Consoleation Review: Tecmo Bowl Throwback (XBLA)
Tecmo Bowl Throwback is almost exactly what it sounds like. The game plays almost exactly like the popular Super Nintendo version of Tecmo Super Bowl and, despite the loss of the NFL and NFLPA licenses, it’s still as much fun to play today as it was back in the mid-1990s. It’s easy to pick up and play for players of any skill level, and simple controls make for less thinking and more action. There are a few issues here and there, and the game may resemble football as closely as some fans may like, but for 800 Microsoft Points (or $10), there’s a lot of fun to be had here.
If you’ve played Tecmo Bowl or Super Tecmo Bowl before, then you know exactly what you’re getting with Throwback. If not, it’s important to bear in mind that this isn’t a Madden clone. Tecmo Bowl has always been about arcade-style action first and simulation aspects second. The game uses only two buttons (and either the analog stick or the D-pad) and game quarters are only five (accelerated) minutes long. Each team has four running plays and four passing plays on offense; defensively, players try to guess what the play the offense is going to call by choosing it and defending against it. There are no hot routes, no audibles, no hit sticks, and no blocking schemes. Tecmo Bowl is football in a very simple sense. Purists may balk at some of the AI decision-making in solo play; the computer will sometimes call timeouts unnecessarily or players may run into defenders. If you pick certain teams, the game also becomes a bit of a cakewalk at times; my first Season game (playing as San Francisco) was a 51-7 decision despite my not having played Tecmo Bowl for years.
The most interesting feature of Tecmo Bowl Throwback is that it can be played two different ways. The 3D mode of play is new for the Xbox 360 and looks like a much cleaner version of the otherwise-poor Tecmo Super Bowl for the PlayStation. Players run smoothly and the framerate is consistent. There’s not a lot of detail for the players, but there wasn’t much detail in the original games, either. The 2D mode of play is the Super Nintendo version of the game exactly. The names and teams are different, but the visuals are the same. Throwback‘s play controls feel a bit different in each of these visual modes as well. The 2D game feels tighter and more responsive, while the 3D mode feels a bit slippery. Since you can switch between the two visual modes on the fly, you’re not tied down to one specific mode. The sound and music also differ between the 2D and 3D modes of play, as the 3D mode features new music tracks and slightly better sound effects. The 2D mode, as an emulation of the SNES game, keeps the same music and sound from Tecmo Super Bowl but the sound is less sharp. Some may believe that the visuals on the 2D side are lacking, and there can be some fluctuations in the framerate at times, but overall it’s the slightly better package.
Tecmo Bowl Throwback‘s single-player mode has options to play an Exhibition game, an All-Star game (similar to the Pro Bowl, with the best players in each conference playing on the same team, and a Season mode. The Season mode is the meat of the single-player experience as players pick a team and play through a full season, complete with playoffs, to try and become the Tecmo Bowl champion. Unlike the original NES Tecmo Bowl, progress is saved to the hard drive after each game, so you don’t have to write down passwords or try to play the whole season in one sitting. Season mode has some stat tracking, including team rankings and league leaders. Although the team names and players are missing, their stats and tendencies are present here– as long as you keep in the mind that the source material is pulled from 1993. San Francisco, for example, has a big-time passing attack with a quality quarterback and stellar wide receiver. We might know them as Young and Rice, but in Throwback, they’re Kirk and McGee. If you like human competition, Throwback has you covered with both local and online multiplayer options. Local multiplayer has a Season option so that you can battle it out for the championship with friends when they visit. I’ve had some trouble getting online games going so far, but both ranked and friendly games are available for play and leaderboards tout the best players for both solo seasons and online ranked play.
Until Nintendo and Tecmo work out a deal for a port of Tecmo Super Bowl on the Wii’s Virtual Console, Tecmo Bowl Throwback is a great way to relive the past and experience football in a different way. We’ve seen Madden games every year, but few football games since NFL Blitz have been geared towards more casual fans like Throwback is. $10 may be a little high for an update/re-release, but the game is feature-rich. Add online play (which really wasn’t available unless you had an XBAND modem) and Achievements to a still-addictive game and you’ve got a winner. Kudos to Tecmo for not trying to fix what wasn’t broken to begin with. Now if only they can erase bad memories of NBA Unrivaled and give us an update of Tecmo Super NBA Basketball or Bad News Baseball…
(Hey. A guy can wish, right?)