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Tecmo Bowl (NES) artwork

Tecmo Bowl (NES) review


"Remember the glory days of the NES, where all games were great and new and so much better than anything since? Unfortunately, these glory days only existed in that fantasy world known as nostalgia. Games we thought were perfect are, when you look at them with a critical eye, too frustrating, too simple, too unbalanced, too hard to control, or too slow. They were great back then because there was nothing better back then and because we didn't know any better. And we did have fun with them, despit..."



Remember the glory days of the NES, where all games were great and new and so much better than anything since? Unfortunately, these glory days only existed in that fantasy world known as nostalgia. Games we thought were perfect are, when you look at them with a critical eye, too frustrating, too simple, too unbalanced, too hard to control, or too slow. They were great back then because there was nothing better back then and because we didn't know any better. And we did have fun with them, despite their faults. With Tecmo Bowl, there can be no doubts that rose covered glasses cloud our memories of it. The game was fun back then and great for its time. But it has its flaws; it is not really that great of a game; and honestly it isn't worth returning to anymore.

So why was it so fun to begin with? It was pretty much the most advanced sports game for its time. While you got to choose between the fat, regular, and skinny guy in hockey, here you could choose between Dan Marino, Joe Montana, and John Elway. While baseball had clunky passes and annoying views, passing was simple and the ''camera'' was never a problem. The game was simplified and exaggerated, yes, but it still remained NFL football. The essentials were all there and done reasonably well. Kids had a chance to live their dreams and watch their teams crush their rivals, watch their favorite players rack up those touchdowns, and take it all the way. The appeal should be obvious to anyone; just look how popular Madden is.

But Tecmo Bowl is not Madden, and that's a good thing. This is not a simulation, nor does it try to be. The game is far more accessible, far more simplistic than any other decent football game out there. Anyone can just pick it up and have a decent idea what's going on; anyone can win their first game. And that, I believe, is the essence of the Tecmo Bowl series. It aims to be a fun game, rather than a football game. Its goal is not to overwhelm you or recreate what you see on TV, but merely to let you have a good time. Thus, you can get all sorts of cool running, passing, or defensive plays; you can create some fancy footwork or block a field goal; or you can win 56-0 without any problems. It's a good time that's seldom frustrating, never boring, and can always bring a good laugh or smile. It recreates football like the pickup games that you play, not like the games on TV. Madden and all these other newer football games may simulate the sport better, but they just aren't as much fun.

In reality though, this is not football, but football lite. Don't believe me? Just count the number of teams - only 14 made the cut. If your favorite team is Kansas City or Tampa, you're screwed. Also note that this game seems to believe there are only 9 players on the field at once; apparently we don't need those two extra linemen. Forget fumbles, penalties, onside kicks, and injuries as well, as they just don't happen. You get a whopping four plays to choose from, 2 passes and 2 rushes (ok, so some pass-heavy teams like the 49ers get three passes and only 1 rush). For those used to Madden, you may mourn the lack of stats or even a schedule; you merely play each team exactly once on your way to the Tecmo Bowl. And if that's not enough, quarters only last a whopping 1:30 (granted, it's a long minute and a half), so play quickly.

Of course, these are just quirks and lack of technology. They hurt the game, but not critically. So why do I claim this football game isn't good? Just pick Da Bears. Now pick the first pass play, and throw to your tight end at the right moment. You won't miss...ever. You will never get less than 8 or 9 yards with this play. Not if you get rushed, not if there's a man covering your tight end, never. Thus, as long as you play it safe, you are guaranteed a touchdown every time you touch the ball if you play as Chicago. So how does the second player defend against this, besides rightly calling his friend cheap? Play as the NY Giants. You have Lawrence Taylor, the fastest man in the universe (maybe not in real life, but definitely in this game). Although he's worthless against this pass play (nothing can stop it, remember?), he's great against kick attempts. Your opponent will never be able to kick a field goal before Taylor smashes the kicker to the ground, and must be fairly skilled or lucky to get off the extra point after a touchdown. Thus, your only hope of beating Da Bears (if your opponent knows this trick, of course) is to always get a touchdown, block at least 1 extra point, and win 28-27. All because of two ridiculously cheap people.

These are just the only two team specific quirks I've discovered, but I'm sure there are more. And there are plenty of other oddities about the game as well. 95% of all passes are either complete or interceptions. A defender guarding the receiver will always get an interception, and if no one is guarding him it's almost always complete. The computer AI is stupid enough that you can literally run circles around the defensive players, and 80 yard touchdown runs are not uncommon. Nor are 80 yard passing plays, as your receiver will just keep running, and your QB can run circles around the defense, and your passes always hit. Of course, with longer runs and passes comes longer field goals, as I believe you can fire away from 50-60 yards out. While on the subject, the computer will always punt if at the far third of the field, go for it in the middle third, and try a field goal in the front third when it's fourth down, regardless of whether it be 4th and inches or 4th and 40. And finally, I should point out that there are powerhouse teams like San Francisco or Chicago, with great rushing, passing, and defense, but there are also rotten teams like Indianapolis or Seattle, in which there's absolutely nothing worth mentioning.

But the worst part of this game is that it is so bloody easy. Play against the computer, and you should have no problems getting to the Tecmo Bowl. About the only way you'll have difficulty is if you play as one of those crummy teams and fix things so that you'll play against one of the good ones in the ''playoffs'', and even then you'll win. Thus, playing single player mode kind of palls after awhile. You could play multiplayer, but the lack of diversity hurts it. You'll either find those cheap guaranteed moves like Chicago or the Giants, you'll trade interceptions, or trade touchdowns. There's a very hefty amount of luck involved, both in picking the right play and in the way the rest of your defense moves. Don't get me wrong, it's still pretty cool to play. But why bother when you have Super Tecmo Bowl right there?

And there's the kicker, the game is just dated (and not just because all the players are retired). There is no doubt that this was the best football game for its time, and no doubt that it was a blast to play way back then. We cannot fault it for what it was back in the 80s. But then they made a sequel, that improved each and every feature, that offers so much more, and is just as fun to play. Same with the SNES Tecmo Bowls. And, of course, there are plenty of other football games out there now that may suit your needs more. We're left with the sad fact that, unlike Mario or Zelda, Tecmo Bowl just isn't a timeless game.

Thus, this game belongs in a museum. It's worth lies in appreciating what it was and what it did for the gaming world. It was arguably the best and the most popular sports game available for its time, and certainly the best football game. Running, passing, and playing defense were all equally engaging, and provided plenty of enjoyment back in the day. But just as we cannot ignore the positives, the negatives are too strong as well. The imbalances, cheap moves, simplicity, and limited scope of the game means it cannot compete with higher quality football games out there. I speak highly of it; I remember it fondly. But I play Super Tecmo Bowl.

Rating: 6.0/10

mariner's avatar
Community review by mariner (November 07, 2004)

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