Retro Replay Diary: Tecmo Bowl

November 24, 2011 at 12:35 am | Posted in Features | 11 Comments
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In the retro sports gaming world, there is and will always be universal love for the Tecmo Bowl franchise on the NES. If you poll any retro gamer and insist they provide you with nostalgic sports titles from their youth, there is a 92% chance they include Tecmo Bowl (or its sequel) and make a reference to Bo Jackson being really good. To this day, Tecmo Super Bowl still has updated rosters put out by dedicated fans, either in a rom format for emulation, or for those inclined, a NES reproduction cart complete with label. The Tecmo Bowl series is also one of a handful of sports game franchises that have either online or in-person season play or tournaments (the other games being R.B.I. Baseball and NHL ’94). The passion around analyzing and playing those games today, while also reflecting on the nostalgia of our youth and how those titles created our perception of what a sports game should be is exactly what Retro Sports Gamer World is about. I loved every opportunity I had to play Tecmo Bowl growing up. Be it at a church youth group event or even if it was just watching a friend’s older brother play, seeing the same players (with real names!) I watched on Sundays in a fast-paced football title was unbelievable. Seeing that my friends and I always played against each other, I had never experienced the full single player campaign available to awestruck gamers in 1989. This drive to beat the game 22 years later proved to be the inspiration for my first Retro Replay Diary.

To make the game as challenging as possible, I decided to embark on my championship quest with the worst team in the game – Indianapolis. I should note that while real player names are used, there is no NFL license so the team logos are generic and come with the standard city name. The uniform colors are spot-on though and outside of letting the opening menu circle through all the helmets (which you can’t see on the field anyway; this was 8-bit and 1989 you know) and team rosters, you wouldn’t be able to tell the license was missing. I learned along the way that there were two US releases of the game, with only one roster difference (but I believe the statistics changed – Trudeau was 52% with double-digit touchdowns in other screenshots I’ve seen). Early carts had Eric Dickerson as the Indy running back, but due to Dickerson not wanting his likeness used, later releases had Adrian Bentley at running back. Quick piece of game trivia: the Japanese release of Tecmo Bowl came out a year later in 1990 and had the same 12 teams as the first Tecmo Bowl, only with updated rosters (John Taylor of the 49ers was in the game for example). I couldn’t track down a rom of that for this diary, but that sounds like reason enough to get a Famicom, no? (Author’s update: The Virtual Console release of Tecmo Bowl uses the 1990 Famicom rosters)

I picked up a complete-in-box copy of Tecmo Bowl about a year ago because I really wanted the instructions and box for my collection. I was ecstatic because the contacts on the cart were shiny gold and worked great on my refurbished NES. After a very basic controls breakdown, the instruction book gives a glimpse into each team’s strength with the interesting shtick of putting the player’s name in quotes for some reason (like “MONTANA” and “LOTT”). I’m not sure why they didn’t just go for the full name in the manual, and how did they not know that 20 years in the future capitalization would be inferred on the internet as shouting? Indianapolis was not blessed talent-wise to have anyone noted and the writers went a little out of their way to trash poor Jack Trudeau. “Indianapolis – This team has great defensive power. Their weak passing attack is made up for by their running ability.” Really, the missed opportunity here was for the manual to use “DICKER” somewhere in that line (the abbreviation for Eric Dickerson in the game).

The Indianapolis Swordfish? roster

Let’s break down the roster we’re working with for this retro replay. As identified in the screenshot of the Indianapolis roster (you can freeze frame on this in the open by pressing “A”), our RB here is Adrian Bentley, most famous for scoring the winning touchdown in the ’83 Orange Bowl for the University of Miami. While at first I thought it was just the names switched between Dickerson and Bentley, I do question if Bentley’s top speed is less than Dickerson’s. Dickerson seems much more explosive in the ratings I found at http://www.tecmobowl-vs-rbi.com. This is a great site that has a complete ratings breakdown, taken off the original NES rom, of all the players in the game. At quarterback, Jack Trudeau (and his 42% completion percentage) is the worst in the game. For quarterbacks, while there are some faster than others which gives an edge when scrambling and alluding defenders in the pocket, the main stat is the “arm” rating. Trudeau is dead last behind the likes of Jay Schroeder and Danny White. The “arm” rating correlates with the “special” rating for all of your WRs as it identifies how fast the QB can get the ball to those receivers. On the WR side, Matt Bouza is one of the worst WR1 out of the twelve teams and at WR2, Bill Brooks is the second worst WR in the entire game. Rounding out the stiffs at receiver is TE Pat Beach – who is slow and plodding and has the same generic rating as six other tight ends, making him nondescript and essentially useless. Needless to say, we have our work cut out for ourselves with this offensive squad. On the positive side, the offensive line is pretty strong and defensively the team is above average in the game, which becomes absolutely pertinent in advancing through to the playoffs. Oh, and because kickers count, (and when your team is only a RB with a pulse they become even more important) Dean Biasucci is also key as he is the best kicker in the game.

The Indianapolis playbook

Indy has two running plays in the game and they are very similar, just ran to different sides of the field. Their pass plays are pretty pedestrian and can be slow developing but I have a flat option on Pass 1 should Bouza not be open as he goes deep.  Beach at TE is my emergency option there if I’m blitzed as he slips out and is normally open.  I rarely call Pass 2 because any CPU defender with speed can cover both the TE and WR2, resulting in a number of potential turnovers.  Other than those quick reads in Pass 1, it’s mainly about buying time for Trudeau and finding the open guy. With the roster and playbook studied, it’s time to begin our trek towards the TECMO BOWL.

Week 1
Indianapolis 21 Chicago 10
Running with authority, Adrian Bentley scored all three touchdowns and I managed to corral Walter Payton enough to get an easy win right off the bat. I normally play as Eugene Daniel on defense, who is the CB on Indy (you only get one corner back and one safety) and at the top of screen covering the WR1 of the opponent. I grabbed two interceptions myself with Daniel and the team had three overall. In falling back on my Madden roots, I learned quickly you cannot run out the clock in the original game (clock stops after every play) so we had some deliberate pooch punts late to grind out the win and then got our first eight-digit password to write down to continue. Writing down passwords was nostalgically refreshing and eight digits are pretty doable compared to some other NES ones I’ve seen.

Week 2
New York 15 Indianapolis 14
Indianapolis 28 New York 13
Remember the “arm” and “special” ratings for QBs and WRs? Leonard Marshall and the Giants defense picked off Trudeau five times and I quickly picked up that the windows for passing were much smaller than when playing as a better team. I would look to throw a fade against the blitz (so the CPU picked my play – one of the Tecmo standards) to a streaking Bouza only to see Perry Williams pluck it out of the air. Even with guys open, Marshall would zone Brooks and Beach and was all over my poorly thrown passes. While I avoided the legendary Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks grabbed an interception in the flat and proceeded to have all of my guys bounce off him as he raced for a touchdown. I love that Tecmo Bowl staple. This game was also the first time I could remember overthrowing a WR for an incomplete pass…while being inbounds. You just can’t buy inaccuracy like that with any other QB. I did pick off the CPU five times myself with Eugene Daniel but my late attempt to win was thwarted after being caught at the 20 after a 65 yard run by Bentley. The rematch was considerably better as Bentley scored all four touchdowns and I learned it wasn’t just Lawrence Taylor who could block kicks. The CPU is so slow to set up a kick, any linebacker can rush in, so I chose to play it straight and if the CPU got in there to block an XP or field goal, so be it.  I think the most frustrating with the CPU blocking kicks is their fickle effort around the whole process.  Some games they’ll charge in and block one or two, and then the rest of the game they won’t rush from the LB spot at all.  Weird.

Week 3
Indianapolis 28 Dallas 14
My running game continued to cruise behind guys like Ron Solt on the offensive line.  Four more touchdowns for Adrian Bentley who has proven worthy of getting the ball on any down.  Seriously, if its 3rd and 14 I’m running the “Up” play where I follow blockers towards the bottom of the screen.  It is by far my best play.

Best billboard purchase Rygar ever made

Week 4
Indianapolis 20 Washington 7
Awkward silence moment that everyone notices: The Washington uniforms are a red/brown type color, which created quite a different look in order to differentiate the African-American players on the team. Washington never ran their standard rushing play and their playbook is saddled with a drawn-out WR reverse play that they consistently ran. This made it very predictable with defense play calling and a pretty boring game. I did continue the steak of all touchdowns being scored by Adrian Bentley but the special teams really shined.  Biasucci can kick close to a 55 yard field goal and, as with most teams, the punting is ridiculous if you get power into the kick.  It is very easy to flip the field and send a punt 75 yards.

Week 5
Indianapolis 24 San Francisco 3
You don’t mess with Eugene Daniel Island! Or in this case, half a CRT screen which I completely locked down with him. I love the SF playbook in Tecmo Bowl and growing up was a huge Joe Montana fan (we were all front-runners at age 11). All over Jerry Rice with Daniel, I picked off my boyhood hero 5 times in route to an easy win.  It’s around this moment where I’m wondering what the degree of difficulty is in this game.  After getting my passing bearings in week 2, everything has come pretty easy, and given San Francisco won the Super Bowl the season before the game was made, I thought I would have a struggle this week.

Jack Trudeau neither being sacked nor throwing an interception

Week 6
Seattle 26 Indianapolis 7
Seattle 28 Indianapolis 9
Seattle 21 Indianapolis 17
Indianapolis 16 Seattle 9
Wait, what? Where did this defense come from? I couldn’t run at all and it wasn’t like the CPU was guessing my play and stoning me at the line of scrimmage. I couldn’t get blockers in place and Jeff Bennett of Seattle picked me off a couple of times while zoning receivers as I tried to avoid the rush and make a play. I was so frustrated with him I even tweeted about it, thus making history with the first ever tweet about Jeff Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks. The third loss was especially brutal as I embarrassingly blew a 17-0 halftime lead with interceptions returned for touchdowns and then a late long run by Curt Warner clinched it. In finally winning, my defense was stout and I grinded out three field goals and went with the old strategy of letting the CPU mess up and throw a number of interceptions while I played it very conservatively.

Hello ladies! Ten year olds rejoiced at the halftime show in Tecmo Bowl

Week 7
Indianapolis 24 Denver 14
More than halfway through all the teams now, advancing through week 7 resulted in being division champs! John Elway  had a great arm and could scramble also but Dorsett hurt me the most in this contest. The teams I struggle with are the ones that will run it on 4th and 17 and generally be unpredictable. Selecting a pass play and being caught off guard or missing a tackle results in huge plays. I almost always select a run play on defense and take care of the pass defense myself if needed. This one was nice to get my running groove going again and I focused more on cutting and running on an angle to avoid the intensified pursuit.

Divisional Playoff Game
Indianapolis 33 Miami 9
Well, that was easy. Despite the game featuring the first safety of the season (thanks Jack), Miami ran it just once so it was all pass defense from me which resulted in seven interceptions for Indy, including four by my uncontrolled CPU allies  in one game. Up to this point, the CPU hadn’t made four interceptions for me in the first seven weeks combined. The charge continued with Adrian Bentley again scoring all my touchdowns. To this point, Jack Trudeau was rocking a TD/INT ratio of 0/17.  That has to be a record or something.

You got the full player name in the celebration montage

Divisional Playoff Game
Indianapolis 9 Cleveland 3
Yes, apparently two divisional games before advancing. I again had to revert to the age-old strategy of letting the CPU beat itself here, as I couldn’t generate much offense. The CPU pretty much picked a pass play against me, so with not being able to avoid pursuit on the ground, dropping back was usually a sack or if I was lucky a scramble or short completion. Their ability to gang tackle my running game (damn you A.I. for picking up on my tendencies; note, this is just me deflecting a very poor performance) slowed the game to a crawl. After another Eugene Daniel interception, I kicked to go up 9-3 with 24 seconds left. Of course Cleveland’s running back Kevin MACK is stoned but breaks my tackle and races 70 yards, only for me to finally get him (since I was thrown off him it took the whole field to catch up) at the 2 yard line. Then the greatest goal line sequence in Tecmo Bowl playoff history happened. First, I guessed the run play on 1st down (6 seconds left) for a one yard loss. 2nd down resulted in an unlikely incomplete pass in the end zone (overthrown). 3rd down – CPU run, I didn’t pick the play but made the tackle with Daniel. 4th down – run again, again I make the game saving and season saving tackle! The thrill of 8-bit gaming! I marked out after that great stop and then looked around for a sibling to tell the story to fourteen times, just like the old days. I was always impressed with my ability to recant specific video game (and real outdoor baseball) plays and often retold the story while channeling a Monday Night Football broadcast. I never understood why my Dad didn’t like hearing about fictitious video game conquests until I grew older.

League Championship Game
Numerous defeats 
Indianapolis 13 Minnesota 7
At this point my rock-solid defense and puttering running game are almost out of steam. I’m completing a Tim Tebow-esque four of five passes a game – mainly just lucky to not be sacked or intercepted. Trudeau’s arm has little zip so there has to be no CPU around or else its pick city. Then to top things off, the difficulty cranks up a notch and the CPU gets faster. After numerous attempts, I didn’t think I could defeat Minnesota and move on to play Los Angeles in the Tecmo Bowl. At this stage, the CPU’s offensive players are faster, so any missed tackle results in a long play, normally a touchdown. On their defense, Chris Doleman could pretty much cover all three of my guys and even had a couple of interceptions where it seemed he was beat (I’m guessing underthrown balls by Captain Jack). They even blocked a long field goal attempt of mine. However, I wasn’t ready to quit so I did what any gamer would do…I went on the internet. After heading back to http://www.tecmobowl-vs-rbi.com I found some strategy articles, particularly on how choosing Pass 2 for every defensive play against the Minnesota makes them easier to beat due to some coverage A.I. built into the game. Huzzah! It worked as I stymied Minnesota until they scored with one second left.

Tecmo Bowl
Indianapolis vs. Los Angeles
Fitting given the mythos of Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl games that I face Los Angeles in the Tecmo Bowl. The schedule is completely random and boy is taking on this team last quite a challenge. The CPU is again a little faster here which is really tough if you miss a tackle on Bo or Marcus Allen. Todd Christensen is one of the better TEs in the game but thanks to LA having two running backs, there are defenders left uncovered, which enables a defensive strategy of calling Pass 1 and praying you don’t miss when tackling those guys. The strategy works best when you have a really good outside linebacker, of which Indianapolis does not. So after a number of attempts to slow down Los Angeles (their defense isn’t anything great), I wasn’t able to bring home the Tecmo championship as part of this retro diary. However, I will lay out the challenge to all readers. Here is the password and opportunity to play a video game David vs. Goliath scenario: 839FDFA1. Post your results in the comments section and share your story with other retro sports gamers.

A ran a gamut of emotions when replaying Tecmo Bowl. There was elation after a goal line stand, relief after finally advancing and holding off a tough CPU opponent, and utter frustration after a running back would blow up for a 60 yard run to ice away a game, causing me to reset and try again. I was bored briefly, mainly because of playing a number of weeks in one day and finding the experience becoming a grind (this can happen too when you are the same team continuously). That was certainly something I wanted to avoid and as the difficulty increased the game became more of a mental challenge with strategizing how to best stop the CPU with such limited means (yeah you Jack Trudeau). Survival and advancing were my clear goals but I found myself enjoying the experience immensely. The game is most of all FUN, something that is lost at times today with so much detail put into making games realistic. Despite the yearly shadow of the latest Madden Football release infiltrating new gamers’ perceptions as to what a football game should be, it’s important to remember, share and celebrate just what Tecmo did in pushing forward the advancement of football and sports games in general. Tecmo Bowl proved to me, just as it had twenty years ago, that it is a timeless classic whose brand will live on in retro gaming circles for decades to come.

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11 Comments »

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  1. Aww man you killed Florida :(

    I don’t play football games at all but this seems kind of cool just because of how old it is.

  2. It’s a retro football game certainly worth seeking out. Tecmo Super Bowl (the sequel) is considerably more popular but the original is a lot of fun also. If you don’t have a NES, they are inexpensive and very easy to repair (even I can do a pin replacement). The key is really cleaning your games well – nothing else really matters. Good luck!

  3. I have both versions in ROM format. The version of mine that has Bentley has Bobby Humphrey instead of Tony Dorsett on Denver. I miss the little dump off pass I used to make to Dorsett and let him rack up the yards.

    • That’s really interesting – another variation on the roster. My physical cart definitely has Bentley and Dorsett, never knew Humphrey made the original Tecmo Bowl. Awesome – thanks for sharing.

  4. Tecmobowl.org is gearing up for a final 2011-2012 roster update. I don’t normally do emulation (except for select screen shots), but when I do – it’s for updated rosters on retro video games like Super Tecmo Bowl.

    I’m determined to get a reproduction cart but at this rate, maybe before next season.

    Yes, that earlier line was supposed to sound like the Dos Equis commercials.

  5. […] great gaming experience.  Take a trip back through one man’s rediscovery of the original at Retro Sports Gamer World. Advertisement GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

  6. […] out to be with a two-button controller.  Thankfully, Joe Montana Football uses the same model that Tecmo Bowl does and it befuddles me that it isn’t more common in older football games.  In Joe […]

  7. […] original Tecmo Bowl had two print runs, one with Eric Dickerson on Indianapolis, and one with Albert Bentley at […]

  8. […] the world of retro sports gaming.  Fueled by 8-bit success on the NES with the still very popular Tecmo Bowl and Tecmo Super Bowl, Tecmo expanded to the 16-bit era before one last hurrah on the PlayStation in […]

  9. […] Collector’s Guide to Tecmo Bowl Tecmo Bowl in Monochrome Retro Replay Diary: Tecmo Bowl The Ten Most Valuable NES Sports Games Share […]

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