Depth chart

By Jae-Ha Kim and Misha Davenport
Chicago Sun-Times
December 10, 2002

Are you ready for some football? TV isn’t the only place you’ll find some good games, especially if you’re into interactive sports where there’s little chance you’ll get hurt (outside of a little carpal tunnel, perhaps). Here we try out the slew of new video games on the market, telling you which score touchdowns and which fumble near the goal line.

You’ll have to supply your own cheerleaders.

NCAA COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2K3 • RECOMMENDED • FROM: Sega Sports• RATED: E • REVIEWED FOR: GameCube

Every armchair quarterback dreams of handpicking his own squad. The premise for this game is awesome, and gameplay is relatively quick, but the end result isn’t as exciting. You may play through an entire season, where you may get to ham it up at the Rose Bowl. Or if a trophy isn’t your raison d’etre, you may opt to play random teams on whims.

As in real-life college football, a good chunk of time may be spent wooing high school stars to attend your college. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to use money, fast cars or hookers to lure them.

Sure, it’s fun pitting a Pac 10 team against one of the stalwarts from the Big 10. But what I want to know is: Where are the University of Chicago Maroons? Now that’s a football team. –Jae-Ha Kim

BACKYARD FOOTBALL 2003 • RECOMMENDED • FROM: Infogrames • RATED: E REVIEWED • FOR: GameCube

You wouldn’t think a game designed for kids could be so much fun for adults, but this one is pretty darned cute. It’s best enjoyed when playing with a little kid. Infogrames’ latest pint-sized take on sports features kitschy humor that’ll drive you insane if you hate knock-knock jokes. It takes the game relatively seriously, but includes silly schoolyard plays such as the Roly Poly and Leap Frog that’ll keep the little ones chuckling.

Thirty-two NFL teams are featured here, but only 10 pro athletes (including Jerry Rice) appear as their child-size animated doppelgangers. They look like adorable little Weebles, even when they fumble.

There’s also some grrrl power here: Little girls aren’t relegated to the cheerleading squad. They get to play ball, too.

That said, the game does grow repetitive after a few plays. So it’s best to rent this game rather than shelling out the bucks to buy. –Jae-Ha Kim

NFL GAMEDAY 2003 • SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED • FROM: 989 Sports • RATED: E REVIEWED • FOR: PlayStation 2

This game looks great but plays slow. If you’re not a huge football fan to begin with, the stall time will grow tedious. One of its most interesting elements, though, is the ability to create your own player of freakishly odd proportions. Will he play as well as a pro? Depends. But it’s sure fun watching him waddle down the 50-yard line.         Sportscaster Dick Enberg’s familiar voice does a fine job on the commentary. –Jae-Ha Kim

MADDEN NFL 2003 • HIGHLY RECOMMENDED • FROM: EA Sports • RATED: E • REVIEWED FOR: PlayStation 2

This may be the 13th Madden title, but there’s nothing unlucky about it. Madden continues to lead the video gridiron league with graphics and sound that sometimes make you forget you’re playing a game and not watching “Monday Night Football.”

Like any good football franchise, EA Sports continues to build on the strengths of the previous versions with new features and enhancements.

This year, there’s Football 101, where John Madden walks you through specific plays, advises when and how to throw a pass and–in my case–offers post-play analysis to tell me what I did wrong.

For those who plunked down the cash for the PS2’s online adapter and a broadband subscription, there’s also the option of playing people from across the country. Madden proves yet again it’s the Super Bowl champ of football titles. –Misha Davenport

NFL FEVER 2003 • SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED • FROM: Microsoft • RATED: E • REVIEWED FOR: XBox

I didn’t think it was possible for a football franchise to get worse. Microsoft has proved me wrong. There isn’t much to distinguish NFL Fever 2003 from NFL Fever 2002. Graphics and sound pretty much remain the same.

One big difference is the downloadable online content, but even that has a negative side. Compare the Bears’ performance on the field before and after you update the game to reflect the current roster of players thanks to players sidelined by injuries, and you might think real-time updates aren’t such a great idea. I know I did.

The game’s biggest fault doesn’t lie in content, per se, but in the artificial intelligence programmed into it. The computer knows your playbook and can counter anything you throw at it. It’s enough to leave you virtually scoreless and totally frustrated. –Misha Davenport

DISNEY SPORTS FOOTBALL • RECOMMENDED • FROM: Konami • RATED: E • REVIEWED FOR: Gameboy Advance

No offense meant to the female fans of Madden and other titles, but Konami may have inadvertently stumbled on a franchise that little girls will actually pick up and enjoy.

That’s not to say it isn’t challenging (it is) and the plays involved don’t require knowledge of basic strategy that only comes from a few seasons of playing football (they do). The fact of the matter is that young boys who might find “Madden NFL” too complicated will pick up “Backyard Football” before they would this game, with its Disney characters. Unless they really have a desire to see Mickey mop the field with Donald Duck’s butt, of course. –Misha Davenport


Bears vs. Dolphins on ‘Madden’–and Monday night

Just how accurate is “Madden NFL 2003?” The folks at EA Sports posted on their Web site a simulation of last night’s matchup between the Chicago Bears and the Miami Dolphins, several hours before the actual kickoff.

We go live–er, sort of–for game highlights:

The Dolphins scored first, on a long field goal by Olindo Mare.

Chicago took a 7-3 lead on 21-yard pass to Marty Booker, but the second quarter belonged to the Dolphins. At halftime, Miami led 13-7.

By the fourth quarter, Chicago had cut the lead to two points, thanks to an Anthony Thomas reception and a touchdown by David Terrell (both of whom are injured). Miami immediately countered, scoring after a long drive on a pass to Ricky Williams.

With one minute left in the game, Bears quarterback Jim Miller overthrew his receiver and was intercepted by a diving Sam Madison. It was Madison’s third interception of the game and enough to secure the win. Despite some critical defensive lapses by the Dolphins, Chicago still lost, 30-21. –Misha Davenport

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