Midway‘s arcade sports hits of the 1990s weren’t entirely original.
NBA JAM, Midway’s biggest game in this category, took a fair amount of inspiration from 1989’s Arch Rivals. It adopted a similar two-on-two format, stuck with the idea of forcibly stealing the ball from offensive players through physical contact, and even incorporated the idea of shattering the backboard glass. NHL 2-on-2 Open Ice Challenge from 1995 was inspired in concept by NBA JAM, sharing the “on fire” concept and combining the Turbo and Shoot buttons to execute over-the-top scoring moves. NBA HangTime was a re-imagining of the basic NBA JAM concept, but with improvements and additions. Then NFL Blitz came along in 1997, and it also drew inspiration from another older Midway arcade game: High Impact Football.
High Impact Football was produced by Williams Entertainment in 1990, and a kind-of-sequel, Super High Impact, debuted in 1991 from Midway Games– which is what Williams Entertainment became. Eugene Jarvis, the game design mastermind behind Defender, Robotron 2084, and other games, had a hand in this game. So did Ed Boon, who would eventually go on to co-create Mortal Kombat. With such Firepower (pun intended– Jarvis is credited for the sound and software in the Firepower pinball machine from Williams in 1980), it was a little shocking at High Impact and Super High Impact didn’t have a lot of impact in arcades. Like Arch Rivals, it got traffic and tokens, but never really was a standout arcade sports games at the time. High Impact Football was essentially replaced by Super High Impact, and then home console conversions of Super High Impact came out in 1993. The SNES version was published by Acclaim and developed by Beam Software, while the Genesis version was published by Acclaim’s Arena subsidiary and developed internally by Iguana.
It’s an arcade-style version of football. Like Arch Rivals before it, most of the rules go out the window– there aren’t any penalty flags, so pass interference is encouraged, personal fouls are welcome, and procedure calls like offsides and false starts are gone. There are some basic football rules that still apply, though; first downs are still here, and punts or field goals remain options if offensive drives stall. More casual fans of the sport will find the lack of rules inviting here, as this game flows faster and it easier to understand.
Super High Impact also pushes the envelope by encouraging on-field violence. Injuries are shown as players writhe on the field in agony and scream in pain. Fights can break out after too many big hits. Certain big hits also get graded by the game’s “announcer” through the use of a Hit-O-Meter segment. It’s a big difference from the simple punching in Arch Rivals and is a great example of the harsher attitude of the 1990s. Many players liked this harder edge, and it often led to more intense trash talking or gloating when playing with other people.
Where new players may tend to falter a little bit is in the playcalling system. Super High Impact has a number of offensive and defensive plays to pick from, but it’s not always clear what each play does. The game is notably pass-heavy, which makes offensive sets easier to pick from, but it can be hard to follow what the design of each play is. It’s best not to overthink it, though, as the CPU does a nice job of executing each play and leaving the player to handle one athlete at a time. Passing is easy, since receivers run toward the ball on their own and make catches when they can. Running plays require some quick maneuvering to get past the mass of bodies at the line of scrimmage… and then it’s a foot race for those who do break free. Defense is similarly easy and affords players flexibility to either rush the quarterback or drop back into coverage if a passing play is in progress. Some of the defensive plays have admittedly funny names, like Yo’ Mama and Yer Toast. Yo’ Mama is also intimidating to offenses as it has defensive players constantly moving and shifting around until the snap.
The home versions of Super High Impact do a nice job of bringing the arcade home, but they don’t add a great deal. They look good, with well-animated digitized sprite player models and a colorful presentation overall. They also offer some basic customization for difficulty settings and time per quarter. (NOTE: It’s strongly recommended to use two-minute quarters, as these are more competitive and don’t drag on too long.) The digitized speech samples are a bit compressed, but the rest of the sound is very good. Hard hits are accompanied by a shaking screen and a bassy thump, which make them more impactful. (Another pun!) Unfortunately, without a season mode, a playoff mode, or even a battery backup for saving stats, scores, and leaderboard data… the home versions are best played in short bursts only and not as a more marathon experience.
So… what are the connections between Super High Impact and NFL Blitz? The playcalling screen is a big one. NFL Blitz adopted a very similar playcalling system, right down displaying nine plays on screen to pick from at one time to the occasionally funny play names. NFL Blitz also adopted some of Super High Impact‘s rough on-field antics. While fighting and rating hard hits didn’t make it in, things like late hits and knocking the helmet off of a player demonstrate some of that Super High Impact attitude. Blitz is still very different in many ways, from moving to a vertical scrolling mode, using polygonal player models instead of digitized sprites, and getting licenses from the NFL and NFLPA… but some of the core concepts from the past remain.
While it’s hard to find High Impact Football or Super High Impact coin-ops to play these days, the SNES and Genesis versions are plentifully available and are fun to pick up and play for a game or two in a sitting. It’s even more interesting to play Super High Impact today, knowing that it was an influence for NFL Blitz, and pointing out the similarities and differences or improvements. Unlike Blitz: The League, which tried to be almost too gritty and even topical after NFL exclusivity went to Electronic Arts, Super High Impact is less about the message and more about the enjoyment and even a bit of the spectacle.
At the end of the day, how can you not get a kick out of hitting a guy so hard that you separate him from his pads and watch them fly in eight different directions? At worst, it’s a guilty pleasure. At best, it’s a HOLY S***! moment. That requires High Impact to make happen.
Super High Impact, in fact.
Buyer’s Guide: At the time of this writing, Super High Impact cartridges were averaging about $5USD for either the Genesis or the Super Nintendo versions. Those looking for complete in box (CIB) copies are looking at paying a bit over $10USD on average for the Genesis and a bit higher than that for the SNES. Instructions aren’t necessary, but it may take a couple of games to get the play controls down. The game does not have a battery backup or a password feature. I prefer the SNES version due to its more colorful visuals and clearer sound, but both versions are fun to play.