Ahh football... Americas "Real" favorite pastime. No self-respecting system would be caught dead without at least one football game, and the 5200 was no exception. RealSports Football was originally called plain old 'Football' and was actually released with this name for a short time until Atari came up with the RealSports series. After the RealSports series debuted all new copies of the game had the RealSports moniker in the title. RealSports Soccer had a similar name change midway through its production run.
Calling RealSports Football "Real" football is kind of a stretch. While the game looks like football in almost every way, the gameplay has been significantly simplified. There are no fumbles, blocked kicks, throwing out of bounds, time outs, or even penalties! Of course with mono-colored characters that are only a few inches high it would be hard to prove that there was an illegal block or pass interference anyway.
Like in other 5200 sports games, the keypad plays a major role in RealSports Football. Plays are chosen by first looking through the playbook to decide which play is appropriate in the given situation (there are 18 offensive plays and 6 defensive plays). Once a play is decided upon the player chooses the formation (using keys 1-3), and then enters the number of the play (1-6). This unique method of choosing plays gave RealSports Football a huge advantage over most other football games of the day. Another nice feature of using the keypad was that your opponent couldn't see what play you chose unless you were dumb enough to show them. After the plays are selected you are given an opportunity to quickly change the play and keep your opponent off guard.
Each player controls one of the six players on their team (you can change your current player with the fire button), while the computer moves the rest. The fire buttons are used to pass, kick, and punt the ball depending on the situation and play called. While the control scheme may seem a little overwhelming at first, learning to effectively change players is what separates the novices from the pros (well that and skill).
Like many other 5200 sports game RealSports Football is trak-ball compatible, but since the speed of the trak-ball doesn't control how fast your player runs (like everyone seems to think) it's not recommended. However the non-centering 5200 sticks are perfect for games like this and work surprisingly well. Unfortunately the mushy fire buttons tend to make it difficult to throw the ball at times, so make sure you push them hard!
Although RealSports Football plays a decent game of football, the graphics and sounds are nothing more than adequate. The players are all mono-colored which makes them hard to distinguish from one another when there's a giant jumble of bodies on the screen. While the graphics are only slightly better than the 2600 version of RealSports Football, the gameplay is leaps and bounds above it (especially being able to choose your plays with the keypad). It's a shame an updated football game wasn't released later in the 5200's lifetime, as the 5200 was capable of so much more.