Review: Tecmo Bowl (VC Arcade)

Older. Prettier. Just not wiser.

In every genre there is one game that stands as a pinnacle to which other games in that genre aspire. Final Fantasy VII, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Sexy Poker. In their respective genres, these games are the standard by which other games are judged. Tecmo Bowl for the NES is often cited as that standard for classic American rules football games. But this is not that game.

This is the original Tecmo Bowl, and it began its life one year before the NES version in the Arcades. Serving as one of the hungriest coin eating monsters of the time, this little classic cost you a quarter not per ‘life’ but rather per 30 seconds of play. Each quarter (game time, not the unit of currency) lasts 3 minutes. This means for a full 12 minute game in the Arcade it will cost you $6 to play. And that’s per player. What a coincidence then, that for $6 worth of Wii Points you can now own the game outright.

Mercifully, you do not have to feed a quarter into the machine every 30 seconds, causing your game to be interrupted by a high score screen and a ten second clock to enter another quarter. Instead, the game lets you adjust the amount of time each quarter gives you in the settings. So you can set it to 6 minutes per quarter and just feed one quarter at the start and an additional quarter at halftime. Of course, you could always pre-feed the machine with 24 quarters at the start of the game, but this is so much more convenient.

Comparing the two versions (NES and Arcade), is almost like apples and oranges. At the time, most home versions of arcade games were invariably inferior not just in terms of graphics, but also in game play. What a surprise then, and a dilemma for virtual console gamers, that although the Arcade graphics are gloriously superior in every way to the NES version, its game play is dumbed down and simplistic in comparison.

Specifically, in the NES version you have four plays to choose from in your playbook. This might seem simplistic to a modern observer, but this was actually a case of the NES version adding complexity that was not found in the arcade version. In the arcade version, the player simply waits for the ball to be hiked and then most choose to either run the ball or throw it. There is no calling of plays of any kind here - just run or throw. It’s the kind of simple game play that you can walk up to and start playing without the need for instructions. But on the virtual console this simplicity causes the game to feel unsatisfying when an equally simple but more strategic version is available on the same service.

This is not to say that Tecmo Bowl arcade is not fun. It’s just a lot simpler than an already basic NES game. And although it lacks distinctive teams and players, it does have noticeably better graphics that bear mentioning again. Perhaps the best part about the game is the options menu. This is not something one expects to find in an arcade game, but there are several cool features to play around with here.

First, is the time setting as mentioned above which is really just a convenience. Additionally, you can try changing the length of time each quarter (a game period) takes to play. One of our favorite toys is the option to turn ‘interlace’ on or off. The game looks better with this defaulted to off, but turning it on gives it that fuzzy arcade screen authenticity that adds to the experience for those feeling the pull of nostalgia.

Perhaps the best feature is the skill adjustment option. On first blush the game may seem too easy. Once you have figured out how to break a tackle, you’ll be a one-man army knocking down all comers who dare stand between you and a touchdown. But a quick look at the options menu will show you that the default difficulty level is ‘normal’. Above this are ‘hard’ and ‘very hard’ and trust us when we say the difference is noticeable.

Lastly, there is an option to adjust the button configuration on all three controller options. The game supports Wii Remote and Classic Controller play, as well as ‘limited’ Gamecube controller support. It’s limited in the sense that it overlaps the Wii Remote based controller options. So if you are playing on the Gamecube controller and your friend wants to play on the Wii Remote, you must connect two Wii Remotes in order to do this because the first Remote will overlap with the Gamecube controller as player 1.

We found that the Gamecube controller was actually the best choice because the thumb stick worked best for breaking tackles. This is a matter of personal preference, of course, but prepare for old-school repetitive stress injury regardless of the choice you make if you play for any length of time, as you will be furiously waggling your thumb to break tackles on almost every offensive play. Even if you break free from your opponent’s defense, don’t be surprised to watch them stand up and chase you down while your runner appears to be standing still.

Yes, the computer player cheats and cheats often. But as stated above, it is still quite easy to beat on the normal skill level. Although there is plenty of challenge to be had on the two harder skill levels, where Tecmo Bowl shines is in multiplayer. This is a four-player arcade game, after all. And because it requires almost no foreknowledge of the game or even the sport of football it is a good quick pick-up-and-play game for entertaining your guests.

Conclusion

If you go into this expecting a certain amount of wear and tear on your thumbs as well as your controllers then Tecmo Bowl will provide a satisfying arcade style football game. It’s not even close to the ‘simulation’ experience of modern day football games or for that matter even the NES version of Tecmo Bowl. But as a casual game taken in small doses Tecmo Bowl arcade is a fun gimmick to show off to a friend every now and then and provides a different enough experience that fans of the NES version should still check it out.