MADDEN '95 / EA / Sega Genesis
Madden '95 takes a step for racial equality - where all the players previously were some generic whitey sprite, now they're all black. Unfortunately, a black Troy Aikman dropping back to pass really isn't any less odd and jarring than a white Emmitt Smith tearing up the field. And, y'know, there are other skin tones out there.
Players are also all some generic beanpole model now, which highlights an actual general downward trend in the graphics in this one. A digital scoreboard a la those at real stadiums is added to keep track of score and game stats with little animations, which is a creative touch, but it really doesn't look good and seems to actually slow the game down a little bit. This was the first one in the series where emphasis was also placed on touchdown dances and celebrations, but they all generally just look ridiculous, and the fact that your normal stiff arm-speed burst button changes automatically to a show-offy high-step when you are within five yards of the endzone really sucks and becomes embarrassing if a speedy DB is bearing down on you from behind.
The pace is a little faster - you don't choose player sets anymore, so shuffling people on and off the field takes less time, and the running and movement is just slightly a little more fluid and fast than it was before. The biggest improvement to the gameplay is that the pass windows are gone now - the view is angled so you can see down the field about 50 yards or so, and the receivers just have button letters under them.
This was also the first game to have the NFLPA as well as NFL license, so you get player names now, but you really never see them except on the scoreboard after big plays. The game still has the same lame season mode, with no stat tracking or anything advanced like that, but now actually has less modes of play than the prior edition (no All-Time playoffs) and less teams (no All-Time or historic great teams.) For some bizarre reason, the expansion (at the time) Jags and Panthers are in the game, but not in the regular roster - you have to enter a button press code to unlock them!
This was also the first of the series to tie in Fox Sports' over-dramatic music at the outset, so if you find that obnoxious, uh ... enjoy. You also get their logo watermarked on the bottom of the screen for most of the game. Speaking of sound, Madden's voice clips are still the generic ones used in the previous two games - get ready for another year's worth of his phlegmy "Pow!"
The gameplay and AI were far from perfectly tweaked and balanced in the previous games but it seems like it's taken a step back on the whole here. Long bombs to receivers are still too easy and now are even easier due to the lack of windows (I know, double standard complaining.) Egregiously lulsy encroachment (the line of scrimmage is apparently defined as the center's nose) and pass interference are still the order of the day on defense. The cpu AI routines seem to have taken a step for the even more stupid, though, as running backs like to dance backward in the backfield and lose epic yards, and they don't even try to evade you on kick and punt returns.
This was really a disappointment. It does arguably nothing at all to improve on the previous games, except add an ill-used NFLPA license (why bother paying for it if you aren't going to implement a more robust season mode that tracks stats?), and even steps backwards in a few areas. Madden would eventually get to be deserving of its reputation, but it still wasn't there quite yet in 95. And seriously guys - Tecmo Super Bowl had sprites with mostly proper skin tones back in 1990 on a console half as powerful as this. Had a damn nice season mode, too.
* Gameplay Video