With the Superbowl just around the corner. it’s time to take a look back at the series that kicked off video game football: Tecmo Bowl
Tecmo released a number of games over the years. Tecmo Bowl (1989). Super Tecmo Bowl (1991). Tecmo Super Bowl (1993). Tecmo Super Bowl 2: Special Edition (1994). Tecmo Super Bowl 3: The Final Edition (1995). Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff (2008). This does not include the versions of the game that was on the mobile phone or downloadable on XLB and the Virtual Console.
I loved to play Super Tecmo Bowl (NES) and Tecmo Super Bowl (SNES) back in the day. Outside of Mutant League Football, no other football came came close. I was never a fan of Madden. I appreciated what EA Sports was doing… attempting to recreate the football experience for the gamer. I imagine that’s what attracted the millions of Madden fans to the game.
What was it about those two games that captivated me so much? I’ve thought about this for years. At one point, I thought I had the answer, but I was wrong. I used to think the answer was the simplistic gameplay. There was eight possible plays for the player to pick from: four running and four passing. If the person (or CPU) playing defense picked the same play as the one playing offense, the defense blitzes. If not, the play begins. If the player is on offense, they could try to run the ball (if they picked a running play) and avoid being tackles / break tackles to try to score a touchdown. Or the player could try for a passing play, tossing the ball and hoping it will be caught. There’s a chance it could get intercepted. That’s about as complex as the game gets. And I really thought that was what I loved about it.
Turns out, it wasn’t. Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff had the same plays. But there was a difference. There was no pregenerated players like there were in previous games. EA Sports had exclusive rights to the NFL players, so Tecmo had every character be customizable. And I hated it. Customizing never interested me. I wanted to play the characters from my favorite NFL teams, not make them… then make my opponents. There was something that felt authentic when playing pregenerated characters that was lacking when playing characters that I made.
Maybe it was that Tecmo Super Bowl and Super Tecmo Bowl felt like a video game. There wasn’t any attempt at realism. It was unapologetically a game. There’s a reason why a dedicated fanbase keeps on updating rosters every year on the emulated version of this game. So that means we get Tom Brady and Peyton Manning! I don’t know about you, but I find that exciting. I do love the gameplay, but it’s the thrill of playing these characters with that gameplay that’s the most exciting for me. Or heck, maybe there are some versions that will let me match up Tim Tebow against Steve Young. Say what you want about Tebow, that guy can run. Same with Young. Sure, chances are Steve Young will win easily, but I want a chance to see it.
I miss there being multiple football games out there. Right now, Madden is the only game in town thanks to EA Sports’ exclusive contract with the NFL. That exclusivity hurts the video game industry as a whole and gamers in particular. Gamers no longer have a choice in football games. And EA Sports has no incentive to continue improving and innovating their product. Worse, gamers will not have a chance to enjoy simple football games like Tecmo Super Bowl or the like because they were removed from the board thanks to the exclusive contract.And that robs gamers from so much that could be.
The Superbowl is coming up on February 2nd. I can’t think of a better way to get in the mood for it than to play yourself some Tecmo.