While they aren’t the main thing the NEOGEO is famous for, sports games didn’t do too badly on the system. SNK made sure to cover all of the major sports with at least one game, except hockey because everyone knows Canada isn’t real. Now, some of those ventures went better than others. You can’t get through most top ten lists of games on the console without hitting golf and “flying disc” games, and the soccer, baseball, and horse racing games seem to have at least done well enough for themselves. You can usually spot the ones that didn’t land, because SNK never went back to the well on those sports. Football Frenzy ($3.99) is the only American football game on the system, and I think I’ve gone and spoiled my review in the opening paragraph. Oops! Please click anyway, my family needs food.
Anyway, we’re in 1992. The NEOGEO had been out for a bit, and SNK’s takes on various sports had been doing well enough. We’ve got both feet into the one-on-one fighting boom by this point and SNK was already benefiting from getting in on it as early as possible. Still, not much point to an arcade machine that can hold multiple games unless you’ve got a variety on offer, so the sports games would continue. American football may not have been the most globally popular of sports, and still isn’t, but the North American market was big enough to be worth catering to in a very specific way from time to time.
It’s been a couple of decades since this whole video game mess had kicked off at this stage, and American football has finally started to find a proper footing in the electronic realm. Primitive yet important steps like 10-Yard Fight, Intellivision NFL Football, and that noisy buzzing Mattel handheld had given way to the double-pronged assault of pigskin pleasure that was Electronic Arts’ John Madden Football and Tecmo’s Tecmo Bowl. Two great ways to handle the sport, showing the way forward for any who desired to follow. SNK’s Football Frenzy seems to be more in the camp of the latter, presenting its action from a side-view.
This wasn’t SNK’s first time at the football rodeo, having taken the plunge initially with the 1987 release Touch Down Fever. That game wasn’t exactly a striking success, but the team that worked on Football Frenzy was completely different from that one. Indeed, this game was developed by and large by the same people who made King of the Monsters. I could imagine some tantalizing possibilities from that background, but it’s actually a fairly straightforward take on the sport. Ten teams, all fictional. A small but reasonably varied selection of offensive plays. No choice of defensive plays, which is odd and kind of annoying. The strangest thing about it is that you can actually punt through the uprights for three points. One gets the sense that the developer may not have been intimately familiar with the sport, but who knows?
You’re obviously meant to play against another player here for the ideal experience, but we all know how that goes with these mobile ACA NEOGEO releases. You technically can play against another player, but it involves multiple external controllers and realistically most of us aren’t going to be bothering with that. So the computer opponent it is, with a tournament that sees you trying to win three games. You’re probably used to this if you’ve played SNK games before, but it’s a tough haul. The CPU will stonewall your plays so often it barely seems worth trying anything even slightly fancy. Passing plays are the way to go here, as running plays will typically end in failure. But given that the computer is likely to be your only opponent, I suppose it’s better if it’s too strong than too weak. You can also tweak the difficulty settings in the game options, as usual. It helps a bit.
In terms of presentation, it’s actually pretty good for its time and place. The players are nicely detailed and well-animated, and the NEOGEO uses its characteristic zooming feature to focus or pull out on the action as needed. It’s colorful, vibrant, and overall a really nice-looking game. The audio is decent, with some light commentary and extremely generic but inoffensive music. The hits don’t have quite the bone-crunching quality I’d like to hear in a game like this, but I suppose you could argue that is more realistic.
Whenever I review these mobile ACA NEOGEO releases, there are always two things to consider. First, how good is the original game? In this case, it’s not exactly an all-timer. You can have some fun with it, but there’s a reason it didn’t get any sequels and people don’t often talk about it. The second thing is how well it plays in this mobile ACA NEOGEO format. This mostly comes down to how well the touch controls work and how much the game loses by being confined to single-player, balanced against any gains from having extra modes and online leaderboards. And it’s not really good news on that front.
This game uses all of the NEOGEO’s buttons when plays are unfolding, and you need to be able to hit the right one at the drop of a hat. It also requires some repetitive button pushing for speed boosts and joystick wiggling to get away from your opponent’s defense, and those don’t work very well with touch controls. I’ve already talked about the vexing CPU opponent, but it’s also worth mentioning how little there is to the game if you’re flying solo. It’s really just that tournament mode where you have to win three in a row. You can change teams for a slightly different experience, but that’s pretty thin gruel as variety goes. The extra Caravan and Score Attack modes save some Arcade Archives games, but they don’t do much here. It all relies on you enjoying the basic gameplay enough to keep coming back, and I don’t feel like Football Frenzy holds up well under the conditions at hand.
On its best day, you could say Football Frenzy is an amusing way to kill a bit of time with a friend before watching a movie or while you wait for your clothes to dry. There’s some potential here to be a nice mobile time-waster, but those who must rely on touch controls and can’t pull off the troublesome means of bringing in a second player will likely find this more frustrating than fun.