As an avid sports fan and long-time athlete, I’m naturally a fan of many sports video games. One in particular—so much so that my brother and I will still play it on our GameCube, even though it’s 18 years old—is NFL Street.
The core mechanics that make NFL Street special (and unique from the Madden series, which I’m admittedly also quite passionate about) are the ones that optimize it more towards being a video game and less a direct representation of professional football. Rather than being 11v11, NFL Street is 7v7; gone are penalties and a game clock (you play up to a certain score). At the same time, the main guidelines of the sport are maintained—there’s no learning curve for learning a new number of downs or play types beyond passing and running. Oh, and special teams, since those are boring, simply don’t exist.
This thesis—keep the fun, narrow the scope, remove the clutter—creates a dynamic that’s still football, but a streamlined version, and thereby one that’s more digestible and chaotic. Players can lateral repeatedly and with ease; big hits arise from tacklers flying across the screen; the Gamebreaker mechanic turns your team into superheroes for a drive if you’ve done enough styling to rack up its meter. And because there’s no need to try to replicate every nuance of reality, the game can play out in a more replicable fashion, even if it’s wildly unpredictable. In Madden, your receiver might randomly drop a pass, which is authentic to reality; in NFL Street, he’ll make that catch, then get bulldozed and fumble before your opponent fumbles the back right back while showboating en route to the end zone. But it was your fault for throwing over the middle, and his fault for dancing prematurely—things play out more as a function of user control rather than RNG. Most notably, taking 4 players off the field from each team removes a significant portion of AI contribution, which is ideal for a competitive setting (read: sibling rivalry) where you want to win because you’re better, not because the game produced an arbitrary outcome. In that sense, my experience with NFL Street builds much around the fun of competition; however, fun as fantasy most certainly factors in, especially when it comes to creating yourself in-game. As a contrast (and perhaps break) from the structured nature of other games, NFL Street creates an environment where enjoyment takes priority above all.