What do you do when the season is over? When snow at last lies thick on the local football field and the last Bowl games are decided does that mean that you've got to spend the rest of your winter weekends actually cleaning the garage or sweeping out the attic? No … Not if you're lucky enough to own an Atari Home Computer and a neat little program from Game star, Inc. called STARBOWL FOOTBALL (SF). Limber up your throwing arm, football fans, it's STILL football time!
SF is a sports program which was released in 1982 but which has only recently received attention from the media. The general lack of good sports games for the Atari makes this program particularly attractive, because it is one of the best football programs for the Atari currently on the market. Although many types of computer games can afford to be visually abstract, we expect a sports game to reflect reality as closely as possible. In this regard, SF fits the bill very nicely. It is visually full of nice touches such as a green, one hundred yard field that is marked off in ten, five and one-yard intervals with proper end zones, goal posts and yard markers.
The football players themselves are reasonably well-designed and are quite nicely animated. Sounds include a couple of rousing college fight songs, a bit of the "Star-Spangled Banner," referees' whistles, crowd roar and even the sound of the ball being kicked.
Overall, the graphics rate an above-average evaluation and, I suspect will be pleasantly satisfying even for us hard-to-please Atarians. Okay, so the game looks good. But what about the game-play? First of all, SF is easy to play. Even though it claims to have 196 different combinations of plays to choose from, it really only offers a choice of four pass plays and three running plays on Offense, and the same number of counter-plays on Defense. While this may not seem like a lot, it serves to keep the game moving along at a brisk pace. Thus, after only a few minutes study of the easily understood game instructions, you'll be managing your team like John Madden, himself. Nevertheless, the game is not easily mastered.
It requires a combination of strategy and timing in order to score big. In this, you'll be more successful against a human opponent than against the computer, since the computer opponent is much too formidable to be of much use, even for practice. (For instance, in a typical game against the computer, a friend of mine threw in the towel after the score had reached 100 to 0. However, the game designers claim that the computer CAN be beaten, so maybe it's a matter of persistence) .
Besides the one or two-player play mode, you can select from two different skill levels College or Pro. I would suggest the College level at first, but the Pro level offers the most fun once you have mastered the basics of the game. In SF, the action takes place on a horizontal football field of which only about 35 yards are visible at any one time. The television screen automatically scrolls the length of the field to keep up with play as the teams move up and down the gridiron.
As in real football, the object in SF is to 'out score your opponent with touchdowns, field goals or safeties. While trying to accomplish this, you must learn to contend with the game clock, the 30-second clock, interceptions, fumbles and penalties. The entire contest is controlled with the joystick, including play selection. There are six men on each team, only one of which you control the ball carrier on Offense, and the Free Safety on Defense. The computer controls the movements of the other men. However, you get to program the pass patterns for each Receiver and the blocking assignments for the Offensive line, as well as the pass coverage for the Corner backs and the rushing assignments for the Defensive line.
Once the ball is hiked, the quarter-back has the option of running with the ball, or passing it to a receiver assuming that you have previously (in secret) designated one as eligible. The free safety may blitz the QB or hang back and try for an interception or to tackle the runner. To complete a pass, you must hit the trigger the instant the ball arrives at the receiver.
Becoming proficient at this takes some practice, so be patient! (Even then, if the receiver is closely covered, the pass may fall incomplete). Running into anyone while carrying the ball, even your own man, can result in a tackle, which sometimes can turn into a fumble an automatic turnover. However, score a touchdown and your man does a little victory dance in the end zone a fitting "in-your-face" to a successful drive! Anyone looking for a reasonably accurate and visually enjoyable simulation of the game of football is sure to be pleased with SF. The major deficiencies lie with the discouragingly and unrealistically tough computer play and perhaps in the overemphasis of the pass as opposed to the run. All in all, however, I would recommend this game to anyone with a friend who is looking for an excuse not to have to clean the garage next weekend.