Name: Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff
For me, there was only one sports game that mattered during the NES days, and that was Tecmo Super Bowl. At the time, it was the only game that combined exciting on-field action, real professional teams and players, and detailed stat tracking. Other football games, like NES Pro-Action Football and the simply titled “NFL” may have looked better, but nothing else felt as much like real football as TSB. Nowadays, football games have become a very different affair. Thanks to the agreement between EA and the NFL, there is really only one game in town when it comes to licensed pro football games. Tecmo, therefore, decided to stick to their old-school pigskin roots and create a DS game that recaptures the fun and simplicity of their 8-bit era titles, and replaces licensed NFL teams with fully customizable squads. But does the experience hold up in the world of modern sports titles?
Tecmo has kept the control scheme that worked so well back in the late ’80s and early ‘90s. Before each play, you’ll choose from four running plays and four passing plays. On offense, this is the play you’ll run, and on defense, it’s the play you believe your opponent will run. Once on the field, you control one player on defense, or the ball carrier on offense, and are unable to switch players during the play. Each player on the 32 fictional teams has a unique set of stats that determine their skill level, just like in the originals. Star players now have bonus abilities that kick in randomly during the game. For example, a quarterback can be assigned the ability to throw a rocket pass that zips by potential defenders, and a running back can be assigned the ability to juke past what would normally be a surefire tackle. This will occur randomly during the game, and is noted by a flame icon under the player. When these abilities kick in, play is briefly interrupted by a pre-rendered close up animation that shows your star flashing his skills. The new abilities are cool looking, and help to make star players more unique, but they can also lead to some serious glitches. At one point, my opponent used his “Power Run” ability to drag my tacklers an extra three yards. When the play was over, those extra three yards put them in the end zone, but rather than calling the play a touchdown, my opponents were given the ball and a fresh set of downs…starting one yard inside the end zone! It wasn’t a game-breaking glitch or anything, but a flaw like this should never make its way into the final version of a football game. Ever.
In Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff, you basically have three game types. You can play a single game against the computer, a full season with any number of user-controlled teams, or you can play a friend head to head. Season mode is the most robust of the three options, but that’s not saying much. In addition to playing through the 17 week season, you can check league leaders, team stats, standings, and league records, or modify your roster. Strangely, there’s no way to check the stats of players who aren’t league leaders; something that you could do in Tecmo Super Bowl, a 17-year-old game. I didn’t expect a full-on General Manager mode, but a little more content than this would have been appreciated.
One of the main selling points to this new incarnation of Tecmo Bowl is its customization options. Along with the names and uniforms of every team in the game, players names, stats and special abilities, and even playbooks, are all editable, allowing you to play with decent recreations of anything from your high school team to the Miami Sharks from Any Given Sunday. Uniform creation is suitably deep for a DS title, with five areas to customize and 16 colors from which to choose for each part. There are almost limitless combinations of uniform colors to work with, making it easy to keep each team’s look unique. A separate menu allows you to choose your helmet type, but there are only 16 logos to pick from, and many of them feature silly logos like a chicken, a guitar and, inexplicably, a narwhal. There’s also a play book editor that lets you select from a set number of running and passing plays. The plays are diagrammed so strangely, however, that it’s extremely tough to tell what is actually happening until you actually run the play. This, along with the omission of the name of the running back in play on running plays, make for a confusing exercise in trial and error.
Visuals have never been Tecmo Bowl’s strongest point, and this version won’t do much to change that. Characters are represented by tiny sprites that look only incrementally better than they did on the NES. There has been some improvement in how the field looks, however, with the inclusion of more realistic grass textures, and snow. Menus are as basic as possible, which, sadly, matches the game’s feature set perfectly. Back in ’91, some of the best parts of Tecmo Super Bowl were the cut-scenes that peppered the gameplay at important moments. These have returned, and now feature much more animation, and even voice work. They still serve their purpose, adding an extra bit of drama and intrigue to the proceedings. The game’s music is fittingly upbeat and lively, but if you’re as old a fan of the series as I am, you’ll likely find yourself longing for the familiar tunes found on the originals.
Simply put, Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff is too antiquated, glitchy, bland and feature-poor to compete in the modern sports game market. Even for fans of the series, there’s not a whole lot here that improves on the formula perfected by Tecmo Super Bowl, and there are even a few steps backward to be found. It’s obvious that the developers (and likely the publishers, as well) are not well-versed in American football, and that a guiding force from the states would have likely gone a long way towards making the game feel more like real football. Even the customization options, which sold me on the game from the get-go, are too shallow and inconsequential to spend more than a few minutes with. A disappointing effort all around, especially considering that a little more polish and a few more features (and some American influence) would have made this an interesting, worthwhile title. As it stands, however, Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff is little more than a weak attempt to cash in on nostalgia.