In one corner, we have Irem‘s 10-Yard Fight arcade game from 1983. Players generally assume the role of the offense, and the objective is to score a touchdown in order to advance to the next half, or game. Only the ball-handler is under the player’s control. Aside from the defense that tries to stop players from scoring, the clock is the biggest enemy. Once time runs out, the game is over.
In the other corner, we have Nintendo‘s conversion of 10-Yard Fight from 1985 for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It’s merely based on the arcade game, instead of more closely copying the source material. Here, players assume the roles of offense and defense. The clock is no longer the source of tension that it is in the coin-op, and play continues through two halves of 30 “minutes”.
Which competitor wins this Tale of the Tape? Let’s take a closer look:
The 10-Yard Fight coin-op does not want players to win and stacks the deck against them before long. Passing is not always the best course of action; a good running game can chew up yards, either through the use of a lateral to the running back or through quarterback sweep plays to the left or right side. Since ball-carriers don’t fumble, it’s only a matter of feeding to the ball to either the running back or the receiver if the player thinks that there’s an opening in the defense to exploit. As players move up from level to level, defenses get faster, more easily penetrate the offensive line, and become better tacklers. Defenses can and do intercept passes; while this doesn’t necessarily mean Game Over, it does set the offense back 20 yards with less time to drive to the end zone.
As mentioned earlier, the clock is a big deal in the arcade game. Not only is there less time to score a touchdown in each level, but time runs off faster as well. Thankfully, the game does reward players for making first downs– hence the 10-Yard Fight name– by awarding extra time. The amount of extra time varies, however, depending on how many downs it takes to drive 10 yards. Doing so on first down awards the most time. Requiring extra downs to do so means earning less time. This can be crucial in later levels, as making that first down on a play where the clock runs to zero basically means an extra life… but that usually guarantees only one additional play to make 10 more yards or score a touchdown.
This battle against the clock is really what makes 10-Yard Fight stand out as an arcade game. There’s always a sense of tension, where every play counts– and even one bad play can add tremendous pressure moving forward. It also challenges players to take risks, as completed passes downfield can chew up yards faster… but can also lead to costly interceptions if the defense is misread. The goal is to get at least 10 yards per play, and that’s not easy to do. The game also relies on a point total, rather than the score of the football game. Scoring a touchdown nets players big points, plus bonus points for any time left on the clock when crossing the goal line.
It’s worth noting that there is a two-player option in the Vs. version of the coin op. One player controls the offense, like usual, while the other controls a defensive player predetermined by the game. It’s not a traditional football game in the sense of scoring six points per touchdown; points are awarded for yards gained, downfield passes completed, first downs made, touchdowns, and extra points. The player at the end of the quarter (or full game, at four credits each player) with the most points “wins”.
The NES conversion takes a much different approach by doing away with the importance of time and removing the points, leaving an odd arcade/sim hybrid. The camera is situated higher up, so on-field players are small and rather poorly animated. The offensive concept from the coin-op remains intact, but the approach to defense in this version is barely serviceable. On defense, an option of selecting one of two different defenders is presented to players before the snap. These defender choices change from down to down; sometimes players can choose a linebacker, other times a cornerback or a safety. The former allows players to charge toward the offensive line and pressure the quarterback or running back, while the latter forces players to assume more coverage and react to what’s unfolding from the secondary.
While the NES version does let players choose a difficulty before each game, there aren’t any options to change the amount of time for each half– and the 30 in-game “minutes” per half are too much, as time ticks by more slowly than the arcade game. Blowouts, which are all too common against CPU opponents, make the time seem to drag on more slowly. Unlike the arcade game, there’s no sense of progression here, either, limiting the replay value of the home version.
The two-player simultaneous mode in the NES version slightly differs from the coin-op in that, while on defense, the game allows players to select one of two potential defenders to control for each play. Sometimes it’s a linebacker, who can disrupt the running game or pressure the quarterback. Other times, it’s a cornerback or safety, and the players is forced to react to what’s happening than forcing the action at the line. This is marginally better than the arcade game, but we’ll get to that comparison below.
Here are the matchup results:
Graphics: The arcade original wins. The player models are bigger, the ref is more demonstrative, and there are some nice cutscenes in between levels. The NES version tries, but with the pulled back camera angle, the players are smaller and have fewer animations. The cutscenes are gone, though this has less to do with the tech and more to do with the removal of progression that the arcade game has.
Sound: The arcade original wins here, too. There are some digitized voice samples for ref calls, plus the sound effects have pop to them. The NES conversion is watered down and bland by comparison. The difference in sound quality factors in very little when it comes to a general side-by-side comparison… but the difference is notable.
Gameplay: This one’s a draw. On offense, both the arcade original and the NES version play almost identically. Steady diets of lateral passes for runs to the outside or optional passes downfield work in either game. On defense, while the NES version gives players a choice of two defenders to select instead of being stuck with whichever one that the arcade version assigns, the act of playing defense just isn’t that engaging and oftentimes a computer-controlled defender ends up making a play before a human-controlled one does. Play controls for both versions are easy to learn, only consisting of a pair of buttons and either an eight-way joystick or a D-pad.
Fun Factor and Replay Value: The arcade version wins, easily. The concept of playing against the clock and extending playing time via first downs or scoring touchdowns is addictive and tense. There’s more of a sense of urgency in the arcade original, as well as a defined path of progression for players. The move to more traditional football in the NES conversion falls rather flat by comparison, despite largely being the same game in many ways. It can be fun for a game or two, but lacks the replay value of the arcade game.
The overall winner here is the arcade version– which is, thankfully, now available to buy and play on the PlayStation 4 and Switch. Even with the understanding that the NES version was a quick and easy conversion and that the NES was still a new piece of hardware at the time, the changes to the home game don’t make sense. It’s not dissimilar to the approach that Nintendo used when porting Vs. Baseball to the NES from the arcade; the removal of the declining points system from the coin-op left the home version feeling neutered and rather bare by comparison.
If you do decide to check out the arcade version, feel free to share your experiences and thoughts in the comments here– or jump on Twitter to share. My Tale of the Tape results here might be different than yours!
Buyer’s Guide: The arcade version of 10-Yard Fight is available now via the PlayStation Store for PlayStation 4 or on the eShop for the Nintendo Switch, and the price is $8USD. These versions have both the original and the Vs. variant of the coin-op. The 10 Yard-Fight cartridge for the NES is valued at around $5USD, but a complete in box (CIB) copy can run for $50USD or more. Scores are saved on the PS4 and Switch, but the NES cartridge does not have battery save or password save functionality. Instructions aren’t necessary to play, as a few games of experience should teach most players the controls. The PS4 and Switch versions do have online manuals, if needed.