If the name Bo Jackson does not strike fear into your heart, then you are not a Tecmo Bowl veteran. While the popular slogans of the time were “Bo Knows Football” and “Bo Knows Baseball”, Tecmo Bowl players knew only one thing: Bo knows how to break the game. With superhuman speed, Jackson decimated every team’s defense thanks to being faster than any human person should ever be.
Thankfully (depending on who you are), Tecmo Bowl Throwback does not know Bo. What the game does know, however, is how to mix the old with the new in a way that is wholly satisfying. Well, unless you’re playing against Detroit.
It’s paramount to know what Tecmo Bowl Throwback is trying to achieve before going into it. The Tecmo Bowl series, all the way through its SNES iterations, presented a version of football that was boiled down to its most basic form: choose a team, choose your play, and execute. Your defense won’t be choosing a formation, your quarterback won’t be calling an audible, and your management won’t be making any last-minute trades. Quarterbacks throw errant passes for no reason, while a defense’s secondary may blow their coverage entirely, again, for no reason. It’s the modus operandi for the series, and it doesn’t change here.
Yet it is a formula that I, quite literally, have enjoyed for the past twenty years. A late 4th-quarter comeback is no less dramatic when you have a playbook of only four plays to choose from, and an 80-yard touchdown rush is no less satisfying when it requires zig-zagging up and down the open field. While it would be easy to assume that simplicity is a detriment to any sports game, this is most certainly not the case with Tecmo Bowl Throwback. Nevertheless, this is a game with a very specific appeal, so for the uninitiated, it couldn’t hurt to give the demo a shot before diving in.
The initiated, on the other hand, are more likely interested in what was preserved from the original series, and how the brand new elements factor in. On the gameplay side, there really is very little that has changed. The game is still based entirely around choosing offensive plays. The offense picks its play, and the defense attempts to predict which play the offense has chosen. Otherwise, it’s essentially a free-for-all on the field; choose a player and try to make the play.
Even the modes and options are pretty much identical to the NES version of Tecmo Super Bowl. Pre-season allows you to play a single game with your choice of teams, while season mode puts you in the shoes of a single team throughout the regular season and post-season. There’s also an all-star mode, which essentially acts as a Pro Bowl replica. It’s a shame that there’s no player creation, though, which appeared in later iterations in the series.
In terms of multiplayer, the game offers local multiplayer as well as an online option. For local multiplayer, you have the option of playing any of the single-player modes with a friend, so if you have a really devoted buddy, you could both go through an entire season together. Online multiplayer allows for single matches only, either ranked or unranked, and there are, of course, leaderboards.
Online play, for the most part, doesn’t work too well. I had a little trouble finding games at various times of the day. However, staying in those games was a problem. Opponents tend to quit the game when losing, or attempt to force you to quit by refusing to pick a play. The game offers no safeguards for such behaviors, meaning that, unless you play against a friend, don’t expect to finish a game.
In addition, when I was not the host, I noticed a great deal of lag, making some matches nearly unplayable. Hosting a game solved this problem, but not the others. For review, I attempted to play ten online matches – I was able to finish one. Yeah, it’s that bad.
When you actually do get to play the game though, it’s really quite impressive visually. The game offers both 3D and 2D modes. In fact, the 3D mode offers two different perspectives: a typical angled top-down view and a slightly less angular, more zoomed perspective. Zooming in actually became my preference, as it shows off the great character models and surprisingly decent animation. Weather effects look great in 3D mode as well. And as for 2D mode, it is as genuine 8-bit as you can get. I found myself often switching back and forth between 2D and 3D, and it’s fantastic that Southend put this power at the touch of a button.
The game also offers two different music sets to accompany each mode. The music in 3D mode is essentially hard rock infused with 8-bit sounds, which is a brilliant decision, though somewhat hit or miss in execution. Some songs, such as the main menu theme, are quite catchy, while others (especially those relying more on overdriven guitar and less on 8-bit sounds) are uninteresting. Hearing some of the classic songs redone (like the ever-depressing injury music) is a real treat, but few of these are included. For 2D mode, you’ll hear the same classic tunes from the original, which is awesome.
The online play is the most glaring problem with this otherwise stellar package. As I mentioned before, you’ll want to make sure that the game’s simplistic take on football is your style before putting down 800 points for the game, but for those who grew up on this series, you’ll find that Southend has truly done the game justice, and while you may not play Tecmo Bowl Throwback everyday, I won’t be at all surprised when I boot this up for a quick preseason game even at the end of the Xbox 360′s life.
The integration of 3D and 2D is quite stellar, the menus are intuitive, and the game's presentation pays homage quite nicely to the original series. A class act all around.
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This is retro gameplay at its finest. Here, football is reduced to its most basic form, making for an accessible, though sometimes infuriating, gameplay experience.
Though some of the new music can be generic and forgettable, the overall sound direction is quite satisfying. The inclusion of original tunes helps as well.
While the problematic online mode detracts from the game's lastability, the Tecmo Bowl series has always stood the test of time, and this installment is no different.
A model for the successful re-envisioning of a classic series, Tecmo Bowl Throwback mixes old and new in a way that appeals to those looking for nostalgia and those just looking for a spot of fun in the long football offseason.