With Madden growing more complex with every passing year, it's not uncommon to hear older players yearning for the old days, when sports games had just a couple of buttons, yet were still fun. One such game was Tecmo Bowl, a game that seems almost absurdly simple today but was impressive for its time, thanks to its roster of real players and limited selection of plays. Though the licensed players are gone, the game is still quite a bit of fun, and thanks to the Wii's Virtual Console, you can see what all of the fuss is about for just five dollars.
Tecmo Bowl has 12 teams, though because Tecmo didn't (and still doesn't) have the NFL license, the teams are identified by location and not team name--so, there's a team named Chicago and its colors are pretty close to those of the Bears, but it's not called the Bears. When the game was originally released, it contained actual NFL players and statistics from the 1989 season. Tecmo no longer has the rights to use players' names, so they're only identified by number now. The 1989 season stats of the player you're controlling are still displayed across the top of the screen. It's not surprising that player names have been removed, but it's still a letdown to not be able to see your childhood favorites reliving their glory days. One of the great things about the game was wreaking havoc as Lawrence Taylor (his alter ego here can still block every kick) or making fools look bad with the incomparable Bo Jackson.
The game modes are simple, especially compared with the game's sequel, Tecmo Super Bowl. You can play what's essentially a season by picking a team and then playing a randomly selected opponent. When you beat that team, it's crossed off the list, and the eventual goal is to beat each team. After the game is over, you're given a password and can pick up where you left off later, or you can also save the game and resume that way. There's also a two-player mode and a coaching mode, where you call the plays and watch as they're executed by the CPU.
On the field is where Tecmo Bowl still shines. The controls are very responsive, and the seemingly simple gameplay contains a surprising amount of depth. The action is viewed from a broadcast-style perspective, so rather than moving up and down the screen, play moves left and right. Before a play, both the offense and defense are given four plays to pick from. Usually, this is two running and two passing plays. If the defense picks the same play as the offense, the play is pretty much doomed and is likely to end in a loss of yards or an interception. On passing plays, once the ball is snapped, you can scroll through your receivers, who are represented by a small icon when they run off the screen downfield. Your pass will go to whoever is highlighted when you hit the pass button. Running the ball is as easy as pressing the direction you want to run on the D pad and then zigzagging your way down the field to avoid tackles. If you get wrapped up by a defender, you can break a tackle by frantically mashing on buttons. Defense is simple, too. Before the play starts, you can scroll through your defenders, and once the play starts, you're free to go after the QB, stuff the run, or play pass coverage. Even though you can't see the receivers offscreen, pass coverage is pretty easy because you've just got to line your icon up atop the receiver's to most likely intercept the pass.
Tecmo Bowl never looked amazing, but the graphics get the job done. The players are large, but their animation is simple and players will still flicker when the screen gets crowded. There are a few cutscenes to add some pizzazz after touchdowns and at halftime. People that haven't played the game before likely won't be excited about the audio, but anyone who played the original game will enjoy the announcer that yells "touchdown!" after a score, as well as the game's catchy theme song that plays during kickoffs.
Even though Tecmo Super Bowl is the better game, Tecmo Bowl is still fun, albeit a bit shallow as a single-player game. It's at its best when you're sitting around with friends passing the controller around and talking trash.