Ahh football... Americas "Real" favorite pastime. No self-respecting system would be caught dead without at least one football game, and the Atari 400/800 was no exception. Football was later renamed RealSports Football after Atari came up with the RealSports series. Several other sports games underwent a similar name change to bring them all under the RealSports name. I'll just refer to it as RealSports Football in this review to keep it constant with the Atari 5200 version.
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.
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 selects the play number and chooses the formation by pressing the joystick in a certain direction (up, down, left, right, and the fire button). This unique method of choosing plays gave RealSports Football a huge advantage over most other football games of the day. Another nice feature of this input method 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 button is 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).
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. It's a shame an updated football game wasn't released later in the Atari 400/800's lifetime, as they were capable of so much more.