TECMO SUPER BOWL / Tecmo / NES
There are, of course, numerous downsides to EA's monopolistic chokehold on the NFL license, but arguably the biggest one is that we now have zero chance of ever seeing a Tecmo Super Bowl revival (no, this Tecmo Bowl:Kickoff crap doesn't really count.)
The NES incarnation of Super Bowl is easily the most beloved version of the game, in spite of also being the most glitch-ridden and technically inept of the franchise short of Tecmo Bowl. Somehow, it pulls through on the sheer power of charisma, not to mention a healthy dose of nostalgia. Not only is TSB the only really fun arcade-style NFL game ever created, it was also the first football game to incorporate an NFL license, and it did it in a really impressive way for the time (and set the trends for all the more "realistic" sims that came after it.) Aside from getting the full 1990 roster of teams (with mostly pretty close color schemes), you also get the 1990 roster of players, all of whom were researched and given relatively accurate statistical tweaks to represent their skill levels - they even got a little facial portrait that at least halfway resembled them in most cases. The selection of plays available to each team also mostly corresponded with the sorts of offensive and defensive schemes they were actually running at the time.
The game also had a lot of innovative little touches that have become staples of sports gaming in general. You could play out a full season, based on the 1990 NFL schedule, during which standings were kept which determined the playoffs at season end. You were also free to skip or play all the games on the schedule in any configuration you cared to. Though limited usually to only one or two alternates, there was a roster of backup players for each team who could be subbed in at any time, and this would often become necessary as players would succumb to random injuries from time to time during the season. Between games, you could also tweak the playbook a bit, choosing from a small assortment of different types. The game also kept track of both player and team records and statistics throughout the season, and had a running leaderboard. The real draw, however, was that it was two-player.
The gameplay is the really interesting part. Packed with glitches and little oddities, clever players would quickly figure out numerous ways to game the system and rack up ridiculous scores. Certain 'star' players were also so pumped up as to be broken - the famous example being Bo Jackson running loops around defenders and going back and forth from one end of the field to the other, as can probably be seen in many Youtube videos. The tackling and "tusslin'" mechanics were completely ridiculous. And the game would compensate for all this in "season" mode by pumping up the stats of opposing teams gradually throughout the year, and upping their odds of "busting" your offensive plays, so that by the time you got to the playoffs the game was virtually unwinnable without cheating and exploiting glitches. Still, with all this weight on it, the game managed to be really fun to play, and *still* has legions of fans actively playing it and forming leagues nearly twenty years later. It has just the right dose of realism and authenticity to engage NFL fans, but the core gameplay is all fast action and instant gratification. In another bizarre-yet-brilliant twist, the cinematics employed in Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden series were also used here to highlight major dramatic plays, and far from chopping the action up, it actually makes it much more viscerally satisfying!
Later entries for the Super NES and Genesis tightened the engine up a bit and delivered a technically more sound experience, but something about the peppy music, the over-the-top cinematics, the legendary "broken" players and the fast-and-loose gameplay makes this one the most compellingly entertaining entry in the series, and it'll probably remain that way.
* Tecmo Super Bowl Haven - Roster patches and all sorts of other stuff
* Bo Jackson doing his thing
* Christian Okoye plowing fools
* Watch out for Lawrence Taylor!
* Eli Manning Bowl