Reviewed: January 24, 2009
Released: November 18, 2008
Ask any gamer over the age of 30 to list their five favorite football video game franchises, and you are bound to hear Tecmo Bowl more than a few times. The Tecmo Bowl titles were the bastions of sports gaming on the early Nintendo consoles, and much like the present-day champion – EA’s Madden series – was the source for many a rivalry nationwide. In fact, my dorm hall floor at Michigan Sate University had a regular Thursday night underground Tecmo Bowl championship for the sub-21 year old crowd. It was the highlight of the week, as we all packed in a tiny dorm room, drinking ourselves silly, aiming for bragging rights over that week’s brackets.
The Tecmo Bowl series was far ahead of its time for its late-eighties release. Many might not realize it, but the original Tecmo Bowl was the game that gave Tomonobu Itagaki his start at Tecmo. Long before the Dead Or Alive fighting games, and the preeminent action game, Ninja Gaiden, a veritable greenhorn Itagaki was tasked with making an American football title for the NES console – the result was Tecmo Bowl, which was widely considered the deepest and most detailed football simulation of its time.
Featuring a full roster of teams (although not true NFL teams, as licensing was an issue back then as well) and players, Tecmo Bowl allowed players to manage and manipulate their teams in ways unseen in other football releases.
But the years were not kind for Tecmo Bowl; with the advent of Sony’s PlayStation console, sports gaming suddenly took on a third dimension, and titles like EA’s Madden, Midway’s NFL Blitz, and Sony’s own 989 Sports titles. Tecmo Bowl quickly faded into the background, and Tecmo – the publisher – decided to focus on other ventures, like the aforementioned Dead or Alive and eventually the standout Ninja Gaiden franchises.
Nearly 20 years later, Tecmo has decided to treat gamers to a bit of history with the retro release of Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff for Nintendo DS handheld. And while the antiquated 2D gameplay will have a hard time winning over younger gamers who have been weaned on the likes of Madden and Blitz, the game definitely offers up plenty of nostalgia for the older set.
OK, so we know the 1989-era gameplay is going to be a bit dated, right? Well, let’s just say it is more dated than you realize. You see, since those early days of gaming, there have been a number of gaming conventions (i.e. industry standard rules) that we have all become accustomed to. Like being able to select between different players during defensive play.
You see, while most football over the past decade have mapped a quick click of the action button to change control to the player closest to the ball (or puck, or whatever sport you happen to be playing), Tecmo Bowl leaves you locked to the initial player throughout the play.
Another annoyance that seasoned gamers will find is in the passing department, which rather than employing directional or hot-key selection of receivers, requires the gamer to cycle through the available receivers with multiple clicks of a button.
Neither of these gameplay issues were a problem back in the late eighties – simply because we didn’t know any better. Like the wise man said, a fish in the water does not realize that there is a beautiful and amazing world of air just above the surface – well, back in 1989 we were the fishes, today we know so much more.
These problems wouldn’t be half the issues they are if it were not for the medium they are being presented on. The Nintendo DS, with its two small screens, is just not the best setup for presenting a full-width football field and a full roster of players – everything is just too small for these aged eyes. It is often difficult to follow the path of the ball, or to determine which of the four receivers had the slightly larger selector arrow over his head. As a result, there is often an overwhelming out-of-control feeling that I don’t remember from the old 19-in wood-grain televisions that adorned our dorm rooms.
But there is something to be said for nostalgia – and just when you are about ready to put the Nintendo DS down out of frustration, the Gods of Tecmo Bowl offer up an opening affording you a 50 yard rush for a touchdown, and all of those old feelings swell up and suddenly you have invested another hour to the addictive gameplay.
Much like its predecessors, Kickoff delivers a large set of customization options – giving gamers the ability to modify team names and uniforms, as well as a full-featured character editor. Even better, Tecmo Bowl offers something that many of the big dogs fail to address – wireless multiplayer and player trading via Nintendo WiFi. While it was difficult for us to find other gamers online at the time of review, we sure do appreciate anytime a developer supports online play.
Except for those hardest of the hardcore old school Tecmo Bowl fans, there are few gamers who would say that Tecmo Bowl’s antiquated gameplay in any way holds a candle against today’s immersive 3D football offerings. But for those looking for a nostalgic trip down memory lane, Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff fits the bill perfectly. The gameplay is still just as challenging (if not more), and the touchdowns are just as rewarding (also, if not more), and if you are willing to put aside some basic gaming conventions – it can be a ton of fun.