I plunge hundreds of hours into hardcore sports sims every year, but looking back at my past I realized I spent nearly as much time jamming away at buttons in charming arcade titles like Baseball Stars and Blitz as I did racking up wins in NHL or Madden. But as the sports genre has consolidated over the decades, these lighthearted affairs have all but disappeared. Football Heroes resuscitates this moribund sub-genre.

Created by a small team of former Pandemic Studios vets called Run Games, this arcade sports game coming out on the iOS and Android platforms later this year blends the cartoon violence of games like Arch Rivals with the side-scrolling play style of Tecmo Bowl.

Before taking the gridiron, you can fully customize your team by naming it, renaming players, choosing the jersey colors, and even selecting the logo that appears on your helmets (which can be chosen from your camera roll or selected from a logo library). Your team retains its identity whether you are playing online or off. Once you outfit your team, you can either jump into a series of tiered divisions against the computer AI or head online for versus matches.

Given that football is a game of strategy, before each team sets up at the line of scrimmage you must select which play you want to call for either offense or defense. Like arcade football games of old, the defense must select to play against the pass or run, and then choose from several different traditional strategies like cover two, cover three, a blitz, etc. If you select a defense that matches up perfectly to the play the offense called, you can stymie their execution right off the snap of the ball like in Tecmo Bowl.

On the field, you use a virtual gamepad to control your player. Before the snap on defense, tapping on any player gives you control of him. Placing your left thumb anywhere on the lower-lefthand portion of the screen gives you control of your selected player, and you can navigate him by sliding your finger in the appropriate direction. When you approach a ball carrier, you can either dive to make a tackle by swiping with your right finger or run into him to engage in fisticuffs. By tapping repeatedly on the righthand-side of the screen, you can down the player with a fury of punches and kicks, but watch out – they fight back.

When in control of the offense, you pass by tapping the intended receiver. Running the football feels much like Tecmo Bowl, as you can navigate diagonally to avoid tackles and repeatedly tap on the righthand side of the screen to punch out of the grasp of defenders. Skill players also have cooldown abilities they can employ in the appropriate context. Quarterbacks can throw charge passes to squeeze the ball into tight windows and running backs can activate speed bursts to fly past defenders.

Whether you win or lose a game, you earn currency that can be used to upgrade individual player skills. Each position has a different skill tree with several different branching paths. For instance, you could pour all your money into passive upgrades like a running backs' speed or grip (to avoid fumbles), or purchase the previously mentioned active abilities like spin moves, still arms, or speed bursts. Since Football Heroes is free-to-play, impatient players can also purchase coin packs to improve their teams overnight.

On the multiplayer front, Football Heroes features both local and online versus play. To keep the playing field even, the game analyzes the overall skill level of your team and matches you with an appropriate opponent. Rage quitting gives you no XP or currency, which Run Games hopes will convince the losing teams to stay engaged and take their medicine.

Given the shortage of twitch-based, arcade sports games on mobile and tablet platforms, Football Heroes could be a breath of fresh air for those looking for more than simple, swipe experiences. To learn more about the game, check out its Kickstarter page.