Fever pitch: Nigel Mansell makes his Formula One comeback and a Dalek commentates on American football. Rupert Goodwins plays the games

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
America and Britain - two nations divided by a common love of oddly-shaped balls. Nobody's written the definitive video-game simulation of rugby, but for those aficionados of New World choreographed bonecrunching, Madden NFL '94 (Sega Megadrive) packages this year's entire winter season of American football for instant couch-potato consumption.

The eponymous John Madden is the Eddie Waring of American football and his simulacrum appears briefly here with eyebrows twitching and arms waving. In a heavily computerised voice, not dissimilar to a Dalek impersonating Alastair Cooke, he delivers a homely commentary on the fumbles, fouls and flashes of brilliance going down on the field.

Fortunately, the game is more than strong enough without him. During play, you control strategy and individual players alternately, setting the moves for the rest of the team before going back into the game for some real-time snaps, rushes and sacks. The animation is as good as it could be, given the size of the field and the number of players dashing about. All of those mystifying moves where the players scatter from the ball like chickens from a fox are painstakingly recreated, and the way these are controlled from Sega's three buttons is a tiny masterpiece of design.

An entire season, from initial playoffs to the Superbowl, can be played out - the game remembers the positions of the teams between sessions. You can play against the computer or a friend, or both of you can team up on the hapless machine. There's even a setting where the computer plays both sides of all the games all season without human intervention, but forcing your family to watch this would probably be mitigation for murder.

Nigel Mansell might have headed off to the land of Madden to smash a few walls, but his finest year in Formula One has now been recreated. Nigel Mansell's World Championship Racing (Super Nintendo) takes the armchair boy racer around the 16 Grand Prix circuits in competition with Schumacher, De Cesaris and the other knights of the turbocharger.

It's not a simulation, more an arcade game - you can't spin, overheat or run out of gas. You can choose gear ratios, tyre types and aerofoil efficiency, all of which modify your speed and road-holding. The weather changes and if you miss a pit stop you might run out of rubber, but that's the extent of the strategy. From then on it's one thumb on the throttle, one on the steering and aim for the gaps between the cars in front.

A couple of practice modes help mitigate those first embarrassing attempts to avoid the trees, flags and hoardings. More BSM than Formula One, there's an empty track where the computer increases the top speed of your car as you become more proficient at not crashing; the more advanced learner can drive around any of the main courses with Nige himself muttering 'Fast]' 'Slow]', 'Care]' and 'Good]'. Sometimes, the monosyllables even manage to match what's happening on screen.

Games like this have been around for more than a decade, and this one adds little to the state of the art. It's good enough, although the lack of a two-player option will seriously limit its long-term appeal. It's instructive, though, to compare your best time when sober against that achieved after a couple of drinks - who knows, Nigel Mansell may yet prove a major advance in road safety.

(Photograph omitted)

Comments