Tecmo Bowl Throwback Review (Xbox 360)
Growing up in the late 80's/early 90's, one sports game reigned supreme when it came to neighborhood bragging rights -- Tecmo Bowl. Before the Madden franchise became the juggernaut it is today, Tecmo Bowl was the quintasential virtual football experience. Utilizing it's "chess" like playcalling mechanics, reliance on homemade gamepad moves, and NFL/NFLPA licenses, Tecmo Bowl came to define a generation.
Twenty years after the first games release -- and 18 after the release of the series' stellar sequel, Tecmo Super Bowl -- fans of the game are being treated to a completely new HD experience in Tecmo Bowl Throwback. For those of you unfamiliar with Throwback, Tecmo has taken the teams and rosters from 1993's Super Tecmo Bowl, added new HD graphics and presentation -- with an option to switch back to the old 8-bit graphics in HD on the fly -- and added online play for the first time in series history.
So is Tecmo Bowl Throwback an enjoyable trip down memory lane? Or should the series have been left to die in the 90's like Ryan Leaf's career? Read on to find out.
Graphics and Presentation
When it was first revealed that Tecmo Bowl Throwback would be including updated HD visuals, I was admittedly a bit worried. As evidenced by Tecmo's HD basketball revival, NBA Unrivaled, updated graphics do not necessarily translate to an impressive gaming experience. Luckily, Tecmo Bowl Throwback's developers took note of their basketball games failure, as the graphics in the game are downright beautiful. Even better than the HD upgrade is that the new graphics contain several animations never seen before in a Tecmo Bowl game. No knock on the beautiful 8-Bit graphics that can be accessed with a simple button press, but they were never quite able to capture some of the smaller nuances (like receivers reaching for balls), that the upgraded graphics are able to capture.
Even better is that Tecmo Bowl's iconic cutscenes are also reproduced in HD, giving a new twist to some beloved classic moments -- the injured player cutscene comes to mind.
Call me old fashioned but even as much as I loved the new presentation and graphics, I found myself playing more with the classic look to experience the classic TB sound effects and music. I was not that fond of the new music and sound remixes present in the upgraded presentation version, and felt right at home with the familiar chimes and midi music files from the 8-bit classic.
All of the teams and rosters are based off of 1993's Tecmo Super Bowl, so for Bo Jackson fans out there you're out of luck. This is a bit disappointing as the '91 rosters are some of the most iconic and recognizable of all time -- because of Tecmo Super Bowl on the NES. Due to the NFL's exclusivity deal with EA, all teams are generic in nature, and the game does not have the NFLPA's blessing so player names are also generic. There is a handy team and player name editing tool out there for those looking for a more authentic experience, with 1993 rosters available already via the community.
Unfortunately there is no way to customize a team's logo or colors, which is very surprising considering this was offered in last years Tecmo Bowl title on the Nintendo DS, Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff. There is also no way to share roster files, so if you want the authentic 93 rosters you will need to invest the time and effort to do this yourself, though I am sure rosters will be available via a transfer kit soon.
If you have ever played a Tecmo Bowl game in the past you know what you will be getting in Throwback. The game stays true to it's roots, providing the tried and tested gameplay that put the series on the map. The playbook screen is identical to previous games in the series, allowing for the selection of either a run or pass defense. As long as you correctly guess your opponents play type you will have a shot at a defensive stop, guess wrong however and be prepared to see the cpu rip off big gains.
The game uses 2 buttons, one for player selection, and the other for tackling, breaking tackles, or throwing the ball. The simplicity of the gameplay is a breath of fresh air in today's over complicated sports controlling landscape, and allows for some unforgettable moments -- especially against human opponents. If the gameplay has a weak spot it is that it is very difficult to have a wide-out catch the ball in stride while playing with the enhanced HD graphics. For some reason receivers always seem to come back to the ball, no matter how much separation they achieve. It is possible to hit receivers in stride however, especially with the retro-graphics package turned on. Also, one minor annoyance I have is that you still can not switch players on defense once the ball is snapped. I know this adheres to the classic TB formula, but it certainly would have been a nice addition in today's day and age of player switching.
Overall, Tecmo Throwback plays a great game of football. Some may knock the fact that the classic "cheese" plays are still present (i.e. nosetackle sacks), but I actually enjoy the fact that Tecmo decided to include these money plays as it is almost a reward to long time fans, much like the infamous 30 lives code being included in the XBLA port of Contra.
TB:TB's online mode is fairly basic. You have the option of playing against another user with minimal stat tracking. In a perfect world I would have liked to see some type of online season mode make it into the game as this would have the potential to be huge amongst old school sports gamers like myself. Also, as previously mentioned, there is no roster sharing system, for player names, but edited player names do show up in online matches.
While online may be simple, it is Tecmo Bowl online. There are hundreds of thousands of people who have been dying to take the game online for the last 20 years (PC modders not included), and I am happy to say that games are mostly lag free and a ton of fun. There really is nothing better than running into someone who has their set of 20 year old money plays, only to run your own money plays on them. Sure, every game I've played is a cheesefest, but isn't that what Tecmo Bowl is all about in the first place? Honestly this is some of the most fun I've had online with a sports title, and it is a great pick up and play 20 minute investment.
At the time of this review there are reports of some glitches with regards to quitting early or even intentionally freezing the game to cheat an opponent out of a win. These issues are being addresses via a patch in the coming weeks. I have not personally experienced any of these issues in my time with the game.
For a measly $10, Tecmo Bowl Throwback is a no brainer purchase. With the ability to play seasons, All Star games, and online matches, all with glorious HD visuals that maintain the essence of TB, this is a classic gamers dream come true. If you ever enjoyed a Tecmo Bowl game pick this one up as soon as possible. While I can see many younger sports gamers hating on the game due to it's simplicity and arcade style, the game does deserve massive praise for being an amazing tribute to one of the greatest sports games of all time.
On the Field: Classic Tecmo Bowl gameplay. Just as you remember it. Just make sure to bring your money plays to the table because you'll need them.
Graphics: A brilliant HD re-mastering of the original, with the ultra cool ability to change to HD 8-bit graphics on the fly.
Sound: Not a huge fan of the updated music and sound effects, thankfully the old music and effects are a button press away.
Entertainment Value: If you're a fan of the series, the game offers hours upon hours of gameplay, all for $10.
Online: Ranked matches are great. I would have liked to see online leagues and deeper stat tracking though.
Score: 8.5 (Must Download)