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Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff Package Art
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Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff

In the video game arena of football, Madden is king, but that was not always the case. Decades ago, the best pigskin game arguably came from publisher Tecmo. Tecmo Bowl and its sequels provided fun play mechanics coupled with in-depth stat-tracking.

After years in retirement, Tecmo has decided to bring the franchise back. But things have changed since the series' debut -- most noticeably the lack of the NFL license. Tecmo attempts to turn that omission into a strength while still staying faithful to the franchise’s predecessors. To that end, Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff is an admirable effort that plays nearly identical to its ancestors, but a few quirks keep it from being hall-of-fame material.


Welcome to the early 1990s. The visuals take more than a cue from the game’s SNES counterparts, which isn't a bad thing. This is basically a direct port, with detailed sprites and blue menus rounding out the package. The direction works and generally leads to a smooth game of football. Newly drawn cut-scenes even appear when big plays happen, such as a defensive back diving for an interception.

A few minor adjustments are not so welcome. To start, there is no display for field position. Yes, the game showcases what down it is and how many yards to go, but fails to indicate important field information when deciding to punt, kick a field goal or go for it. This is odd considering the added retail space available with the dual-screen setup. Another cheap sellout is the plain end zones; no logos or team names decorate the touchdown grass. Overall, these are minor complaints, but also frustrating since the original game featured them years ago.


The first couple sessions of metal and guitar riff music is painful, but, surprisingly, time is favorable to Kickoff's score. It's definitely not amazing, but it's a decent remix of the original SNES tunes. Yet just like the visuals, the audio has a weird change. The original games' playoff matches featured a more dramatic and intense song, but this is unfortunately nowhere to be found in Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff. The game replays the same MIDI track during each week, even with everything on the line for the Tecmo Bowl championship.


For the uninitiated, Tecmo Bowl boils down to eight plays. The offense selects from four running formations or four passing formations. The defense, then, chooses from the same plays. If the defense picks the same play, an all-out blitz erupts and usually leads to a significant loss of yardage. It's simple, fun and even a bit nerve-wracking. Even when on the field, the mechanics stay addictively easy. The d-pad controls football players and mashing on A breaks tackles. Passing is a two-button affair, with one button cycling through receivers and the other hurling the pigskin.

New to this edition, however, are stylus controls. The whole game can be managed with the touch screen. This feature works splendidly for maneuvering through menus and statistics, but it doesn't quite hit the precision of digital input. Tecmo Bowl is all about quick cuts up and down; the stylus, though, has a bit of lag that makes hitting gaps a bit too hard. The traditional controls are definitely recommended, even though the DS d-pad is a bit soft and may cause some cramping for bigger hands.

Another addition -- thanks to the NFL license subtraction -- is a volume of player and team customization. At first, this seems cheesy and lame. But the process of tweaking players’ names and attributes is well designed and thought out. There are stat caps on each player, with additional buffer points available through winning the Tecmo Bowl in Season Mode. This adds some RPG-lite depth to the arcarde package, but individual players don't level up throughout the season. Instead, only minor tweaks can be made to players, even if they dominated the season.


The final big enhancement is the inclusion of online play. In a nice touch, teams that have been leveled up are available for play, which adds more incentive to play through the Season Mode and use the team editing features. However, there is some lag over Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection. The lage isn't terrible, but there is a noticeable delay between button presses and getting a player to respond. Another sidenote is the small online community, which isn't Tecmo’s fault, but does make finding matches difficult. According to the leader boards, only a couple hundred people have played: not good.


Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff is a faithful reinterpretation of the classic pigskin game that everyone knows and loves. For newcomers, that means a simple, arcade on-field experience mixed with simulation-like stat-tracking. New to the series, though, is some intriguing editing options that become addictive all by themselves. Whether recreating the All-Time Cincinnati Bengals team or adding best friends as wide receivers, the amount of customization is welcome. But not all the changes to the classic Tecmo Bowl package are as good. Some visual and audio tweaks are bothersome, such as the lack of field information. Stylus controls also come up more than a few yards short compared to traditional button controls. All in all, though, Kickoff is a good, portable way to get a classic football fix on the go.

final score 7.7/10

Staff Avatar Evan Campbell
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"Real men don't fight — they sing!"

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