Football fans have really gotten the shaft when it comes to Nintendo games. 10-Yard Fight was a NES launch title, and there’s been no other football titles released since. In that time, we’ve seen sports games grow from basic titles like Baseball, Tennis, and the aforementioned and outlandishly sluggish 10-Yard Fight to outstanding games such as R.B.I. Baseball, Blades of Steel, and Double Dribble. The lack of football games being released is somewhat logical, given the lack of popularity of the sport in Japan. However, Tecmo has capitalized on a huge opportunity and reworked their arcade hit Tecmo Bowl for the Nintendo and it’s nothing short of amazing.
There are dozens of things in Tecmo Bowl that are going to be jaw dropping, but the first and foremost is the inclusion of NFL players. This game has the NFLPA license, but not the NFL license (a similar situation to what we saw with RBI Baseball). There are 12 teams all based on their NFL counterparts, but they lack logos or team names. For instance, Miami is not referred to as the Dolphins, but still has similar colors and key members of the roster from the 1987 NFL season. The 12 teams included seem to be a combination of the best and most popular teams from last year. Fortunately my favorite team, Minnesota, is included, but naturally fans of Green Bay, Cincinnati, Atlanta, and many others may feel slighted. However I have a feeling that after playing the game they’ll let any hard feelings slide. Each team has a roster of 21, including offensive, defensive, and special teams players. Some noteworthy stars in the game are quarterbacks Joe Montana and Dan Marino; offensive playmakers Bo Jackson, Jerry Rice, and Eric Dickerson; and defensive monsters Lawrence Taylor and Mike Singletary. Best of all, the skills of the digital players, both on offense and defense, closely resemble their real-life counterparts. Naturally we’ve come a long way since 10-Yard Fight.
Just because a game features NFL stars, doesn’t guarantee the quality of the game. However, Tecmo Bowl is a marvel. Football games must be more difficult to design than other sports titles, but this one is astonishing in its gameplay and the very definition o fun. It’s really meant to be enjoyed as a 2-player game, and I can envision thousands of Tecmo Bowl tournaments popping up at sleepovers and college campuses across the nation. The game also features a single player season mode that provides hours of endless passes and tackles solo. You will need to defeat each team to win the “Tecmo Bowl.” A password system is included to continue from where you left off, so you won’t have to marathon the entire game in one sitting. All this is really a bare bones version of a true season, but playing this is a good way to learn, practice, and master this game. Also included is a coaching mode. While I applaud the extra feature, I have a feeling this will be seldom used, as it is rather dull.
This game is extremely easy to pick up and play. Even players with a minimal knowledge of football should be able to learn and catch on quickly. When on offense, you choose from 4 available plays with a combination of buttons. Most teams have two running plays and two passing. After this you’ll execute the play by hiking the ball to the quarterback. Then you’ll either automatically hand the ball off the running back and you’ll attempt to gain yardage; or you’ll cycle through your receivers and pass the ball to them, and hopefully sprint your way to the end zone. When on defense, you’ll try to guess which play your opponent is running by selecting it from the four available. If you match correctly, your coverage will be strong and this should result in a loss of yards. On defense you can easily switch between which players you control. Tackling is simple, however certain powerful backs can break tackles. Kicking and punting is also done very well, as there is a running meter and you want to press A when full for a strong kick. All of the controls in this game are superb and this just makes the game more fun to play.
If you’re looking for a precise football simulation game, Tecmo Bowl comes up short. Tecmo took a more arcade approach with basic plays and easy controls. By doing this, the game is more accessible and will reach a broader audience. Although the basic rules of a football game are present, there are several glaring differences and gaming issues that may frustrate football experts. It is easy to throw 80-yard passes, kick extremely long field goals, and outrun the defense simply by weaving up and down. The quarters only run 90 seconds each, and offsetting this, the clock stops at the end of each play. If you throw into coverage, an interception is almost a certainty. Incomplete passes are rare. There are no fumbles, penalties, or injuries. During kickoffs and punts, there are no touchbacks or fair catches, so you are forced to return everything. Nothing about these oddities held the game back for me, but it will be interesting to see how competitors produce their football games, as several more are planned for this year.
The overall presentation makes this game shine even brighter. Each team features 9 players on the field, and they look pretty good. Of course they don’t have any physical resemblance to the players they are representing, but what’s important is how smooth the game plays. With so many players on the field, I’d expect slow down, but there is none of that. When scoring, a short animation is featured of the celebrating players, similar to the dunking sequences in Double Dribble. Most impressively, a half-time show is presented each game. These feature large animations of the cheerleading squad. A voiceover clip plays and signals a touchdown or first down and the quarterback can also be heard each play calling out, “READY, DOWN, HUT, HUT, HUT.” This can get slightly tiresome, but really shows off how much effort went into the game. The sounds effects are great and short tunes play during certain events like field goals, first downs, and turnovers. Overall the music is a great touch and makes the game feel livelier, sort of like if you were to attend a real football game. So many sports games have lacked any music while playing, so once again Tecmo went the extra mile.
Unless you have zero interest in sports, Tecmo Bowl is a game you should go out and buy now, even though the NFL season wrapped up last month. This game is best played head-to-head, but the single player mode is still amazing. With 12 different teams, it offers plenty of variety and this Game Pak should have strong lasting power. Its quirks almost make the game more fun and approachable as opposed to a simulation with too many rules and regulations. The games go by very quickly with the short quarters, making this the perfect title to run small tournaments with a bunch of friends. My biggest wishes would be the inclusion of more teams and more plays to choose from. An improved season mode is also something Tecmo or another company should take notice of.
Tecmo Bowl Review
Final Thoughts: EXCELLENT
I figured that Konami would be the company to make the first great football game for Nintendo, but Tecmo beat them to it. This is hands-down THE best sports game on the NES so far. Fantastic gameplay coupled with a stellar presentation makes Tecmo Bowl a definite 1989 game of the year candidate!
Aaron got his NES in 1991 and has loved and collected video games ever since. In addition to gaming, he enjoys Stephen King novels, Twins Baseball, and his cats.