When NFL QB Club first came out for the Nintendo 64, it was - at least in terms of its graphics - pretty amazing. In an era before graphics-enhancing Expansion Paks, Acclaim's workhorse developer, Iguana Entertainment, showed off what it could do with its high-resolution graphics engine. The result was a visually stimulating football title that had plenty of beauty to cover up whatever AI shortcomings it had.Fast-forward to the year 2000, and NFL QB Club 2001 for the Nintendo 64 seems more like a dud. Its once-dominating trump card - eye-pleasing graphics - has lost its punch in today's era of Dreamcasts and PlayStation 2s. Even worse, its AI shortcomings seem even more apparent, given the competition it faces from EA Sports' Madden franchise. Aficionados of QB Club might want to give it a spin, but NFL QB Club 2001 shows more fizzle than sizzle, thanks to clunky frame rates and instances of disturbing AI "cheese."
In a nutshell, the game provides the standard practice, exhibition, season, and playoff modes. In addition, the game adds its signature simulation mode, in which you can replay any of the NFL's 34 Super Bowl games in an attempt to rewrite history. Outside those play modes, the game supports extensive team management features such as a draft, trading, player and team creation, and custom playbooks and coaching profiles. As far as these features go, the game seems rather complete.
Visually, the graphics look sharp - that is, until the players start moving on the screen. Frames of animation seem to drop out at random, while the game's speed changes willy-nilly - slowing down during some passes, for instance, before speeding up again. Graphics glitches are littered throughout, such as tackled players magically skidding on the ground as other player sprites collide with them.
On the plus side, the game supports a custom camera (in addition to various preset camera angles) and boasts plenty of realistic animations such as head-over-heels hits and the gratuitous "big play" celebrations. However, this visual pizzazz comes at the expense of choppy frame rates - a problem in last year's version that still persists in 2001. Without an Expansion Pak, the choppy rates get so bad that it's virtually impossible to play and follow the action. The problem seems to fade with an Expansion Pak, but the game is still choppy in spots. So, to put it bluntly, don't bother playing the game without an Expansion Pak.
Don't play the game without some measure of patience, either. AI glitches dampen whatever pluses the graphics provide. In one instance, the computer on a pass play got locked up in a "logic loop," so for several seconds all the players on the field stood still as the quarterback "decided" where to throw. Perhaps the worst AI problems occur on inside runs. During inside runs, players wind up bunching together in the center of the field, making it difficult to gauge what the heck's going on, so occasionally a runner will magically pop out of the crowd, seemingly untouched by any defenders in that mob.
The AI limitations on their own don't sink the game, but their effect on the game balance damages the overall worth. The AI shows a bias toward the passing game, which proves to be a double-edged sword. On offense, for example, you can exploit the poor AI by consistently calling deep pass plays and then, instead of throwing the pass, running the ball with the QB. However, on defense, it's virtually impossible to pass defend in the secondary, a problem that is compounded when the camera cuts off receivers outside of the camera view.
In terms of control, the game offers an in-depth yet intuitive interface, which is likely the game's strongest element. This year's version adds a lower-the-shoulder move, which is useful on running plays. The kicking game - especially with field goals - takes a bit of practice, but the power meter/analog arrow combo works well.
The audio commentary by announcers Mike Patrick and Randy Cross sounds solid but gets tired after several games, which is more a problem of the Nintendo 64's cart limits than of the game itself. The only audio flaw comes when field celebrations get delayed because of the announcers' sound clips.
Playing NFL QB Club for the Nintendo 64 is much like watching a preseason football game; the choppy, sloppy gameplay soon grates on your patience. To make matters worse, last year's frame rate woes still persist, especially for those lacking Expansion Paks. For fans of last year's version, this game still is as enjoyable as before, but other games out on the market are probably more worth pursuing.