American Football! We don’t ‘get it’ on this side of the pond, but that’s okay because we do know that the sport translates to excellent video games. However, translating the action of gridiron to the hardware available in 1983 was no easy feat. Irem took on this task and the end result was the very first proper attempt at America’s number one national sport in video game form. But 35 years later are these ten yards still worth fighting for? Time for a 'Hail Mary'...
Arcade Archives 10-Yard Fight is a game of concessions, immediately starting with line-up's count: there are only nine players per team on the field instead of the regular 11. Forget team selection or playbooks, in here there is only your offensive line-up versus the CPU defensive line-up and there is just one single play. It's up to you on what's the best course of action in order to make those magic ten yards for a first down. After you receive the initial kick and make your way as far up the field as possible, this is when the game truly begins.
The controls employ a two-button scheme: one for side pass and one for long pass. When snapping the ball back to your quarterback, you can either run him past the defenders or pass to your running back. When this gentleman receives the ball, you can choose to run up-field or pass the ball forward to your receiver. Believe it or not, this simple gameplay scheme does indeed deliver the thrills one would expect from a more modern football game and every decision has a risk/reward factor associated with it. Unlike the real deal, getting your pass intercepted will not result in a turnover, but instead in a certain to come ‘Game Over’ due to a 20-yard penalty.
As strange as this may sound, 10-Yard Fight is equal part American Football and racing game because you’re not only fighting the defenders, you’re fighting the clock to make that illusive touchdown to proceed to more difficult echelons. So while passing the ball is by far the biggest risk/reward decision you make, running will often be the safest option. Your runners go down if they get hit by a defenders tackle, with the same result if two defenders grab onto your player. However, if only one defender grabs you, swirling the D-Pad or left analog stick will make your runner break loose.
You might be a bit baffled to learn that the two-player mode in the original version simply lets players take turns moving the ball up field instead of allowing the more traditional versus option. HAMSTER wisely added the following year's revised Vs 10-Yard Fight in the package, a game that offers NES version multiplayer that came out in 1985. As usual with sports titles, having a human player on defence makes things much harder and far more exciting than trying to pull one over on the CPU. The second player takes controls of a single man from the defender's line-up, bare-bones it may be but it's still enough to make things interesting.
The usual full-featured emulation wrapper from HAMSTER once again gives you the chance to tweak everything to your liking, from game options to screen filters and the ever popular 'Caravan Mode' for intensive five minutes runs up-field to accumulate as many first downs as humanly possible and compare your performance again the rest of the world.
10-Yard Fight is as bare-bones as one might expect from the first proper attempt at a proper American Football simulation. It's got no extras, no fancy audio or music (bar some good digitised speech) and no depth one might be used to in modern takes on the genre. It is, however, a true piece of video game history and a brave effort by Irem that certainly paved the way for other greats of the genre. In the end, this Arcade Archive release is a pioneer once again by becoming the very first American Football game on the Nintendo Switch, and if you were around at the time it was first released you will certainly have as much fun with it today as you did back in 1983. As for the other video football enthusiasts out there, best to hold out for future releases within the genre or perhaps secure a NES Classic Mini with the superior Tecmo Super Bowl.