swap player button being the same button as the pass the ball button” issue, I’d be happy.

This (finally) completes the initial 5 sports games. we’ll be back shortly with the original three games that sort of (kind of) fit into the Adventure category.

Categories: Gameplay/Reviews NES NES History

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