Why, Tecmo? Why Tecmo Bowl, and not Tecmo *Super* Bowl? Was it due to licensing issues with the NFL, because scrubbing the game of it's licensed content is much easier when the teams are already fictionalized anyway? Whatever the reason, the only Tecmo football offering on the Virtual Console is the original (and most primitive) game of the series. And, due to whatever agreement Tecmo had with the NFL Player's Association having long since expired, the Wii version replaces player names with simple jersey numbers.
Here's the story behind Tecmo Bowl, for the newcomers - not only was it the first really fun football game released, it was the first to have actual NFL players in it. Now, the teams they played for were a different story. Licensing for sports video games was an entirely new thing at this time and the NFL wasn't sure yet that they wanted to play along, though the NFL Player's Association (an entirely seperate entity) was apparently fine with it. So, Tecmo's compromise was to include teams housed in a bunch of cities that just happened to correspond to those of current NFL teams, with strikingly similar jersey and helmet colors to boot but with different names and logos. For example, Miami now appears to be the Mutant Rats, Denver the Anime Schoolgirls, and Chicago the home of the Penguins.
In any event, you only got about half the teams present in the NFL and Seattle was oddly decked out in purple, but Joe Montana was at the helm of San Francisco, Walter Payton was running for Chicago, Lawrence Taylor smashing offensive lines for New York and et cetera. This is, as mentioned, no longer true in the Wii VC version but you can pretty easily infer who is supposed to be who from jersey numbers and the fact that they are running circles around everyone and scattering the opposing team's carcasses all over the landscape.
In any event, there was absolutely no way that Tecmo could possibly make a realistic football game within the confines of the NES hardware. So, wisely, they did not try. They instead made a fun fast-paced arcade experience with peppy music and simple, intuitive gameplay.
The game offers two modes of play - you can play a quick match against the computer or a friend in 2 player mode, or play through a season solo with the aim of winning the Lombar Joker's Cup. "Season mode" is pretty simple because there are no leagues or win-loss records; you just play each of the other teams one after another, defeat them, and eventually you are in the playoffs. Lose once and you're out. You get a password at the end of every gamewith which to come back later and continue your progress. There's also a "Coach" mode if you just want to call plays and watch things unfold.
The standard rules of football are pretty much all present here, though things are limited and simplified, and you'll see a lot of stuff that doesn't usually happen too often in reality. For starters, the game is played with nine men on the field. Each team has only two pass plays and two run plays to select from, which cannot be changed - exception of San Francisco and Miami, who have three pass plays and one run up the gut.
Prior to each play, the defense tries to guess which play the offense will call; do it correctly and the entire defense miraculously gains the speed and strength of ten men, and swarms down over the offensive line like the armies of the devil himself. It's very easy to rip off long runs and pass plays, especially if you have one of the "marquee" players like Jerry Rice or Walter Payton. Therefore, the games tend to be very high scoring affairs, and the only thing that stops them from getting up into the basketball score range is that the quarters are limited to a quick 2 minutes each.
Player collisions and tackling are very unrealistic and also very comical; when two players run into each other they will Tussle, and you must tap the A button at a sufficiently quick rate to win this grapple and cast your opponent away like the rubbish that he is. On the defensive side of things you can execute a diving tackle with the B button, which will automatically bring any foe to his knees on contact BUT if you miss, you're out of commission for a good few seconds as your opponent sprints off down the field. Running backwards is generally a very poor idea in real football, but here players generate such a tremendous head of steam that circling back around your pursuers not only makes for an entertaining diversion but also sometimes an effective evasion strategy. When players are blocked or lose a Tussle they go flying and bouncing across the screen, landing in an embarassing heap. Kicks and punts are all a simple matter of stopping a sliding power bar - the moving arrow seen in later games had not yet been figured out by Tecmo's programming staff apparently.
It really is a tremendously broken game, and there is certainly a bit of noticeable jank. Certain teams (like Chicago) are far too good, it's so ridiculously easy to block field goals and extra points that you may as well not even plan to use them unless playing the computer, and the collision detection isn't always quite perfect. Compared to the later entries in the series this one has a slightly more slidey and sloppy feel. When you return an interception, the game doesn't seem quite prepared for it and you must hit the opposite edge of the current screen before it starts scrolling back in the other direction. Characters have stats listed under their names, but the stats never increase during the game, so why are they there?
All those things said, it's still a very cute and fun little game, though it does get tiring pretty quickly. Will we see a Tecmo Super Bowl on the Wii some day? If we do it'll probably have to dump the team names, because EA apparently now has exclusive rights. Even if the team names could be used, however, the Player's Association is another matter - most of these guys are retired and some are deceased, and negotiating individually with individuals and estates and etc. is such a mind-boggling and massively unprofitable enterprise that it can't ever possibly happen. So Tecmo Bowl on the VC may well be the best we ever get as far as a series revival ... but at this point, to keep you from becoming too melancholy, I feel compelled to tell you about the Tecmo Bowl Repository where some small beacons of hope may perhaps be found.
* Gameplay Video