Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Game 265: 10-Yard Fight

I was a little surprised when my post on Computer Quarterback, an inscrutably abstract two-player Apple II simulation of a sport I have zero interest in and almost as little knowledge about, sustained well above average reader interest.

So now, here's a football arcade game with direct player control and some very weird interpretations on the sport's rules. There is only offense, only one receiver is available for passing plays, your dash is more like a relaxed walking speed at barely a yard and a half per second, interceptions are penalized with yardage loss, scoring a touchdown beats the "level," the clock is all but guaranteed to run out well before you hit the end zone, and once it does, you've got to gain ten yards every single down or lose the game.


The above video cuts out the first two levels which represent high-school defenders and isn't very interesting to watch (or play). Subsequent levels represent a college team, professional team, and finally a Super Bowl team.


Each "level" starts with the kickoff and first return run, where your team moves in a tight, unshakable formation.


This already feels weird and I don't even follow football. Everything's just so... slow, and the play mechanics are odd. Your team moves in perfect synchronicity, following the quarterback's lead, and to keep the defenders off him you've got to jostle around the whole team so that individual players block the pursuers, incapacitating both for a few precious seconds.

Should one catch up to you, wiggling the joystick will shake him off, but getting caught by two or more players will end your run, and because the defense always moves faster than your own pokey gait, you're certain to get mobbed eventually. The computer loves doing comically long "Superman" tackles, which can't be shaken off, and being tagged four times will also result in an instant tackle.

You'll want to gain as much yardage as you can here, obviously, but thanks to the way 10-Yard Fight works, performing poorly can completely ruin you. On the college level's second half, you effectively get 30 seconds of running time, and after that runs out, just one unsuccessful play can mean game over. Every ten yards you don't gain here is a fight that you'll have to win later on.

The plays are quite basic. Your only strategy option is where to position your receiver, who runs across the field until the snap. Forward passes are pretty risky; even when there's an open zone, defenders move erratically and can close the gap and intercept faster than you might think, which will cost you a disastrous 20 yards. The safest choice is usually to do a lateral pass and run as far as you can with it, though as time starts to run out, you may need to play things not so safely.

Pass or throw, though, there are no long yardages plays. You run slower than a typical New Yorker walks, and even if you break through the lines, you will get dogpiled.

Score a touchdown and you'll earn thousands of points and get a "kick or run" bonus game, with a chance to score another 1000.

Kicking is easy. Running seems impossible.

Then the cycle repeats, but it becomes harder, and crucially, the running time becomes pretty stringent, each round giving you fewer seconds than the round before it.

One peculiarity that shows up on the harder rounds, owing to the time limit, is that sometimes it's beneficial to scuttle a play, giving up a few seconds so that you can retry with more favorable conditions. For instance, suppose it's 1st & 10, and there are six seconds left on the clock. If you go for the play, it's do or die; your time will run out, and then you either make your ten yards or you lose the game. Or you could deliberately try to get tackled before time runs out, maybe gain a few yards, and then have a second chance to gain the rest of them, hopefully against an easier defense formation.

I made it to the "pro" league, where you get 25 seconds in the first half and 20 in the second.

GAB rating: Below Average. 10-Yard Fight is weird, slow, shallow, primitive, and not a whole lot of fun. The defense is erratic, sometimes changing its directions mid-charge instead of going for an easy tackle, and my best plays felt more like they exploited strange AI behavior than that I employed good skill or strategy. I almost want to rate this "bad," and yet I found myself strangely compelled to replay it and figure out how to not completely suck at it, which must say something considering I don't even like football.

10-Yard Fight had a 1984 re-release called "Vs. 10-Yard Fight," which despite the name has nothing to do with Nintendo's VS. System, and allows a second player to control one of the defenders while properly alternating offense and defense. An NES port in 1985, based on the Vs. version, somewhat expanded defensive options, and being the system's first football title is likely the most widely played version of the game.

I am curious if 10-Yard Fight might have influenced the later, and much more fondly remembered Tecmo Bowl series. From what I've seen of it, it seems very plausible that 10-Yard Fight walked, so to speak, so that Tecmo Bowl could run.

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