I am definitely a child of the 80’s. When Transformers and GI Joe hit the big screen, I was stoked. I even have a killer collection of many of my childhood action figures. OK, maybe I shouldn’t brag about that in public. Needless to say, when I heard they were bringing back Tecmo Bowl on XBox Live, I was all over it. I didn’t have the first one, but Tecmo Super Bowl was one of the first sports games I ever owned. I would always play as New England or New Orleans. I can remember vividly the Steve Grogan-to-Irving Fryar connection, or Tim Goad and Andre Tippet tearing it up on defense. When my family moved to Memphis, Tennessee and all my little friends were Saints fans, I remember became a huge fan of Pat Swilling, Rickey Jackson and Sam Mills because of this game. It was probably the game that got the single most playing time on my original Nintendo system and the one that turned me into the huge NFL fan I am today.
It may be hard for many of today’s gamers to remember, but there was a point in time where Tecmo were the kings of the sports gaming world. Unfortunately, they didn’t adapt with the times and their side scrolling, arcade style games became obsolete. It’s tough to stack up a side scroller with even the earliest incarnations of the Madden franchise. Tecmo Bowl Throwback is not an attempt to right that wrong; it is merely a beefed up tribute to its predecessor. There are updated, 3D graphics galore, along with tons of menu updates and even the ability to play people on XBox Live.
With the lack of an NFL license, all of the players have generic names and all of the teams have generic logos. There is an option to rename players, though, so I made sure to take the time to rename the entire New England roster with current members of the Patriots roster. There are 30 playable teams: 28 named after cities and two Tecmo All Star teams. Unfortunately, one thing I noticed right away is that the skill levels of the teams are not up to par with present day rosters, and instead, seem to be more consistent with the 1989ish rosters. So it may say touchdown Tom Brady, but it is thinking touchdown Steve Grogan. It may say interception Brandon Meriweather, but it means interception Fred Marion. And so on and so forth. Unfortunately, this means the New England team is pretty bad, and the Miami team is really good. So for the sake of my own sanity, I crossed over to the dark side and played as the freaking Miami… Killer Whales. OK, that’s actually kind of funny.
The first thing I noticed when I started playing is just how improved the graphics were. It still captures the arcade feel, but it feels much more like a cartoon now instead of a robotic computer simulator. One of the cool features I found right away was the ability to switch seamlessly between the update 3D view and the original, 2D, 16-bit classic look. This can be done at any time, even mid-play, by hitting the right bumper button. They still give you four running plays and four passing plays, and the defense gets an all out blitz if the guess the play you called correctly. You can shuffle around and pick the player you want to play as on defense, and on either side of the ball, there are no swim moves or jukes, if you get tangled up, you start fighting for position by tapping A. They also even included the famous up and down move for when you have a player that separates from the pack and is streaking in for a TD. If you run in a straight line, the computer will catch you and tackle you, but if you are constantly going up and then down, up and then down, you have a much better chance of scoring. That came back to me right away. The music also has that classic 80’s feel to it. The commentary is very limited. They also still give you the famous cut scenes after a player scores a touchdown, or gets injured or throws for 300 yards. It doesn’t feel nearly as iconic as the original because of the cartoonish graphics, but it is still there.
Now here is where the problems start to kick in. While they have fixed many of the glitches from the original, like the fact that Bo Jackson and Christian Okoye could pretty much bowl over anyone in their way, as could Dexter Manley and Lawrence Taylor on the defensive side of the ball. Everything seems pretty even in that regard, but there are other issues that seem to be much worse. I realize that this is a tribute to an 8-bit classic, but the technology is available to at least get the AI right. It’s very frustrating at times watching my QB completely overthrow a wide open player for no apparent reason. This happens often. Then you have punts and kickoffs, where your blockers stand in one place and watch the opposition blow right by them. Should you have a player get away from the pack, the defense gains incredible speed and will come out of nowhere to make the tackle. This happens from time to time in your favor, but not nearly with the same frequency it seems to happen with the computer. I also found it frustrating that when I kick the ball into the end zone, the computer can take a touchback, but when I do it, I have to take the ball out or it is a safety. Maybe there is a way to get the touchback, I obviously don’t know, but I do know that I lost a game because of that safety when I found it you had to take it out the hard way. I’m also not usually one for conspiracy theories, but I do tend to turn the ball over quite a bit late in games that are close. As a matter of fact, I have twice now in 12 games fumbled the football inside the 10 yard line when I was about to either tie the game or take the lead in the fourth quarter. Those are the only two games I have lost. I don’t know if these little idiosyncrasies are meant to balance the game, but I do know that they annoy the hell out of me and take some of the fun out of the game.
I think Tecmo Bowl Throwback was great in theory, but ultimately a bit lacking in execution. The nostalgia factor is high, and it is pretty cool to be able to switch back to the 16-bit classic, but this is very much a gimmicky game. I don’t know if it is something that is really going to cross over and draw in people unfamiliar with the franchise, or that it really has any kind of staying power. The lack of an NFL license can also be a bit of a deathblow for any football game. Clearly the target audience would be people like me who grew up with it, but once I finish off my season, I don’t know if there is going to be much replay value. Is it worth the 10 bucks I ponied up for it? Sure. I don’t regret buying it. It’s just kind of hard to judge it based on today’s standard. We’ve been spoiled by Madden, and playing Tecmo Bowl Throwback really makes me appreciate just how far football games have come. I hate sounding so negative, because this is definitely a pretty cool game and there is definitely going to be a niche crowd of gamers that will enjoy this. Unless that sounds like you, you may want to check out the demo first. Tecmo Bowl Throwback is now available on the XBox Live Marketplace and Playstation Network.
This review was originally written by me for analoghype.com.