TECMO BOWL : KICKOFF / Tecmo / Nintendo DS

It seems particularly unfair that EA has this legal chokehold on the use of NFL teams and players, when Tecmo Bowl, the first football game to use real NFL teams and players, finally makes its long-awaited comeback. As it turns out, however, adding NFL players and teams wouldn't have made that much of a difference; this game is a straight rehash that retains the hopelessly dated mechanics of the original games, and actually manages to make some tweaks for the worse.

First of all, the player/team issue. The division structure and the cities of all the NFL teams are there, but the names and colors are off. The lone abberation is the Giants, who are in the NFC ... er,  BTC West, but here they are the Los Angeles ... uh ... Supercocks. All the other teams have alternatingly bizarre and hyper-masculine names (like the New Orleans Zombies and the Cincinnatti Sinsters), but you can change them all pretty easily to your liking, along with their colors. So, with a little legwork, you can have a functional NFL setup .... minus the helmet logos. You'll have to make do with a selection of raver tattoo stars, Starbucks mermaids, and even what appears to be the Triforce from Zelda 3.

Editing the team names and colors isn't a big deal, but I can't imagine actually going through and editing all the rosters to change the players from their generic names and ratings to NFL standards. It's doable, it would just be crazy lots of work. I'm sure someone will post a saved game up on GameFAQs or something with up-to-date changes, however, so there's that possibility.

Once you've got things settled however you want them, you can play a quick match, season mode or an all-star game. There's a new "points" system, wherein you can earn a bonus for big plays like a 30-yard pass or a 10-yard run, and can then use those points to upgrade your players during the season when playing in that mode. Season mode also lets you play up to five years in a row and holds records for all of those seasons, as well as allowing you to execute trades during the season and the off-season (no college draft, though, unfortunately).

The game has the look and the somewhat slow pace of TSB 3, but everything else about it recalls the original Tecmo Super Bowl on the NES. Your defense is still stupid as hell, and you basically have to make every play using the man you choose to control. When running with the ball you can still weave back and forth for huge yardage. I'm sure these things were retained for nostalgia's sake, but they could have come up with some new, creative touches to refine play balance and give the game a fresh feel, instead of just plugging in the same algorithms they've been using since 1990.

Downgrades - the music and sound are annoying and atrocious. I didn't think it could get worse than Tecmo 3, but this one manages. The only high point is the garage rock remix of the TSB intro theme that plays during the two-minute warning period. The sound effects are particularly grating; the classic snap count, annoying as it could get, would be welcome compared to the generic growl of "RED42!" at the beginning of every single play. The passing game has become more annoying -  little white arrows indicate the eligible recievers when passing, but instead of getting a big horizontal arrow over the selected reciever like in the classic games, the little white arrow gets just gets very slightly fatter, and on the tiny DS screen, it is really just too hard to see. The kick slider also sucks in this one - it is much faster than it was in the previous games, and get ready to miss a bunch of extra points until you get used to it. Finally, the cinematics in this one are so clunky and boring they make the NES game look exciting and cutting edge. All the players look like steroid-crazed NFL Blitz characters, or that annoying dancing robot FOX always has on it's NFL broadcasts, and they are barely animated at all in the cutscenes.

A couple of really annoying new tweaks have also been added to the gameplay - the "Lightning Dodge" and the "Miracle Reception". Both occur totally at random, and the former makes a running back who is about to get stuffed at the line teleport 5 or 10 yards forward magically, while the latter makes a reciever who has been clearly overthrown inexplicably pull down the ball. Also, players randomly go into "hot periods", but it seems to be totally arbitrary, you never know who will kick into it or when. Anyway, it's really frustrating to play great defense and look like you've got a 3-and-out, only to have a crap offense suddenly get a big gain thanks to LOL MAGIC. These don't occur often enough to totally break the game, but they are usually more annoying than fun when they do appear.

All that said, the game is not bad. It mostly looks, feels and plays like the classic Tecmo Bowl games, and those who just want a portable Tecmo for their DS will likely find a way to like it in spite of the flaws. The thing is, with over a decade since the last release, we were really expecting a lot more than just Tecmo Super Bowl warmed over and with some spotty gameplay additions. The cinematics and music were also always a big part of the appeal of the game, and this one easily has the worst of the series on both counts. It's OK, Tecmo, you haven't been to the big dance in a long time, and you've got a new head coach and a team full of rookies. Chalk this season up as a learning experience, make the changes you need to in the off-season, and come back strong next year.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video
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