Review: Tecmo Bowl Kickoff (Nintendo DS)

Tecmo Bowl Kickoff
Developer: Tecmo
Publisher: Tecmo
Genre: Sports
Release Date 11/19/2008

I’ve never been a big football fan. I find it to be rather well…pussy. All that padding and yet it has a reputation in the US as a violent sport. Compared to Rugby, Australian Rules Football, Boxing, Fencing, MMA, Wrestling (not Pro) and other sports where there are real levels of violence and a higher potential for injury, American Football to me is about as boring as real football (or Soccer as we call it in the States).

The same holds true most football video games. These I tend to like better because it’s not so passive. I actually have to think and do something rather than just slam up against another man while grunting and grabbing around the waist in what passes for a homoerotic mating ritual. Yet these too bore me after a while. The Madden franchise in particular has never done anything for me. I find it tepid, repetitive and most of all, overpriced for what is generally just a roster update. I loved Sega and 2K Sports games and spent a lot of time playing NFL 2K1 on my Dreamcast.

But there are two football games that stand out in my memory as the best I ever played. The first is Mutant League Football which is hilarious and surprisingly deep/. The second is Tecmo Bowl. It was simple and yet rewarding. It was highly addictive and its arcade-esque over the top gameplay was awesome. The running diagonally trick, the 80 yard passes. The frantic button mashing and the 40-50 times the game would say “Hike!” before a play. It was the first game I downloaded onto my Virtual Console.

So now we have the newest game in the Tecmo Bowl franchise. Yes the teams aren’t real due to EA’s unethical business practices, but real teams and players were removed from the VC version and that still kicks butt. Does Tecmo have a contender in the work, or is it just too little, too late for this long abandoned franchise?

Let’s Review

1. Modes

There are several modes for Tecmo Bowl Kickoff. You have your Quick Game mode where you play a single game with three minutes per quarter. There is Single Play where you can play a well, single game in preseason mode, a full season, or an All-Star game. Really the only reason to play this mode is for your season. Multiplay mode lets you play against another person as long as you have a friend code. This to me is worthless, like most Nintendo online games, because sometimes you just want to play against a complete stranger. Finally there is Team Editor mode which will appeal to the fanatical football stats fans who will be able to edit every team name, player name, uniform colours and even their attributes to better reflect the real NFL rosters. I have no time for this personally, but I know that this will be quite popular with a lot of sports gamers. You can even customize your own plays, which is pretty impressive.

The edit mode is one of the most impressive I’ve seen in a handheld game, even vying with the PSP version of Madden. The only problem is that a majority of gamers will never use the edit ability to its full potential, but at least Tecmo offered it to its fans. This mode alone will make the game worth the purchase for long time Tecmo Bowl fans who decry their ability to use the NFL License. The rest of the game? Not as many options as one would hope for 2008. It’s pretty much what we had twenty years ago on the NES.

Modes Rating: Decent

2. Graphics

Sadly, aside from the halftime show, the graphics are still in the 8 bit era. Granted, this helps the game to keep some of its nostalgic charm, but it still puts the game several generations behind what the DS is capable of. My big problem was the use of really dull colours and cut scenes in the middle of a play that totally throw you out of the game and cause you to break your concentration. Even these cut scenes are NES/SNES quality visuals and you think this would be one area Tecmo would have tried to improve upon.

From the scoreboards to the football players themselves, this is a pretty ugly game. The visuals look and feel like a Tecmo Bowl game but as we have to grade by 2008’s standards, this is pretty bad indeed.

Graphics Rating: Bad

3. Sound

Sound is another area where the game is real lacking. The music to TBK is very tinny and at times can be quite annoying on one’s ears. I recommend playing the game with the sound off and something else playing the background. The music isn’t NES MIDI quality.

The sound effects of the original Tecmo Bowl are back. Well, the one sound effect of “Hut hut hut hut hut hut hut hut” anyway. Like most older gamers I have memories of making the game say hut a few dozen times just to annoy my opponent. There are a few other vocal effects in the game, all done with the same voice. Hearing things like “Blue 32!” neither adds nor detracts from the game, but at least it shows Tecmo is trying something new.

The music is amongst the worst I’ve heard for the DS. The sound effects are acceptable but that’s about the nicest thing you can say about them. It’s rare I recommend a game to be played with the sound off, and it hurts to do it with a member of the TB franchise, but cats in heat sound better than this game.

Sound Rating: Very Bad

4. Control and Gameplay

There are two ways to play Tecmo Bowl Kickoff. The first involves using the stylus. I suggest you ignore completely as the controls are utterly unintuitive simply because it’s unlike any football game you’ve played before. I will say that after several games in a row of using the stylus you might find passing easier to complete, if only because of the change to the receiver indicator in this game. Instead of big triangle that gives you an idea of where your players are, in this new version of TB, you’ll get very tiny translucent pink polygons to designate your receivers. These can be quite hard to see, especially in the heat of a play. Of course, your chances of completing a pass in TBK are next to none, so what’s the point? More on that little diatribe under balance.

The game also uses the original controls of just the A and B button. This will be the preferred control
setup for nearly everyone due to nostalgia reasons. The A button does pretty much everything except tackle, which is the B button. This can be a bit of a problem at times since Snap and Pass are the same button. If you’re a bit trigger happy you just might pass the second you get the ball, which will induce profanity. So for those of you used to button mashing – watch your hands.

The classic control scheme is just that. Solid controls, excellent button detection, and an increase from four possible plays to eight. It’s exceptionally simple to learn and to control. TBK proves that you don’t need a lot of buttons or padded down options to have a well done gameplay experience. The Stylus controls bring down the final rating a bit, but at least the control scheme that matters has been left intact.

Controls and Gameplay Rating: Good

5. Replayability

In order to have any two player games at all, you’re going to need to find someone else with a copy of TBK and their friend code. This is far easier said than done. This means most of you who buy this will be stuck with the one player mode and playing against the computer gets annoying fast, mainly because of balance issues and the lack of sliding difficulty. Season mode is pretty boring and after a while you notice all the teams play pretty much the same, regardless of what the overall team attributes say.

Tecmo has tried to increase replayability by letting you earn more points for your team of choice. Each time you win the Tecmo Bowl with your team (and yes, you’ll have to keep using the same team every season), your players get five points added to each parameter. This of a nice reward in theory, but think about it. You just beat the game, so now your team is made even better? Where is the challenge in that> Seeing as you stick with the same team each season, this makes the game’s replay value pretty much nill. Why should you have to focus on a single team? Why would you want to play when your team keeps getting overpowered with each playthrough? This was just poorly thought out across the board.

Replayability Rating: Poor

6. Balance

Besides the balance issues mentioned in the previous category, you’ll find that there a lot of new issues with the game. First up, the arcade play of the original games is gone. The hilarious diagonal running play and the ability to throw the ball forty to fifty yards without question is gone. These were some of the most loved aspects of the game, so why would you take them out? In their places are new arcade style “Super Skill” which you have no control over, and you have no idea what players have them until they are triggered unless you scour each roster. You also can’t turn Super Skills off and each time they are triggered you are taken out of the game for one of those jarring cut scenes, throwing everything oft kilter. This is simply awful and it shows Tecmo has either been out of football gaming for too long or the current regime is utterly ignorant of why people loved the first two Tecmo Bowls in the first place.

It gets worse. There is only one level of difficulty and it needs to be called “Cheating Dick Mode.” With each game you will fumble at least once while the computer will not. This is regardless of what team you or the computer plays as. Passing has also been made nigh impossible. If there is a computer controller character anywhere near your receiver, the pass will either be incomplete or intercepted. If the roles are reverses, will you get the interception? Of course not. The computer will complete the pass and then you will somehow miss your tackle of them and they will keep running. The computer can also do a pass block from anywhere, jumping up to block the ball, yet this is unavailable to you. Utterly lame. In short, don’t bother passing in the game. It’s broken and sided heavily against you the human player.

I played a game of the real Tecmo Bowl on the VC both before and after spending a large amount of time with this new DS title. I have to say the original is far superior in terms of balance and a quality arcade football feel. Here Tecmo has ripped up all the goofy bits we loved and replaced them with Super Powers that belong more in something like Base Wars, ruining the feel of the game completely. Although the controls were great, the balance was so out of whack I feel I wasted my time playing this game at all.

Balance Rating: Dreadful

7. Originality

Although it has been a long time since we’ve had a new Tecmo Bowl, Tecmo obviously just whipped this game out without any playtesting, quality control or understanding of why people still treasure the 8-bit originals. This is far less a true TB game and more a generic football game without an NFL license. The sheer roster edit mode gives the game some points, but this game feels completely hollow, without any depth, substance, originality or even care put into it by the dev team. It’s as generic as a game can get.

Originality Rating: Bad

8. Addictiveness

I love the first two TB’s, and I HATED playing this thing. I hated the computer’s ability to do things I couldn’t. I hated the jarring Special Skills, awful music, outdated graphics and the loss of everything I enjoyed about the original TB. With fumbles on the one yard line three games in a row, passes intercepted whenever I was trying to throw into the end zone and opponent special skills triggering when the computer was in deep-do-do while mine NEVER triggered sucked any and all enjoyment out of me. I’m sure you’ll feel the same unless you are a football obsessee or a masochist.

Addictiveness Rating: Very Bad

9. Appeal Factor

It’s another Tecmo Bowl, albeit it a bad one. Of course, Tecmo is no stranger to making huge Tecmo Bowl related guffaws. Remember the Tecmo anthology they put out promising TB and how excited everyone was? Do you also remember how pissed everyone was when it was the arcade TB and not the NES one? This will elicit a similar response. Making a new TB was a risky and niche venture in the first place, but long time fans with happy memories of the series are going to loathe this game for only having a slight resemblance to TB and Super TB. This means the core audience Tecmo was hoping for won’t be here for the game, leaving only the curious and football obsessed to pick up the game. I can’t imagine Madden heads liking this or long time NFL2K holdouts. Ultimately no one will be satisfied with this title, while everyone will have scores of things to complain about.

Appeal Factor Rating: Pretty Poor

10. Miscellaneous

Aside from the gameplay, there is nothing positive that I can say about this game. It feels like it was whipped out to make Tecmo a quick buck in its time of crisis, as well as to play off the nostalgia of sports fans who are still bitter about EA’s NFL exclusivity. In truth, Tecmo Bowl Kickoff is nothing but an insult to long time Tecmo Bowl fans who deserve better. Even a straight port of the original Tecmo Bowl and Super Tecmo Bowl would have been a better choice.

Bad graphics, bad music, appalling AI bordering on Eternal Champions level stacking odds against you and a big middle finger to the 8 bit classics that “inspired” this game. Tecmo Bowl Kickoff offers nothing but the final nail in the TB franchise’s coffin. This is simply a very badly made game through and through.

Miscellaneous Rating: Very Bad

The Scores
Story/Modes: Decent
Graphics: Bad
Sound: Very Bad
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Dreadful
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Very Bad
Appeal Factor: Pretty Poor
Miscellaneous: Very Bad

Short Attention Span Summary

Tecmo Bowl Kickoff may LOOK like a classic TB game and it may sports the same control scheme, but that’s where the similarities end. Everything that made the original TB so beloved with fans to this day has been stripped out and replaced with god awful new Special Skills and an AI that can do things you can’t, make the playing the game excruciatingly annoying. TBK has no redeeming values and you can get the original TRUE Tecmo Bowl for $5 on the Virtual Console, one-sixth of what this pile of excrement costs. Stick with the original and let this fade into obscurity.



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One response to “Review: Tecmo Bowl Kickoff (Nintendo DS)”

  1. […] reviewed over the last decade before this one, only one was a football title: the disappointing Tecmo Bowl Kickoff for the Nintendo DS. The last two football games I really enjoyed were ESPN NFL Football 2k4 and 5 […]

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