Mentioning Tecmo Bowl to a gamer raised on the NES brings a glint of joy to their eye and a smile to their face. There was just something that Tecmo Bowl had that no other sports game had. It didn’t try to be realistic just very fun. Sure, you could rack up crazy scores against the computer. I’ve beaten some opponents 63-7. It didn’t matter, because you still had fun. On top of that, mention Bo Jackson to any Tecmo Bowl player and eyes open wide. He was so fast and so difficult to tackle that it was almost cheating just to play as the Raiders.
As time went by Tecmo tried to make the game more realistic, culminating in Tecmo Super Bowl for the PlayStation, which was released to lukewarm reviews. After a hiatus of 12 years, Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff comes back to update the series for modern audiences and hopefully cash in on nostalgia for the original. There’s no NFL license this time, but the gameplay should be timeless, right?
Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff looks decent. I mean, you’re not going to be sending people screenshots showing off the game, and you’re not going to be squinting too hard to see what’s going on. It’s also worthy to note that when you do certain actions, the action changes to animations of what’s going on, just like the older Tecmo Bowl games. These look good too, and this time around you actually see the uniform numbers on the backs of your players during the animations. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s a nice touch for a veteran Tecmo Bowl gamer.
Tecmo Bowl has always been about the sound and music, and Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff is no exception. There are some seriously catchy tracks during the action, and the various cadences and grunts are well-produced. Once again, Tecmo got this part very, very right.
If you’ve played Tecmo Bowl before, you will have no problems acclimating to the controls. When you’re passing, you’ll cycle through your recievers with the X button, and then hit the B button to throw. You move with the D-pad, and you fight against blockers and would-be tacklers with the A button. The controls are precise and responsive, and are exactly what you need when you play a fast action sports game: simple and elegant, like they’ve always been.
There is one caveat: There are no breakaway receptions. If you’re on your way to the end zone after a long run, your opponent will catch you. They will always be faster, but only on breakaway plays. That bothers me, because Tecmo Bowl is about long, back-breaking plays, and those are now excised.
You can play a quick game, but the season mode is the meat and potatoes of Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff. You pick your team and play the season, and can make trades throughout the season to improve your team in an attempt to win the championship. There is no NFL license, but there was a team for Green Bay in there anyway. I renamed them the Green Bay Douchebags, and set to work.
(As a side note, if you think that naming a team “the Douchebags” is funny, Tecmo decided to name the Los Angeles team “the Supercocks.” Really.)
The first problem is with your team. Since there’s no NFL license, you don’t know anything about your players. Is your QB decent? Maybe. Do you have a good running back? Who knows? The only way you know is by checking each players stats, but that’s a time-consuming process. Plus, every player starts out really crappy. The only way to build them up is by earning points during games and applying them later on. You can also apply special skills to your players as well that will give them special in-game abilities that get used at random.
Now, this sounds great, but the Douchebags were the only team applying their points. This meant that the better I did, the easier the gameplay got. After a while, it’s not even fair. You’re crushing every team handily, and it makes things really dull. I don’t mind winning, but it’s no fun curb-stomping helpless opponents game after game, especially when your opponents don’t seem to care. On top of that, your special skills start working at random, and there’s no audibling to take advantage of their skills.
After the game, you’re usually given your team’s stats, but these are confusing. I’ve tried deciphering them, but the stats were clearly done by someone with only a cursory knowledge of football. I mean, they show you how many completions your QB made, but not how many yards he threw for. It’s just strange.
The really sad thing about Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff is that they got the technical aspects so right, and got the game so wrong. Everything feels like Tecmo Bowl, but there’s no soul. There’s no Bo Jackson moments, where you’re faced up against a really good player and still catch him. There’s no life in this game. Every team feels samey, every player on your own team feels the same, and there’s no reason to get into the game.
There’s two-cart multiplayer, but no single-cart multiplayer. Beyond that, there isn’t much to get enthused about. What else is there in a game that doesn’t give you a reason to care? After a while, I ended up changing the name of my star QB to Lee Evans. Why? Because I just wanted to somehow feel connected to my team somehow. I really wanted to care about the Douchebags, but the Douchebags didn’t give me any reason to.