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Wild Card Football, out today, is NFL with Hulk mode, UFOs and giant pinball bumpers

A licensed sports game with an actual sense of fun?

A player being chased by UFOs in fantasy NFL sim Wild Card Football
Image credit: Saber Interactive

I don't have much time for American football, but speaking as somebody who regularly got flattened playing rugby at school, I do have time for sports games in which you can super-size your player and hoof a path through the opposition like you're Godzilla trashing Tokyo. The game in question is Saber Interactive's Wild Card Football, an arcade sporting sim in the spirit of the developer's previous NBA Playgrounds series, which is out today and attracting some buzz on Steam.

It's an NFL-licensed sports sim with a serious and a silly side. On the one hand, you'll unlock and build a team from hundreds of real-world pro players - the headliners include Colin Kaepernick, Walter Payton and Jerry Rice - each with customisable uniforms and a phat sheet of stats for agility, strength, accuracy and so on. There's a single-player Season mode on top of competitive local and online multiplayer with crossplay.

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Bread-and-butter stuff for a licensed sports outing. But there's also a Wild Card system, which allows you to summon walls, turn invisible, amplify everybody's stats temporarily, freeze people, and generally speaking literalise any drunk Saturday afternoon daydreams you might have while watching a game on TV.

The visuals lean into this with gently ridiculous, exaggerated player proportions, and playing fields with backdrops that remind me of Two Point Campus. It feels like a project with a dash of Rocket League DNA. Though the most obvious comparison is, of course, Warhammer: Blood Bowl. The latest game in that series didn't do well at release, partly thanks to its microtransactions - according to Saber, Wild Card Football won't feature any in-game purchases, though there's DLC in the works and some predictably wallet-gouging Deluxe and Ultimate editions with extra cards and outfits.

The additional intrigue here is Kaepernick's presence in the line-up. An outspoken social activist, he hasn't played for the NFL since 2016, after making waves by dropping to one knee during the US national anthem in protest against police shootings of Black people.

"My love for football hasn't changed even if the politics of specific organizations... is complex," Kaepernick told IGN back in June. "It's actually one of the things that I love about [Wild Card Football]. It's player-driven. The teams are the players. For me it shifts the power dynamic of how you look at the teams, how you look at football.

"Even here, you get to see the player's faces, which isn't the norm within football. Normally there's a helmet, everything is blocked up, everything is about the organization. This is an opportunity to make the players the star of it, and for me it's a little taste of being back on the field and getting some of the competition until the door opens for me to be able to do that in reality."

A pitch full of frozen players in fantasy NFL sim Wild Card Football
Image credit: Saber Interactive

I do like me a licensed adaptation that has fun with the source material. Has anyone here played the old PS2 brawler Def Jam: Fight For New York? I get a similar vibe from Wild Card Football, though only time will tell whether that mixture of authentic sporting simulation and fantasy abilities hangs together on the turf.

The Steam page is here. Alternatively, have a browse of Brendy's list of the nine most extreme sports in games.

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