Tecmo Bowl Throwback Micro-Review: Retro-Rockin’ Football

Today, a sports title without real players and teams has a hard pitch to make. If any franchise can close the deal, it's the one that started it all: Tecmo Bowl, trading on 20 years of nostalgia with Tecmo Bowl Throwback.

Packing new 3D player models and cutscene animations, Throwback bluntly leaves its core unchanged - it's still the same game as played on the Super Nintendo in 1993. But is a new coat of paint for a treasured favorite worth your time and money? Or is it a gussied up ROM you can grab elsewhere for free?

Loved
Throw the Switch: At any time, with the right bumper, you may toggle between the updated 3D presentation or the down-to-the-pixel 16-bit recreation of Tecmo Super Bowl - and that means in the middle of a play (but not a cutscene.) I never got tired of it. The new animations honor the spirit of the old ones, especially the injured player getting out of the hospital with a big bouquet of flowers. All of the characters have the same body type and the generic uniforms, absent NFL licensing, are a bit disappointing in how far they have to go to not represent any real life team, whether or not it corresponds to the city you're playing. I still did most of my playing in 3D mode rather than 16-bit.

Find Familiar: To the best of my recollection, the entire game plays like 1993's Tecmo Super Bowl on the Super Nintendo. (I had much more experience with TSB on the NES, released two years earlier.) That includes the team playbooks and player ratings, even if the latter have been renamed. Philadelphia's quarterback still performs like Randall Cunningham (sorry, "QB Eagles"). Detroit's running back still behaves like Barry Sanders. Chicago's quarterback is terrible, because they always are. Throwback stripped out some exploits and glitches, like using a fast nose tackle to juke the center and instantly sack the QB, regardless of what play was called. Given the deep, permanent love for Tecmo Super Bowl, and its easily grasped playability for newcomers, there's no way they could update or change the basic gameplay for Throwback without suffering howls of protest, so keeping it true was a wise, conservative, and laudable design choice.

Hated
Multiplayer: Tecmo Bowl was a quintessential bragging-rights, trash-talking series, and Throwback went out the door with some real problems in its multiplayer. I confronted lag frequently and had headset communication issues, and it wasn't because of my connection. There also was zero penalty for ragequitting in the code at release, requiring a patch we're told is forthcoming. Also, I did not experience this firsthand, but others I played with complained that some had figured out how to freeze games - giving the host of a frozen game the loss. These multiplayer issues, coupled with the 360's subpar controls for this kind of game, should recommend that you wait for the PS3 version's release if you have the choice. Perhaps it will all be fixed by then.

This may represent a generational bias, but the NES version of Tecmo Super Bowl was the best of this series, and its freewheeling gameplay would have served Throwback better. SNES Tecmo AI has faster defenders who don't dive as much (diminishing your midfield weave's effectiveness) and weaker players won't execute as many big plays. Plus, the 1991 NFL was to me a lot more interesting than 1993's, but that may be because I loathe the Dallas Cowboys.

If you are looking at this for online multiplayer, right there are plenty of red flags to make you hold off until getting news of a fix. But as a trip down memory lane, or a quick fix for a football jones, Tecmo Bowl Throwback in singleplayer held my attention longer than the fully-branded Madden NFL Arcade, and now that I know a little more of what I'm doing, I'll revisit it several times until the real season begins.

Tecmo Bowl Throwback was developed by Southend Interactive and published by Tecmo for the Xbox 360 on April 28. Retails for 800 Microsoft Points ($10 USD). A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played all game types in both single and multiplayer modes.

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