Top 100 Retro Games: Tecmo Super Bowl

Tecmo Super Bowl
Nintendo Entertainment System

In our household, we played a lot of Tecmo Bowl. A lot. Its sequel, Tecmo Super Bowl, was played even more. This is one of the best sports games of this era, but it is also not without some faults.

Super Tecmo Bowl is a huge step up from the first Tecmo Bowl game on the NES, which was a big step up from the arcade version of the game. This game adds a real season mode that uses the real schedule from those NFL seasons. I liked the randomness of how Tecmo Bowl made you beat every team in a different order, in the vein of RBI Baseball, but I really liked the idea of a real season schedule that realistically matches your selected team up with division opponents and whichever other divisions they are supposed to play that year.

I played a bunch of seasons of this game. I used to love simulating seasons too. I had a notebook, the same one I kept results from NHL 92, where I played out seasons and then averaged out the results to discover a world champion. The world champion was the Houston Oilers. They were pretty good in the game, definitely, and very fun to play with or against. My friends played the game too, but not with the fervor for simulation that I did. No one seemed to play with the fervor for simulating long seasons and career that I did back then. Honestly, it felt kind of lonely sometimes. I was just a bit forward-thinking. Nowadays “career mode” is very popular in many sports games.

So, the plot of Tecmo Super Bowl goes something like this: It’s the NFL. American Football. It is somewhat accurate to real life. There are a lot more trick plays.

The cover of Tecmo Super Bowl is really cool. It has a football player, in faux New York Giants colors, sneering at the camera. I dig the football flying across the top, which really fits the game well.

The soundtrack for this game is fairly iconic and memorable.

This game has never been officially re-released, but it is huge in the emulation community. Every year, there are Tecmo Super Bowl tournaments all over the country. In fact, I was at a gig some years ago where a tournament was happening in another part of the venue. The dude who won it was walked around with the title belt.

The SNES version of this game is better, but that is for another time. There is so much to praise about this game. Let us begin with the on field play. There were so many bad football games on the NES: NFL Football; uh, Football; John Elway’s Quarterback; and some others come to mind. Tecmo Bowl’s success was that it felt like a simulation game in some aspects of the game, but also had plenty of arcade style fun too. I often criticize the arcade influence on games, but Tecmo really got it right with the NES versions of this game and the first one on the SNES before they veered into another direction.

I love the chaos of this game. No matter how many times I play it, I really have no idea what is going to happen next. Sometimes I dominate it, but other times I struggle with the game. There are numerous fumbles and injuries which add to the mayhem. I have thrown interceptions, but then had the defensive player fumble, which I’ve picked up and returned for a touchdown. Extra points are not really a guarantee either and can be missed fairly easily as are field goals. Getting as good as the players who play in tournaments are is a very impressive feat.

The little details are wonderful too. I love having the cheerleaders on the sidelines doing their thing in the background. It is easy to forget that they are even there, but they look great for a game in this era. In general, the cinematic presentation of this game, and other Tecmo games like Ninja Gaiden, was really, really, cool. Touchdowns are celebrated with cut scenes, as are interceptions, fumbles, field goals, and injuries. I see the touchdown screens memed by people who probably have not even played the game before! Tecmo was really ahead of the curve with how it presented games, and it really made them stand out.

Ninja Gaiden, for example, is not really one of my favorites, but I am always impressed with how the game feels like a movie with action levels in between cut scenes.

Season mode, which I dove into for this episode over a few weekends, is really detailed and was, as far as I remember, the first console football game to do so. John Madden Football would not for at least a few more years. You can play up to three seasons that, I think, are based on the real schedules for those seasons.

The level of statistical detail is impressive. You get half-time reports on your star players. Season stats are also tracked in a number of categories for each position. Whenever I would play a season of this game, I would use that to track selections for the Pro Bowl game at the end of the year. I had a chart I made, and then photocopied like 50 copies at school, uh, definitely with permission, one day that summer when the doors were open and, hey, different era, anyone could walk in or out, and would add up the top 3 players in each statistical category at, say, Quarterback, and whoever had the lowest points started the Pro Bowl.

We will cover the Super Nintendo version of this game at another time, plus some of the later games in the series, which are hit or miss for sure. At some point, they begin trying to emulate the Madden series and go for a more realistic approach with, in my estimation, not a lot of success. I’d love to see more games like this. The success of Super Mega Baseball shows there is an audience for it. Super Mega Football works for me.

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