Before Tecmo Super Bowl, before Tecmo Bowl III, there was Tecmo Bowl. The most popular football game on the most popular console of all time, Tecmo Bowl was a triumph of 8-bit sound, 8-bit graphics, and good-old fashioned nose to the grindstone gridiron warfare.
There were three modes of play: Season mode (one player) and Exhibition mode (one or two players). In Exhibition mode, you could choose whether to actually control the players on the field or merely "coach" them by selecting plays (lame for the under-12 crowd, but tactical for the over-40 crowd.)
You could select between one of twelve teams. Tecmo Bowl had the NFLPA license (giving them the rights to use real players' names) but not the NFL license, so they had to make up team mascots. This led to such interesting choices as the Cleveland Dragons and the Miami Panthers. Still, you had the real players, so it was like playing the NFL.
The game itself was side-scrolling, showing the game from a sideline perspective. Each quarter consisted of 90 seconds, and although the clock stopped and started per real NFL rules, there were no timeouts. The music was cool, the PCM sound effects were fun and realistic, and the touchdown celebration sequences were always rewarding.
Actual button pushing was relatively simple, and is divided below into offense, defense, and special teams.
- On offense, you selected between one of four plays: two runs, and two passes. Each team had different plays to represent their strengths and weaknesses: for example, the Los Angeles team had both Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson in the backfield, and the runs were split between the two. Some teams only had one run and three passes (suggesting their running game was pretty weak.) Anyway, to fake hike - although the defense couldn't go offside, it could buy you some extra time through surprise - you pressed B, and to hike the ball you pressed A. Handoffs were automatic. If you were passing, you pressed B to move between your various receivers and A to throw to the selected receiver. Once a player had the ball and was running, you merely dodged oncoming tacklers. If a defender ran into you, you could press A repeatedly to try and shake the tackler.
- On defense, you merely selected from the same playbook as the offense. If you selected the same play, your team would break through the offensive line and create immense pressure on the quarterback. Before the play, pressing B would allow you to control different defenders. During the play, you could dive by pressing B, or run into the person with the ball and press "A" repeatedly to tackle them. You could also intercept passes by standing in front of the receiver who was going to catch the ball (there were no on-the-fly passes in Tecmo Bowl!)
- Special teams was a relatively simple process. Before the snap, a bar came at the top of the screen. It would oscillate between full and empty, and your job was to snap the ball (press A) when it was at its fullest. On defense, you could block extra points and field goals by selecting the defender behind the line of scrimmage and rushing to tackle the holder.
Each team had its strength and weaknesses. For example, despite having John Elway at quarterback, Denver had a weak receiving unit, but a great running back in Tony Dorsett - he could break tackles left and right. Washington could rely on speedy cornerback Darrell Green to intercept almost any long pass. And San Francisco had some great patterns for Jerry Rice to get open.
However, the best teams by far were New York and Chicago.
Chicago was anchored by Walter Payton, the greatest running back of all time. However, they also had two speedy receivers in Dennis Gentry and Willie Gault. The best thing about Payton was that, even if the defense picked the correct play, he was always able to get back to the line of scrimmage, if not gain yardage. On defense, they had not one, not two, but three speed demons: linebacker Mike Singletary, cornerback Dave Duerson, and defensive end Richard Dent. In fact, I don't think there was a single weak link on that defense. Kicker Kevin Butler was a sure thing, even from 50 yards out.
New York wasn't as complete a team as Chicago, but they had two major factors working in their favor: Lawrence Taylor on defense and Mark Bavaro on offense. Taylor was by far the fastest player in the game; he blocked about 1 out of every 3 kicks, which often meant the difference between a win and a loss. He could also intercept virtually any pass, short or long, with his speed. He could singlehandedly keep an entire team from scoring. On the flip side, New York had two decent running plays, an above-average quarterback in Phil Simms, and a decent return man in Phil McConkey. But their real talent was Pass 1. Bavaro ran a route with a hard slant so that even if the defense selected your play, if you threw to Bavaro the second he slanted he would always make the catch. If you picked Pass 1 and the defense didn't select the play - well, let's just say Bavaro was no slowpoke (and very hard to tackle).
Other teams showed promise - Los Angeles and San Francisco showed promise in their multiple-asset attack - but many of the teams just stunk. Seattle had no defense, and Steve Largent wasn't as good as he should've been. Indianapolis had the slowest linebacker corps in the game. Cleveland's running plays took too long to develop. Minnesota was a sure thing three and out. Sometimes it was really ugly, trying to win the championship with those teams. But it could be done - the computer rarely showed any AI for beating you; it was up to you to beat yourself.
In 1990, a new version with new rosters was released. Suddenly, Chicago was middling on offense (Neal Anderson? Mike Tomzcak?) and Mark Bavaro was gone, leaving New York in the wake. The best team was San Francisco by far, with its additions of Brent Jones, John Taylor, and Charles Haley. Miami, of all teams, got worse on offense but dominated on defense with the help of virtual unknown Louis Oliver. I accidentally downloaded the ROM of this once, and I cried bitter tears. Luckily, I found the original and my faith in humanity was restored.
Addendum: Not one, but two noders took time out of their busy schedules to inform me that Bo Jackson and Los Angeles were an unstoppable force. Jackson was good, but easily neutralized by Taylor. Although they also had Tim Brown returning kicks - but they had no D. Even Howie Long and Bill Pickel were just .. average. Still, kudos to you if got Los Angeles to the Super Bowl. I only took Chicago, Washington, Miami, and New York. I would always lose to Chicago!
During season play, you had to enter a password to pick up where you left off. Here are some interesting cheat codes. To play against the same team you are playing with, enter the following codes:
Washington 5B7F BFA3
Los Angeles 969F DFA5
Denver CFBF F7AO
Indianapolis 43AF FEAC
San Francisco 9C3F 7FA5
Miami 46AF FDAB
Dallas 63AE FFA5
Cleveland 49AF FBA9
New York 269D FFA1
Chicago 697B FFA5
Seattle 93AF EFA5
Minnesota AC37 FFA9
To play with an invisible team (note: only useful in two player mode):
- Playing the game for years.