Calling something a "throwback" isn't always considered a compliment. The word can have positive connotations when you're talking about sugar-based soft drinks or cool old 70s sports jerseys. But it can also be used to refer to, say, somebody who still tells the gals at Supercuts to style his do all business in the front and party in the back. Tecmo Bowl Throwback, however, is no mullet. This blast from the past available for 800 points on Xbox Live Arcade does a great job taking you back to the days when Tecmo Super Bowl was the football king in the early '90s. It isn't the deepest arcade football experience out there, with just a handful of modes and team playbooks that could be written up on bar napkins, but the straightforward gridiron action moves speedily along with just enough depth to keep things interesting for a while.
Anyone who played arcade football back in the 8- and 16-bit age should have a good idea of what to expect here. You get three basic modes of play--preseason exhibition against the computer or a buddy on the couch, an 18-game solo season with playoffs that take you to the Tecmo Bowl, and online matches against schlubs or stars found over XBL. This isn't so much a remaking of Tecmo Super Bowl as it is a re-skinning. The roster of teams even stays with the 28 that the NFL featured in the pre-expansion days of yore. Actual NFL teams and players have been dropped because Tecmo doesn't have the rights anymore (although you can edit most particulars for a more authentic NFL experience), but other than that, this is a straight-up copy.
Visuals and sound have also kept one foot in the '90s. Otherwise modern graphics loaded with exaggerated 3D models, including Hulk-like linemen and pneumatic cheerleaders, go retro. This includes (presumably intentional) stuttering frame rates, corny cutscenes of stoic players flashing the number-one sign, and cheerleader pyramids. You can also switch on the fly between then and now. A quick tap of the right bumper moves you between the original 4:3 Tecmo Super Bowl graphics as seen on the Super NES circa 1993 and the modern widescreen visuals. The only problem with the graphics is the camera, which is too far from the action to give you a good look at what's onscreen. It might not have been true to the original game, but some new angles that let you get closer to the field would have been a big improvement. Sound effects mix and match, too, with 8-bit bleeps and bloops incorporated into contemporary music and menu effects. It's all a charming blend of old and new that brings a smile to your face.
Gameplay doesn't quite match the old-timey appeal of the graphics and audio, although it comes close. Tecmo Bowl Throwback is down-and-dirty arcade football without any glitz. You hit the field, pick from a handful of pass or run plays on one side of the ball, pass or run defense plays on the other, and then see what happens after the snap. It's relatively easy to move the chains, run up high scores, and coast a little bit on money plays that each team’s offense features, but at the same time, the computer isn't a doormat. Your opponent knows how to use the clock, when to call time-outs, and how to call the right plays for the right situations. You see deep passes on third-and-13, for instance. The computer will go for it on the fourth down when trailing late. If you make it to fewer than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter with a lead, the computer will use its time-outs before the two-minute warning.
It's not the stuff of Vince Lombardi, to be sure, but it gets the job done. So, you generally get into games of fast-paced, high-scoring football that stay entertaining even though they don't blow you away with their depth. Unless you're a real football purist, or the sort who has to have playbooks as thick as the Manhattan Yellow Pages, there's enough here to get by and certainly more than enough to justify the $10 purchase price. The only real drawback lies in the online multiplayer. Playing the game against human opponents is the best way to go, but there don't seem to be a great number of nostalgia-minded football fans playing at present.
Tecmo Bowl Throwback isn't any Madden, but it's worth the $10 if you like arcade football and want to travel back in time to the days of the SNES. It could use a bigger community playing online, but otherwise, it's a good way to take a break from modern sports-gaming complexity to go back to the simpler 8- and 16-bit era.