Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tecmo Bowl (NES)

Rating: 2 out of 5
Pros: Actual player names and a fun two-player mode
Cons: No real gameplay balance. No injuries, penalties, fumbles or team names

Tecmo Bowl is an arcade game developed by Tecmo and ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1989. It was one of the first games to feature real names of NFL players, although it didn't use actual team names (teams were labeled by city, omitting the actual name). It's a game I remember fondly, staying at a friend's house and camping out in a pop-up camper while staying up all night playing Tecmo Bowl for hours on end.
Being an early NES-era game, Tecmo Bowl was nothing special to look at. It used a flat 2D plane with the computer on the right and the player on the left regardless of whether you were on offense or defense. Players were tiny little blobs of stick men, and were just barely detailed enough to tell that they were people -- but that was about all you could expect from the NES at that point, and they were plenty sufficient to play the game with. Sound effects were sparse and average, but the background music was annoying and repetitive. Mute for the win.
Tecmo Bowl featured only 12 teams: Indianapolis, Miami, Cleveland, Denver, Seattle, Los Angeles, Washington, San Francisco, Dallas, New York, Chicago and Minnesota. Some teams like Indianapolis or Dallas are poor to average, while Chicago or San Francisco make the game a breeze due to having some ridiculously players. Los Angeles had Bo Jackson as running back, and he could (quite literally) run circles around almost anyone. While this made for some hilarious plays like running from one end zone to the other and back again before scoring, it kind of cheapened the gameplay and made it nearly impossible to lose against the computer if you used Los Angeles. Similar situation with Lawrence Taylor in New York, who can block every single field goal and extra point attempt making an otherwise even game always come out in your favor.
Each team does have unique plays available to them, but the playbook only consists of 4 plays. Most teams have 2 running plays and 2 passing plays, and if the defence chooses the same play as the offense then it pretty much collapses the line and results in a loss of yards. That's a 25% chance of a loss of yards for the most part, though occasionally some of the better players can still scrape by. Bo Jackson for example can just start running backwards every single play, and when the defense collapses upon him just have him run a circle around them back the other direction and zigzag your way to the end zone for a touchdown.
It's a pretty cheesy game single player; it's usually either frustratingly difficult or frustratingly easy depending on which teams you're using. Playing 2 player mode with a friend is much better, but you have to make sure to either both pick good teams or both pick bad teams to avoid blowouts. That, or play the game so much you know the ins and outs of each team so you can figure out how to stop them. Like a game bug that leaves a linebacker unblocked on Bo Jackson's running play, which makes it easy mode for a human player to block Bo Jackson where the computer couldn't touch him for anything.
In single player mode you pick a team and the computer picks one, and if you win the computer picks another until you've beaten all the teams. You're given a short password to enter after each win so you can continue where you left off, but this is as close as the game comes to a season or franchise mode. There is a coach mode, but that just has you picking plays but not executing them. Not very fun, but it's there.
You can't get injured in this game, there are no penalties, you can't fumble the ball, you can't lateral; you can't even drop a pass (though you do get intercepted quite often if there is a defender anywhere close to your receiver). Occasionally you can break free of a tackle by mashing buttons, but that's about the extent of it. The gameplay left much to be desired and was rather disappointing, but it was the best there was on the NES at the time.
Since Tecmo Super Bowl came out though, there's no reason to play this instead any more. It's great for nostalgic value, but as a game Tecmo Super Bowl wipes the floor with Tecmo Bowl. It has actual team names, better gameplay, more plays, better graphics, a real season mode and stat tracking. It's the same game that we all loved and played to death, but improved upon in every noticeable way. I would have only recommended Tecmo Bowl back then for lack of anything better, but I can't really recommend it over Tecmo Super Bowl. Pass on this one and pick up the sequel.

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