Before video game football became just as complex as real-life football, there was Tecmo Bowl. There weren't hundreds of plays with varying formations or special spin moves to worry about, in fact you didn't actually have to know much about the game of football to enjoy and play it. It was this simplicity that made the game such a huge success during the 8-bit era, and it's one of the main reasons that classic gamers still hold this unique arcade football title in such high regard, even two decades later; now — courtesy of the 3DS Virtual Console — this simple pick up and play football is yours to play on the go.
There are three modes in Tecmo Bowl: Single Player, Two Player, and Coaching mode. They're all pretty self-explanatory, with Coaching mode allowing you to call plays and manage your team while letting the CPU carry out your instructions. Since this is an arcade-style football game, there's not much to it. You're given the choice of 4 plays while on offence and defence, and they're the same for both sides of the ball.
On offence you can choose either a running play or passing play, you then hike the ball by pressing one action button and then execute the toss or pass using the other action button. Whichever player currently has the ball is the player you'll be controlling; from there it's just a matter of running. You can press the buttons rapidly to try to break tackles, but other than that there's not much you can do other than run as fast as you can. On defence it's quite similar. You get to choose one of the four plays that the offence is choosing from. If you're lucky, you might guess the same play the offence calls and for that you'll normally score a loss on the play. This guessing game can be particularly good fun in the two player mode, meanwhile, which is easily accessible with a friend courtesy of Download Play; that's a very welcome inclusion.
Otherwise it's every man for himself and you just try to run to the ball and make the tackles; there are no fumbles or trick plays, it's just straight-ahead arcade football at its best. The simple and responsive controls work perfectly within the framework of the game, but gamers who are used to a more advanced and realistic game of football might find this game entirely too simplistic in its execution.
Visually this is what you'd expect from an 8-bit football game and doesn't feature much in the way of realism. While this can make it difficult to distinguish between the various offensive and defensive positions, it doesn't take much away from the overall experience in the end. We've all become a bit spoiled with recent video game football titles, but there's something to be said for the simple visual presentation of Tecmo Bowl.
The music, meanwhile, has always been its strong point. Anyone that spent any time at all playing this game during the 8-bit era will easily be able to hum the Tecmo Bowl theme song at a moment's notice; the sound effects were also fairly impressive for the time period. You can even hear the quarterback saying "hut-hut" just before the snap of the ball. It's little nuances like this that made Tecmo Bowl such an instant classic.
Video game football has come a long way over the years, but there's still something to be said for the back-to-basics formula that Tecmo Bowl employed. It stripped football down to its basic elements and created a fun arcade experience around it all. If you're one who enjoyed this game back in the day, it goes without saying that you'll still get a kick out of it today, especially as you can get a match played when out and about. But be forewarned, if you're expecting a more in-depth football gaming experience with Tecmo Bowl, you're probably going to be in for quite a disappointment; that's just not what this game is about.