Gamers of my generation wax poetic about the little football game that could. Tecmo Bowl for the NES and Super Tecmo Bowl for SNES were titles that did a remarkable job of capturing the essence of football in their 8 and 16-Bit packages, respectively. I played Tecmo Bowl for hours on end until my cousin and I figured out that we could just drop our QB back about 15-20 yards from the line of scrimmage and launch a Hail Mary for an easy six every time. Regardless, we still loved the game and remember it fondly.
Well, Tecmo’s football classic is back, this time for DS, with 32 teams to choose from, great online capabilities, all the stat-tracking and roster-manipulating features you could want, and customizable playbooks with a total of eight plays per team! This polished, true-to-form, arcade-like experience from yesteryear is by far the most impressive in the series. However, gamers who can’t fall back on nostalgic flashes of 8-bit sprites and pixelated, stop-action celebration sequences may wonder why anyone would buy this game.
Regardless, there is a lot of retro-gaming fun jam-packed into Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff for the DS. This faithful recreation of the series with a few modern touches is both challenging and engaging. The classic Tecmo Bowl gameplay is 100% intact. There are only a few plays to choose from, so breaking down an offense or a defense is simply a matter of cat and mouse; call the play, get a sack, fool the defense, get a first down. There’s very little in the way of strategy. Also, Tecmo Bowl conventions like QBs barking out “Hut, hut, hut, hut, hut…” interminably until the player on defense selects their favorite defensive sprite, switching between receivers by cycling through them with a single button, and making defenders miss a tackle by repeatedly mashing the A button are still all part and parcel of Kickoff.
However, players are never fully in control and will frequently have to overcome cheap turnovers and power moves dealt out randomly by the fickle whim of the unjust A.I. Often, players will fumble the ball for no apparent reason at crucial moments. Also, silly stop-animation images will flash across the screen, depicting events that are completely out of your control. If you think you can rely on wide-open receivers to make a play, guess again. The fact that players have no control over specific outcomes may discourage modern gamers. All players really can do is improve execution and get their team into generally good positions to win games. Regardless of the utter simplicity, decidedly dated mechanics, and often cheap A.I., the game is still remarkably fun.
Subtle nuances, like the ability to customize all 32 rosters, is a nice touch. Players can take the time to mirror the actual NFL by renaming and re-stating-out all the players and positions in the roster editor. However, taking teams like the Chicago Chinooks up against the likes of the LA Supercocks is charming in its own right. Players can also beef up their squad overtime and fiddle with the playbooks to tweak them in just right.
There are just a handful of modes of play in Kickoff. Of course, players can participate in a one-off Quick Game, head into Single Play, or hop online to play against friends and unknowns through local wireless or the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection (NWFC) in Multi Play mode. Single Play allows you to play in a Preseason match – essentially another one-off practice option, Season Mode – complete with in-depth stat-tracking, lengthy schedule, player trading, and conference rankings, and the All Star Bowl, which allows you to create an all-star team and play a match. As you can probably tell, the real meat of this title is found in its Season feature. Season is a compelling mode that players will likely play over and over again until they get through it undefeated. Unfortunately, the Season mode can’t be played with or against other people. So, if you were hoping for competitive league play via NWFC, you’ll be disappointed.
Thankfully, Multi Play is still substantial in spite of the lack of cooperative and competitive league play. Players can challenge buddies locally through a wireless connection or get matched to players from around the world via the NWFC. These competitive versus matches definitely bring out this title’s shine. Jawing with friends while playing this retro sports title is truly fun. If your friends devoted a lot of time to the Season mode, there is even a player trading function you can take advantage of. On the other hand, playing unknown opponents online provides for a steep challenge and can be quite frustrating, especially when I imagine it’s some Tween on the other side of the country kicking my butt at a game I had mastered long before they were born. Needless to say, this can make online matches feel pretty long. Moreover, if you do start spanking a few of these brats, chances are they’ll turn off the game before you have the ability to actually obtain victory. Still, the online features are a nice component and matching is a breeze.
On the presentation front, the funny sounds and charming visuals are true to their retro roots. The main musical theme is straight out of the late 80s, and the on-field effects are perfectly crude. The pixelated sprites, simple animations, and cheesy stop-animation-like, special action scenes are not going to wow you in any way but they fit the bill nicely, nonetheless.
Controls also follow the retro line. For the most part, players will only have to use the A and B buttons along with the directional pad for movement. This simple setup works like it should and captures the flavor of the title. However, they do feel decidedly archaic. The DS has four face and two shoulder buttons and they probably could have all been used to greater effect. Yet, the dev team at Tecmo did include touch screen controls. The touch-sensitive controls work a lot better than I thought they would. I especially liked their implementation during passing plays and while selecting defensive players, as it’s just a matter of a simple tap rather than cycling through them. However, during running plays it’s a different story. I found myself to be far more successful at breaking tackles and employing the sideways rushing exploit with the traditional control setup. As a result, using a hybrid of standard and touch screen controls seems to be the best way to play. Thankfully, players can use either as they see fit without having to constantly change it in the options menu.
If you dig retro titles, don’t hesitate to pick this game up. One could easily wring 30+ hours out of this game before getting bored with it. However, don’t expect an experience like that of EA’s Madden NFL 09; you’ll be sorely disappointed. All in all, Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff is a nicely polished version of a franchise that’s steeped in history, but it certainly won’t be ideal for everyone.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
The retro look is spot on. As such, visuals are pixilated and crude but still delightful. 3.4 Control
The standard controls are quite dated yet functional. I enjoyed the ability to switch to a touch screen scheme on the fly. 3.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The remixed midis and repetitive on-field effects get the job done but little more. 3.7
There is good bit of fun to be had in this title if you’re into retro titles. The inclusion of multiplayer features via local wireless and the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection are great additions to the series!
3.4 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.