Game – Tecmo Super Bowl
Release Date – December 1991
Platform – NES
Developer/Publisher – Tecmo/Tecmo
With this year’s NFL Draft right around the corner, and the seemingly endless need for news and stories about football, I thought it appropriate to bring you my favorite football game of all time.
Tecmo Super Bowl was originally released for the NES in 1991. It just so happened to be the first sports video game that had licensing privileges with the NFL and the NFLPA. This gave them free reign to use the player’s names and attributes, as well as team names, logos, and colors. All 28 teams from the 1990-91 NFL season are present and accounted for here, as well as one of the most game-breaking players to ever walk the face of a virtual console (I’m looking at you Bo Jackson!).
There are a few different game modes to choose from, although the experience you have during them is largely the same. An exhibition/pre-season game feels just like a regular season game, with the exception of a slight difficulty bump during the regular season. You also have the option of playing in the Pro Bowl, with rosters for that year already in place. During any of these modes you have the ability to call plays and execute them, only call the plays, or simply be a spectator and watch the 8-bit gridiron giants battle it out.
The gameplay falls in line with the arcade-y sport sims of the past. There are no penalties in the game, which helps keep the lightning fast pace going. Offensive players are susceptible to injury, however, and if you play during the regular season there is a certain timetable for players to return. One of my favorite parts of the gameplay, which handcuffs you to some degree, is the play calling. While on offense your playbook consists of 8 plays (4 pass, 4 run). The defense chooses from the same 8 plays. If the defense guesses the same play as the offense chose to run, a jailbreak blitz is coming your way and chances of anything outside of a loss of yardage is remote. If the defense chooses a running play when it is really a passing play though, the offense scores a huge advantage with generally wide-open receivers.
You do have the ability to edit your team’s playbook prior to beginning the game. While you must keep four pass plays and four run plays, there is an impressive amount of variety in what options are available to you. You can find reverses, flea flickers, multiple pre-snap motion, and direct snaps to the running back. No matter your play style, there is likely something here for you.
Another fun bit in the game is the use of cutscenes. These will trigger during certain moments such as kickoffs, sacks, big pass plays, and touchdowns, as well as more innocuous plays such as incomplete passes. This helps to add a bit more TV-like quality to a game that certainly looks like it was made more than 20 years ago.
One of my only gripes with the game comes from when your player has broken away from the pack and is running for a touchdown. Now, even if it was Bo Jackson (who is far and away the fastest player in the game), the computer AI suddenly kicks in to super mode and even the biggest defensive linemen turn into Wile E Coyote on a new pair of Acme rocket skates. For a game that did such a great job of giving individual players stats and abilities that mirrored real life, this inclusion seemed out of place. Although, when looking at it as an arcade game I suppose that may just be par for the course.