Legend Bowl Review - Screenshot 1 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

While the Nintendo Switch doesn't get graced with all of the major sports titles, or occasionally gets extremely underwhelming / feature-lite versions, it's not lacking for smaller indie takes that are full of heart. The little system has a lot of little sports games, and one that shows plenty of ambition is the latest take on American Football — Legend Bowl.

Legend Bowl, as its admirably enthusiastic team has made clear, has been put together by fans of the sport that also have experience working on the Madden series of games, which have always skipped Nintendo's current system. In other words, while it's rocking the chunky pixel look, this is not like Retro Bowl, the pick-up-and-play experience that felt like the gaming equivalent of a backyard throwaround. There's a lot of love shown for Football here, from the funny voice lines and sound to the depth of the playbooks. It's retro in style, but modern in its attempt at representing the complexities of the sport.

Legend Bowl Review - Screenshot 2 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Things start well in Training, we found ourselves calling upon some Madden muscle memory to play; that feels strange considering the humour and look of the game, but a positive strange. At quarterback you pick a play, can preview it, then use face and shoulder buttons to attempt a well-timed throw. A nice mechanic is the importance of a power gauge that affects accuracy and speed; it's tricky to nail down, but practice does go a long way. You can also naturally hand off to a Running Back if you wish, and like in the real sport, finding a balance in plays is vital.

You also take on kicking, which uses a similar power gauge to quarterback play, and naturally there's defence. The latter is interesting as you can choose any player — you can try to fight through the o-line and chase sacks, or cover routes as a cornerback. Impressively, the mechanics for either approach hold up quite well and have (here's that word again) depth. It's refreshing to play a sports game replete with a genuine combination of chunky pixels, cool chiptunes, effective humour, and also gameplay that makes you think about what you're doing.

Legend Bowl Review - Screenshot 3 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Kudos is also due for the game's smart attempts to implement co-op, encouraging some good old couch-based shenanigans with friends. We didn't get to try it out due to your humble scribe isolating at home with the illness that can't be named, but the concept is that you can play on the same team and take phases of play in turns, swap around and so on. Another big thumbs up goes to team and player customisation options; by default you have off-brand teams to keep the NFL's army of lawyers at bay, but you can merrily edit in real names if you wish.

So far, so good, but the positives do start to take a hit the further you dive into the overall package. To start with performance, it does dip the moment you move out of structured training into a full match. The game visibly slows down when both teams are on the field and plays are underway; it's very playable but can feel slightly sluggish. It is worth noting, though, that you absolutely should ensure the game is fully updated before playing; though performance is still imperfect, multiple patches during the review process did alleviate the problem to a degree. In addition, you can head into settings and turn off some shadows and effects, which is worth doing to get closer to a truly smooth experience.

Legend Bowl Review - Screenshot 4 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

That Day One patch is vital to avoid softlocks, too, an issue that plagued us in early games due to the game logic falling over and failing to progress matches. Since the launch patch rolled out, we've got through games without this happening, so while we can't be sure this is completely eradicated, the overall stability is significantly improved.

Despite patches during the review window notably improving matters, the generally fun and accomplished football action is still sometimes let down by a lack of polish, odd AI, or strange design choices. Franchise Mode comes under this category, feeling somewhat unfinished despite its tentpole role in Legend Bowl's offering.

In some ways, you do indeed get to build up your club as Head Coach / GM. You can save money to improve your franchise facilities and resources, and opt to play or simulate games. Yet we wanted to scout players and improve our team, but could see no real way to do it. We couldn't initiate trades, just got offered them, then at the end of the year you choose one out-of-contract player to let go and then 'trade' them away. Quite why there are 'trades' in the free agency window is beyond us, but speaks to a rushed and incomplete feel in this mode. There is a neat Draft, in fairness, though it's sudden and there's little preparation, so it doesn't feel like true roster building. Yes, this is an indie game, but the Franchise mode implies you get to build your club your way, but is actually rather limited and baffling in its choices, with an awkward UI to boot.

Legend Bowl Review - Screenshot 5 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

You can also take on a Tournament mode if you wish, which is just a knockout playoff-style setup; a fun wrinkle, though, for our money, Franchise is the key area to dive into.

The suite of modes, customisation and surprising depth to go with retro visuals and humour, leave us with slightly mixed feelings. It is a charming game and the passion of its team shines through, yet there are oddities and issues that hold it back from its true potential. The package you get on the fully updated version on launch day is moving in the right direction, but some further performance optimisation and improvements to the structure and execution of Franchise mode would help elevate Legend Bowl to the next level.

Conclusion

Legend Bowl is a game packed with charm; an interesting hybrid of retro style and attempts at Madden-esque depth in the playbook and mechanics. It's full of heart and raises a smile with its humour and attention to detail; sadly it doesn't convert all of these positives across the board. Performance is improved following patches but still has space to get better, while some odd design and UI choices are hard to ignore. If you can look past the flaws, which could be dealt with in future updates, there are some real merits to Legend Bowl for fans of the sport; it just needs to get over the longest yard to reach its full potential.