1989 wasn't just an amazing year because that's when this writer was born. It's an also amazing year because that's when Tecmo Bowl received its home console release on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Boasting an impressive roster from the 1988 NFL season, players could now run the field as star players such as Bo Jackson or play defensively with the likes of Lawrence Taylor. The most impressive aspect of Tecmo Bowl was how it was able to overcome the technical limitations of the then-aging NES. 9 players on each side of the field, choosing from 4 different styles of plays (2 runs and 2 plays), utilizing a hidden stat feature from each team based on their players and playbook in real life - this football game really pushed the limits.
The first thing that you experience with Tecmo Bowl is its fantastic score. Each track is equally, or more, catchy than the last. The shift in music is used to depict the start of plays, to split up the game at half-time, and as a clever way to send cues to the players that an interception has occurred. The one thing that sets Tecmo Bowl apart from not just football games - but most sports video games - is that it plays its music during the action. Rather than leave you in silence with sound effects echoing out, the chip tune melodies add to the experience. The title screen music is catchy enough that you may want to boot up the game just to listen to some sweet tunes.
Although football games have come a long way (Madden games sport each team's full playbook), Tecmo Bowl still had an impressive start with its take on changing up the type of play and at least offering alternatives. Presenting all possible plays before the snap, the player chooses by holding the directional pad in a specific direction and pressing A to start (thus keeping the option hidden from another human player). Passes are little more versatile, since you can pick between a shorter or a deeper play. Runs are essentially running left or right. What is impressive is that on your 4th down, you're presented with three options. Kick a field goal, punt kick if you're too far away, or "cancel" to try and play for another first down. The downside to these options though is that they are menu based, and human players can view your selection (you can't fake anyone out, unfortunately).
Once that game starts though, it's quick and precise like a real football game. The ball snaps and you run your quarterback away from the line. If you chose a running play, the ball is automatically handed off to your running back and you push through the defensive line (sorry, no stretch plays to run the outside). If you chose a passing play, then you hang back and you move your cursor between receivers and choose who you want to pass to before the defensive line gets the sack. You want to be really careful who you pass to, because if there is strong coverage on your man, you're looking at a guaranteed interception. These happen often in the game and help to keep you on your toes, but it's pretty frustrating when you play against a computer player.
Tecmo was able to acquire the rights to use player names and modelled, in the game, the player's hidden stats off of the real-life counterpart. What Tecmo sadly wasn't able to acquire was the right to use the team names from the NFL; only the city names are used. It's said that the most popular/best teams were chosen (with a team roster of 12, some teams obviously couldn't make the cut), but Green Bay isn't in the game, so "popular" and "best" are debatable.
Should you be playing solo, you'll be squaring off against randomly chosen teams, picking them off one by one as you make your way towards the World Championship. At the end of quarter, the score is displayed on a "JumboTron" with ads for Tecmo games listed at the top (Rygar and Ninja Gaiden). Games all have a a half-time that plays music and shows off stills of the crowd sporting an American flag, cheerleaders waving their pompoms, and players on the sidelines. Between each game you're presented with a password, so if you need to take a break, you can "save" your progress in your season towards the championship. If you've got a friend over, you've got two other options in the game. You could play the classic two-player, which is a head-to-head style exhibition game. Your other option is a rather unique gameplay style labelled "coach". In the coach game, you and another human player merely choose the plays, acting as each team's coach. Not as fun, but still an interesting idea at the time.
Tecmo Bowl comes from Tecmo during their golden years, and reflects the company's strong ability to push the NES to the limit and squeeze the most out of it. It's much more advanced than many of the football games at the time (even more advanced that football games that followed in the few years after it too), and arguably much more fun as well. Simple controls allow for a pick up and play, but the subtle complexities with the player stats and varied playbook will spark the interest in NFL fans as well. With this Wii U re-release, you can once again experience the 1988 NFL roster on your home console, and it comes with a strong recommendation here.