Review by Psycho Penguin

"Can you handle The Road to New Orleans?"

Sports games really evolved when the Genesis was introduced. No longer were games with four teams and no modes acceptable. Now, sports games required a variety of game modes, teams, etc. College Football USA 96 was the first college football game ever released, to the best of my knowledge, and while it was a solid attempt, it didn't really feature a ton of game modes, plus it has problems delivering a solid and fun gameplay experience.

Fortunately, EA Sports didn't just release the same game with updated rosters and more game modes, oh no. They completely retooled the experience from top to bottom, providing one of the finest college football games ever released, especially for the 16-bit consoles. I never expected a college football game to be this good so quickly, but after only two years, EA Sports really established themselves as a dominating force in the video game sports industry.

College Football USA 97 is not the deepest and most complex sports game out there, but it definitely gets the job done. In addition to your basic exhibition modes, you also get the option to play out an entire season in a quest to get to New Orleans, to play in the Sugar Bowl for the national title. You don't get a vast array of options in this season mode like in later college titles, as you may expect, but the ones provided are definitely solid. You can choose to watch important games, you can follow statistics and standings after each game, etc. The polls are the main thing to keep an eye on.

Of course, those expecting a ton of variety will be sorely disappointed. There's no create-a-team, create-a-player, etc. And because of the lack of player names (NCAA rules prohibit players names from appearing in video games, so numbers are used instead), the fact you can't rename them or create players is a tad disappointing. Oh well, I guess they had to ''protect the athletes'' or something like that. What a load of crap. The lack of game modes will definitely be a problem for those looking for a complete college football experience, but what do you expect?

The gameplay itself is surprisingly simple, yet effective. The camera view is overhead, but tilted a little, so you can get a clear view of the action as it happens on the field. Plays are easy enough to execute, as each team has their own playbook, with their own styles. Nebraska has the option-heavy playbook, while Florida has that fun-and-gun offense they made so famous when Spurrier was coaching (FIRERONZOOK.COM). That gave the game a cool feel to it, as you can establish differences between teams besides ''okay, this one is 3-1 and this one is 2-2'', and ''they have different color uniforms!''

Controls were pretty easy to understand, and anyone who has ever played a EA Sports football game will be instantly comfortable. The menus are easy to get through. With each play, you choose a formation, and three plays become available. You use one of the three buttons designated to call the play. You can browse between a bunch of different plays this way. Defense works the same way, just choose a formation then play. Targeting in offense is easy. If you call a pass play, just snap the ball and then throw the ball to the receiver you want. Each receiver has a button over their head which indicates which button you need to press to throw it to them. And the controls are silky smooth and intuitive, so you won't have any problems there.

Plus, the game looks pretty impressive. The graphics won't jump out at you and make you change your opinion of the world or anything like that, but what EA Sports did here was very commendable. The field is a bright green, but it will never prove to be too annoying. The players are nicely detailed and are easily distingushable from one another. The stadiums are remarkably animated, with a nicely drawn crowd. The graphics are even surprisingly good in the menu screens, with awesomely designed menus that are really fun to look at.

Besides the typical fight songs that are featured in mostly any EA Sports college football game here, you STUNNINGLY won't hear much music in this game. And because there is a lack of commentary (hey, this isn't NCAA 2004, you know), the only sounds you will usually hear are whistles blowing, tackles, etc. Fortunately, since these sounds are pretty decent, you won't be bored in between your school's fight song playing.

College Football USA 97 comes preassembled with three different challenge levels for your amusement. The easiest challenge level, Rookie, is pretty laughable and can be easily conquered even if you've never played the game before. However, the other two options, Heisman and All-American, are much more challenging and will provide a steep learning curve. Defenses play much tigher pass coverage, and running the ball becomes an exercise in futility. Expect to get used to punting a lot if you choose the All-American option. However, once you eventually get the hang of the game, it becomes a lot easier, even on All-American.

While the game used to have a high amount of replay value for me, it doesn't now. Sadly, it's not 1997 any more, and far better college football games have come along. NCAA Football 2004 is one of the best football games of all time, and provides everything this game does, and so much more, including one of the best dynasty modes ever placed into a football game. The fact that this game has no replay value is not its fault. It's a fine football game, but time has passed on it, just like every other sports game made back then. It's a sad fact of life.

College Football USA 97 is a great game, and historic, as well. This was only the 2nd NCAA title to ever be released, and it also happened to be the first great one. They only got better from here on out, culminating with one of the greatest football games ever released. Those interested in the series roots should skip over 96 and head straight to this one, but don't expect to play it for more than an hour or so.

Because this game is just like the Michigan Wolverines: Great in 1997, decent now.

Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 11/03/03

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