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Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff (DS) artwork

Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff (DS) review

"Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff isn't just a distant descendant of Tecmo Super Bowl; it's a reincarnation. Recognizable names are the sole component that died for good."

Winning wasn't everything in Tecmo Super Bowl on the NES. It was about deconstructing each opponent, knowing them inside and out, and finding a way to withstand their strengths and exploit their weaknesses. Success was measured by how many 250+ yard rushing games Barry Sanders could collect. From Mike Singletary racking up 100 sacks in a season. From surviving an entire run-and-shoot campaign without Warren Moon throwing an interception. It was a chance to take your favorite NFL players and make them legends in your own mind, smashing every record along the way. It was seventeen long years ago.

Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff isn't just a distant descendant of Tecmo Super Bowl; it's a reincarnation. The game's simplicity will feel primitive compared to modern football simulations. The microscopic sprites still run horizontally across the screen, seen from a side-skewed, overhead view. You have to toggle through intended receivers, rather than have a button mapped to each of them. And your offense can still only execute four rushing and four passing plays. The playbook, though – where you can switch out schemes in between games -- remains exactly intact from TSB. Nothing new. Nothing missing. Old tricks and strategies also endure. To evade a swarming herd of pursuing tacklers, only a little zig with a well-timed zag will get you to the endzone unscathed. The best defender is still a middle linebacker that can rush the QB. Recognizable names are the sole component that died for good.

But take heed! Don't panic when you try to break off your first 80-yard touchdown, but your player responds like he's wearing concrete cleats. You haven't lost your touch, and you didn't accidentally pick the cellar-dweller in the division. The fact is, every team starts out as the worst team. To give you the time-consuming opportunity to recreate a certain 32-team professional league, Kickoff allows extensive editing of player and team attributes: names, numbers, colors, and a limited selection of logos. Most important, though, are player skills. You can redistribute a personal pool of points to accentuate preferred abilities. In the beginning, the supply of points is small and the growth of each category is capped. Both areas expand as you win championships, providing a chance to improve your team for another run at the title, but building Bo Jackson 2.0 may take a little while.

Also, you'll want a souped-up squad to take online. Kickoff offers both wi-fi and wireless multi-card matches. Rather than everyone using the best one or two preset teams, people will be testing their own creations, so every matchup will be unique. And if you covet another's athlete, or entire roster, they can be exchanged via trade. Unfortunately, only one-shot games can be played against other humans; the season mode is strictly a single-player affair.

Online features are the most modern update. The super-short touchdown celebrations correspond with the basic high-fives of old. The new music isn't quite as rockin' as the old tune, but it's certainly just as repetitive. But not every addition maintains the status quo. Kickoff adds stylus control and 'Super Skills' that provide an unfair advantage on the field. Manipulating players through the touch screen is great if you don't have use of two hands. But most times it's convenient to do two actions at once, like moving your quarterback and quickly throwing to a barely open receiver. The stylus concentrates on a single maneuver, and the delay between moving the passer and tapping on the target's route could really bungle the timing. Plus, the d-pad is the best way to make precision cuts and evade defenders.

Super skills are assigned to a specific player in their profile. These moves randomly activate for a single play -- apparently to help out the losing team -- and you'll see a ring of fire at the recipient's feet. A QB might throw a rocket pass that can't be tipped by charging linemen. A receiver can juke a defensive back so that he actually falls down. A running back may execute a lightning dodge. He'll be running towards a sure tackle, but a special animation comes up showing him zipping between defenders. When the field comes back into focus, he's past the first-down marker. Random fumbles already provide a way to the computer to exert influence, so these feel superfluous. They would be more exciting if players could sparingly invoke them, because then the mechanic becomes strategic instead of cheap.

Of course, the scheming could never compare to Madden. That franchise has evolved into a science; you need a crash course in football theory to understand its inner workings. Plowing through its reams of tracked statistics is like reading through actuarial tables. Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff whisks you out of the classroom and makes you king of the playground. It's about making big plays and dominating every aspect of the league. Unless your player is riding the leaderboard, you won't even be able to see his numbers. No doubt, some will miss their licensed team logos. They'll long to be steamrolled by Christian Okoye. They'll find the gameplay too limiting after all these years. For me, that simplicity stands as the best inheritance Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff could receive.

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Freelance review by Benjamin Woodhouse (November 25, 2008)

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