The original Tecmo Super Bowl (1991) on the NES was one special game. For the first time ever, football gamers could play an eleven-on-eleven contest featuring real NFL teams and full rosters with real players (well, most of them anyway). In 1993, Tecmo continued its tradition of sleek arcade action by releasing an updated version of Tecmo Super Bowl for the Super Nintendo. It was essentially the same game as the NES, but with updated graphics and rosters. Then late the following year, Tecmo introduced the fourth installment in the Tecmo Bowl series — Tecmo Super Bowl II: Special Edition. Whoa! What could be more special than an updated SNES game of the original classic? Would there be more to this edition than a simple bringing up to date of rosters, or would there be especially delectable treats for the gamer to bite into? Tecmo fans were about to find out the answer to that exciting question.
Special Edition differs from its predecessor in several major ways. The first thing Tecmo fans will note is an added depth to the overall appearance of gameplay. In fact the completely revamped engine mirrors Tecmo Super Bowl III: Final Edition. The layout is still distinctly Tecmo, with a horizontally scrolling screen and twenty-two tiny avatars lined up for each play. However the alteration in vantage point is significant. Instead of the gamer feeling like he is guiding the developments of the game ala a bird-in-a-blimp, the new positioning makes the player feel like he’s in the press box — not quite in the first row, but at least in the proverbial and literal ball park. The new vantage point allows Tecmo to successfully reimagine the avatars as tiny stand-up men, instead of roundish blobs of pixels. While not nearly 3D, this isometric allusion successfully progresses past the 8-directional world of the original Tecmo Bowls.
Not only is depth added to the visuals of gameplay, but several in-game elements add a complex layer to the gaming experience. The first SNES Tecmo Super Bowl added the feature of being able to swap out offensive plays during a match, meaning essentially that all plays were available to you at a given time, instead of just the eight (four pass / four run) on your selection screen. Special Edition takes this a step further by giving the user two screens of eight plays each. This not only minimizes in-game disruptions, but it allows you to keep a rarely used play (e.g. QB sneak) in your playbook without having to block out an entire eighth of your choices.
Another significant feature addition was adding a “Hard” difficulty setting. The “Easy” setting will likely resemble the Tecmo games of old, when performing the “Tecmo weave” could allow you to gain gobs of extra yards as speedy CPU avatars misused their momentum in trying to track down ball-carriers. On the “Hard” difficulty, avatars are much more capable of cutting off your angle and making an open field tackle, rather than getting grappled and thrown or missing a dive tackle completely. While you’re still able to play as the stars of the game on your way to big yardage days, it’s likely you’ll need higher strategy and execution this time around. On top of all of this, audibles have been added as a pre-snap feature. While on offense this just means you can change your play before the snap, for the defense this means you can literally change your defensive formation. It may be your intention to put up big numbers with running back star Barry Sanders, but if the defense keeps stacking the box, what choice do you have but to pass? While this type of addition might not meet the fancy of every gamer, it does represent a willingness of Tecmo to step away from the pure fantasy realm to the realistic.
The first SNES Tecmo Super Bowl featured a ‘3-season mode’ where a user could play three consecutive seasons with the same team. While this feature was intended to resemble an early example of franchise mode, there wasn’t any meat to it. Leave it to Special Edition to ramp things up: in this second SNES installment, you can actually play with rosters from three different years, 1992-4, essentially tripling the number of available teams. Not only this, but in man-to-man contests you can pit cross-year rosters against each other. Ever wondered whether Super Bowl Champion Cowboys of ’92 or ’93 was better? Now that puzzle can be forever solved Tecmo-style, if not objectively. Or the user can try out different teams in a single calendar year, eventually switching to the next year and then the next. Talk about “special?” In a manner of speaking, Tecmo II offers the value of three different games on one cartridge.
While the overall gameplay matches the quality and experience of Tecmo Super Bowl III: Final Edition, there is one gameplay aspect worth mentioning that is unique to Special Edition. Pass deflections are a relatively common occurrence in the editions preceding Special Edition. Whether it was a lineman deflecting a quarterback’s pass at the line of scrimmage or a defensive back knocking the ball down on its way to a receiver, the play was always deemed dead upon contact, no matter how many avatars were near the ball as it floated to the turf. This of course doesn’t reflect actual football rules, in which a deflected ball is considered live until it touches the ground. Special Edition takes this concept and runs with it, to the extent that many a deflected ball finds its way into the hands of a defender (never the offense, as might happen in Madden). As a result you might have a defensive lineman deflect your pass, only to see a different 350-pound lineman leap fifteen feet sideways to make an interception grab. Even worse, if he isn’t tackled right away, he’s free to get off the ground and rumble in for a score! This anomaly of gameplay isn’t necessarily a frequent occurrence, but it does happen enough to frustrate gamers whom it victimizes. Then again, it’s a feature that is so exclusive to Special Edition that some may find it endearing.
Not only is Special Edition a rather unique installment in the Tecmo football canon, it’s the rarest one as well. The release date is listed as 1994, which seems sensible since Tecmo Super Bowl I (TSB I) came out the previous year. However, North Americans didn’t receive copies until January 1995, the same year Final Edition came out (September). Not only this, but a meager 15,000 copies were shipped to the western hemisphere. The delayed release, along with limited copies, makes Special Edition an often overlooked title. As a result, most gamers who are more comfortable with the SNES Tecmo Super Bowls than the NES seem to gravitate to TSB I and Final Edition. Few seem to be aware that, lo and behold, there was a title released during the interim that is every bit deserving a gander as its brothers.
So is Tecmo Super Bowl II as special as the name implies? You be the judge. But next time you tell your friends that Tecmo Super Bowl III: Final Edition is the definitive title in the Tecmo football series, it might be time to fact check. With added features such as audibles, expanded playbooks, deflection interceptions and a renewed engine, there is plenty that this middle installment has to offer on its own. And did I mention the addition of two-point conversions? Above all, including the equivalent of three league’s worth of teams was a wonderful testament to the NFL of the early 90s, and a great representation of what sports games were capable at the middle of that decade.
Four out of Five Stars
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