With the versions for PC and 32-bit consoles having moved into the realm of real 3D graphics, Madden NFL 97 on Genesis retains the classic view of the series, updating it with different features and options compared to the SNES release.
The game features the 30 regular NFL teams of the 1996 season, the 1996 All-Madden team and 68 classic NFL teams, from the '52 Lions to the '95 Cowboys.
Standard playing modes include exhibition, a full season and playoffs including the Super Bowl. In seasons and playoffs, any game can be either played or simulated (with the exception of the Super Bowl, which must be played). Special modes are Custom League and Custom Tournament. A custom league can be set up between 4 to 10 players with freely selectable teams. Every team plays every other team once at home and once away. For 8 players and up, teams are divided into two divisions. The division champions face up in a final playoff. The custom tournament can be set up for 4, 8 and 16 players competing for the Madden Bowl in single elimination mode.
Quarter length can be set from 5 to 15 minutes. Weather conditions can be set between fair, rain and snow. Further options are two skill levels (Pro and Madden), John Madden commentary, freely definable audibles, eight different penalties that can be set to different levels, player fatigue, injuries and substitutions. Play calling mode can be set to a bluff mode, offense and pass catching can be set to manual or automatic, and all-player mode allows one to control any player on offense, even those with no direct part in the play. Player records and season/playoff progress are saved via battery. Records are saved for each individual player, with eight slots available.
The game also features custom rosters via player creation (stats are set via a number pool), trading and signing of free agents.
Besides the custom leagues and tournaments, there is multiplayer support via the 4-Way-Play, allowing for any combination of team or versus play. One player always calls the plays and controls the quarterback, while others can select which player to control.