Tecmo Bowl Throwback Review

By Kat Bailey - Posted May 03, 2010

Tecmo Super Bowl returns to the field with upgraded visuals and an all-new online multiplayer mode. There are a few rough edges, but for better or worse, this is the Tecmo Bowl that you loved as a child, quirks and all.

The Pros
  • The quirky gameplay is as solid as ever
  • Online matchmaking is mostly quick and painless
  • The nostalgic appeal shines through thanks to the 2D mode
The Cons
  • New presentation dampens the nostalgia with supremely dull visuals
  • Single player could have used a little more content beyond the season mode
  • Online matches can potentially be hit by extreme lag

When we were kids, we dreamed that we could take on any challenger in the midst of posting 16-0 seasons in Tecmo Super Bowl. That opportunity has finally arrived with HD remake Tecmo Bowl Throwback, the latest retro title to get a fresh coat of paint for Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network. Diehard fans will rejoice at the return of their favorite game, but the supremely bland presentation takes some of the luster off the nostalgia.

Tecmo Bowl Throwback

First and 10

While it was relatively advanced for its day – featuring the ability to edit playbooks and adjust rosters – Tecmo Super Bowl arguably had more in common with arcade favorite NFL Blitz than it did Madden. There are only a handful of plays, no penalties, and the best players can run up and down the field seemingly at will.

The gameplay remains simple but solid. Rather than calling safety blitzes or nickel packages, the defense is a rock-paper-scissors game of guessing your opponents plays and knocking them down for major losses. On the other side of the ball, each team has its own array of play fakes and post routes, which can result in some great mind games with the defense.

The single-player mode is limited to seasonal play and individual matchups, which is a little disappointing in this day and age. A challenge mode would have been a welcome addition, particularly if it had delivered a few knowing winks at the franchise’s long history. No such mode exists though, so the seasonal campaign will have to do for the single-player. Luckily, there’s online multiplayer, which is the marquee addition to this package.

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Nostalgia Online

Online multiplayer is the main reason to play Tecmo Bowl Throwback, and its implementation is solid. As in the old days, the only way to play is to pick your favorite team and jump onto the field. The main difference is the addition of automatic matchmaking and online leaderboards.

The matchmaking is thankfully brisk on the XBLA version, and I had no trouble getting games started against a variety of opponents. Over the course of several games, I only encountered crippling lag once. Playing against a Houston fan, my players began stuttering to the point that I had to quit. I was only slammed by lag in one match out of approximately ten though, so it shouldn’t be an issue for most players. It’s just something to keep in mind when going online.

Beyond that, there aren’t any real complaints to be had about the multiplayer – it’s perfect for Tecmo Super Bowl nuts.  But while it’s easy to appreciate the arcade-like fun and simplicity of the football, it feels like something is missing.

Tecmo Bowl Throwback

Something Missing

As one of the first games to boast licenses from both the NFLPA and the NFL, Tecmo Bowl took its subject matter relatively seriously. As the years have gone by though, it’s become better known for its quirky gameplay than anything else. Just check out Youtube for videos of video game legend Bo Jackson running up and down the Tecmo Bowl field, shedding defenders at will on his way to scoring a touchdown and running out the clock.

Tecmo’s updated presentation captures none of the quirkiness that has given it such a large cult following. Tecmo Bowl Throwback’s world is one where all of the players and cheerleaders look exactly the same, and so do all the stadiums and teams. With Tecmo having long ago lost the rights to the NFL license, the ability to edit the player names is much-appreciated, but I counted at least three teams wearing uniforms that were exactly the same shade of red. Even the logos look like they were pulled directly from clipart.

Given the place this game holds in the hearts and minds of sports nuts everywhere, the lack of any love or craftsmanship in the presentation is a little sad. As such, while the classic gameplay still shines through, it loses something in the translation thanks to the cold presentation. For best results, flip it over to the much-welcome classic 2D mode. It’s not quite the same, but combined with the classic gameplay and the new multiplayer mode, it makes Tecmo Bowl Throwback just worth the ten dollar price of admission.