Birthed in the arcade in 1988, the Tecmo Bowl series came into its own on the NES with the titular Tecmo Super Bowl in 1991. By default, it is by the acclaim of the NES version that Tecmo Super Bowl is judged. Transitioning to the 16-bit platform, Tecmo made the wise decision to stick closely to the previous version, saving significant additions for later installments on the Super NES. For now, graphics were successfully updated, with menu screens and games having a softer, more modern feel.
It’s difficult to say whether the realistic or fictional elements of Tecmo Super Bowl deserve more credit for the phenomenal game it is. Thanks to NFL and NFLPA licenses, real teams and players are available. All the structures of American football are here: clear plays, talent disbursement, downs and distances. Then there’s the suspension of reality, such as no penalties. The players look super-human as they grapple, bang, toss and juke each other. Every quarterback is capable of miraculous bombs, and every defense can become ballistic for a play.
Once one is able to accept the fantasy elements of Tecmo Super Bowl, the game plays wonderfully. The layout is side-scroller, which avoids double-blindside, Madden-like action while giving the player full participation. Both the passing and running games are fun in Tecmo Super Bowl. The 8-direction running and 2-button passing is easy enough for any newbie. The Player is able to construct highly involved playbooks and when in the hands of a seasoned pro, these simple controls hold the potential for intense battling.
Defensively, the User may choose a player before the snap, but not afterward. Thus choosing a defender for a play is highly important. Those well-versed in the defensive tactics of Tecmo Super Bowl look at the offense’s formation, then choose the best all-around, or best-positioned defender. Then the defender must execute correctly to avoid giving up a big play.
There are several significant improvements on special teams play, or the “kicking game.” Kick returners catching the ball in the end zone can now opt for a touchback and give their team the ball on the 20-yard line, instead of perilously having to take on several streaming tacklers. Users can now attempt blocked punts, a potentially game-changing event since returning punts is so difficult.
As can happen with any popular game series, a set of vocabulary has been created by the Tecmo Super Bowl community to describe certain strategies. When a quarterback makes an epic heave to a wide receiver who jumps (sometimes with a cut-away scene) to catch a ball among defenders, it’s called a JJ, or CC. (1)
This aspect of the game makes comebacks more performable. “Lurching” (also called NTD or Nose Tackle Diving) happens just after a play begins. (1)
The Nose Tackle ducks under the Center and dives to tackle the ball-carrier. This is commonly prohibited in Tecmo Super Bowl communities. (2)
In the Super Nintendo edition, “juice” mode is toned down, a term referring to the computer over-performing, especially late in the season. (3)
Whereas the absence of juice makes the goal of a perfect season more obtainable, it also limits the scope of difficulty for the game.
As fun as the old-fashioned grid iron game play is, what makes it even better is stat-tracking in season mode. After each match, you can check the stats of your team and your players. For the Player who has winning pretty much figured out, statistics offer another realm of competition. You may be division champion, but did you score the most points? Good job on winning the Super Bowl, but did your defense lead the league in all categories? Three-season mode, however, is underdeveloped and useless in Tecmo Super Bowl. This mode would be expanded in later editions and be a success.
Tecmo Super Bowl’s real strength is in exhibition mode between Players. Play-calling–an ordinarily mundane but necessary aspect of football games–turns into a knock-down, drag-out chess match. The defense chooses from the same list of eight plays as the offense. Generally, if the defense picks a pass play, their players will defend the pass, and vice versa. If they guess the same play (technically a 12.5% chance) they are given the gift of hyper-blitz for that play. “Hyper mode” aside, this may be the best example of the game’s realism. Just ask any play-calling quarterback or coach how one key to victory is to keep your opponent on their toes.
A dive play, which can be chosen by pressing ‘X’ on the play selection screen, is a fun addition to the playbook. Its purpose, which is accomplished roughly 50% of the time, is to pick up that last yard for a first down or touchdown. Although it’s been unscientifically proven to increase the risk of injury to the ball carrier, it’s still fun to watch the cut-away scene of the ball carrier attempting to hop over the line. The dive play also helps change up the pace of a otherwise high-tempo game.
Tecmo Super Bowl has stood the test of time extremely well, garnering an incredible cult following. (4)
Online leagues exist in which Users play the original version, or a version with teams and players from a particular NFL season. These ROMs, to which entire web sites are dedicated, are a testimony to the longevity of the series. (5)
As it’s a matter of opinion, it will never be objectively decided which version of Tecmo Super Bowl–the NES or SNES–is superior. If only because it compares to one of the most influential video games of all time, Tecmo Super Bowl deserves the highest rating.
Five out of Five Stars.
1) read terms: “NTD,” “JJ” http://tecmobowl.org/forum/topic/12473-for-all-those-with-perfect-seasons/
2) read: “lurching” http://www.tecmomadison.com/Rules
3) search: “juice” http://tecmobowl.org/forum/topic/12473-for-all-those-with-perfect-seasons/
4) read: “cult following” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tecmo_Super_Bowl
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