The Best Arcade Football Series | Tecmo Bowl Retrospective

Tecmo Bowl is a series of six games that started in the arcades and ended on the Xbox Live arcade. These are arcade sports games that are based on American Football. They don’t try to be a realistic simulation of the sport and try to be as accessible to new players as possible.

There are no penalties in the game, the Offensive side of the ball has a huge advantage, and you can do things that aren’t possible in Madden. Tecmo Super Bowl continues to get updates as it is one of the most fun versions of the game.

As the series went on, it started getting more realistic, well, continuing to be easy to play. Ease of play is something that I’ve always enjoyed about Tecmo Bowl. The later releases in the series added features that could be found in games like Madden, but they were all easy to pick up and play.

All of these games play the same. There are updates throughout the series, such as larger playbooks and more defensive formations. If the offense and defense select the same play, the defense will get a free shot at the ball carrier. This happens in every game. 

Arcade and NES game

Originally released in the arcades in 1987, it would be ported to the NES and the Game Boy. With the differences between the two versions, they are different games.

While they both have the same gameplay style, they have major differences. Here is a short list of the differences:

  • Arcade is four-player, and the NES is two-player
  • More teams in the NES port
  • NFL Player’s Association (NFLPA) license in the NES game
  • Better Graphics in the arcade version due to hardware

Neither game uses NFL team names due to not having an NFL license, but the NES games have a workaround. Tecmo used city names and color schemes for the associated teams to give the impression that they were NFL teams. Konami’s Blades of Steel would also do this.

The NES port was released in 1989. I had no idea it was based on an arcade game back then. It was similar to other NES games where I played them and then learned about their arcade roots later. In this case, I found out almost twenty years later.

Tecmo Bowl wasn’t done in the arcades, though. It would appear in Nintendo’s PlayChoice 10 arcade cabinets. These cabinets were designed to show off upcoming NES games. You would pay for playtime instead of credits and play one of the available games.

It was an interesting way to market video games, and it is something that has been lost to time. With the decline of arcades in the late 90s and early 2000, things like the PlayChoice 10 would disappear. Also, Nintendo would exit the arcade business in the late 80s, so they weren’t making more of these cabinets.

The Arcade game had generic players, but the NES port had rosters cobbled together from the 1987 and 1988 NFL Seasons. You have four plays on offense and are limited to what you can do on defense. 10 of the twelve teams have two run plays, and two pass plays. San Francisco and Miami have three pass plays and one run. There are no defensive plays.

I’m pretty sure everyone did the passing trick at some point. When you pass the ball, keep running back to get the defense to chase you. Once they get close enough, pass the ball to a wide receiver who will be wide-open. I’m unsure if this is a glitch or a result of the AI’s programming, but it was always fun.

Tecmo Super Bowl

This is when the series got very interesting. Tecmo Super Bowl is the second game in the series, but it would end up being the name of the series for the next few installments. It was also ported to the largest number of consoles in the series.

Tecmo Super Bowl has a license from the NFL and the NFL Player’s Association (NFLPA). This lets Tecmo include team names, logos, and player names. Three player names were excluded from the game because they didn’t have a deal with the NFLPA. Jim Kelly, Randall Cunningham, and Bernie Kosar’s names are replaced with their position and team names like QB Bills or QB Browns.

I looked at this a little more, and it looks like those players weren’t part of the NFLPA’s marketing license for some reason. I don’t remember seeing this in the sequels. I couldn’t find out why they weren’t a part of it at the time, and it might be something that I look into at a later time.

The rosters for this game were cobbled together from the 1990-1991 season. Rookies, trades, and other roster changes made before the game’s release are omitted. This was long before patches were available for console games.

You could play a single game, a full season, or the playoffs. There were also minor edits that you could make to the existing rosters. You could change the offense and special teams, and offensive players could be hurt for a game. Defensive players couldn’t be injured or substituted.

These were some big changes from Tecmo Bowl. It kept the same gameplay but added more expected features from a sports game. Making minor adjustments would be how the series would do things until it ended.   

I wasn’t sure where to put the PlayStation port, so I’ll put it here. It is the only 32-bit installment in the series. I’ll talk about that one later. A Sega Saturn version was planned, but it was canceled before completion. I’m guessing there is a partial ROM of the game somewhere, but I haven’t found any information.

Tecmo Super Bowl II

The Tecmo Super Bowl was released in 1995, and its rosters were from the 1994 NFL season. The game was released on the SNES and Sega Genesis. The graphics are better than the previous game’s release; even the 16-bit version of the first game aren’t as good-looking as this one.

A bunch of features were added to this game. The rosters were expanded, you could trade players, and defensive players could get injured. You could customize the rosters in more ways than the first Tecmo Super Bowl. The game was still an arcade sports game, but you had more playbook options.

The offensive playbook was expanded in this game, and there were different formations on defense. It was a big step for the series. The series took more steps toward Madden, but those changes didn’t impact the arcade-style gameplay.

A few changes to the gameplay were made, but they didn’t change much. Two-point conversions and fair catches were added. Two-point conversions were in line with the rule changes in the NFL, and fair catches weren’t needed but made sense as Tecmo Super Bowl became more realistic.

I had all kinds of issues with my copy of the game. At first, I thought it needed to be cleaned, but that didn’t do much. I could play the first quarter before it glitched. It is still fun from what I was able to play.    

Tecmo Super Bowl III

This game was released at the end of 1995. It continued the trend of moving the game closer to what Madded was. It added more features that made the game much better.

This game added player customization and create a player. The gameplay included things that reflected how a television broadcast would be presented. There wasn’t a career mode or draft, but I don’t think any game had that back in 1995.

The graphics were more detailed, there were more touchdown celebrations, and the game is the best in the series. There were other things added to the game beyond this.

Cutting players and adding free agents was fun, especially if you got a chance to add someone great. You could fully customize your roster, free agency was added, and the two expansion teams, Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars, were added to the game. While the two teams didn’t change the game that much, it did help it to stay current for 1995.

Different stadiums and weather had been added to the game. The various fields included grass, turf, and the baseball field, as you would see in San Francisco. This was a cool addition to the game.

The game was released on the Sega Genesis and the SNES. The Genesis version was released a few months before the SNES version. I found that a little interesting, and it went along with how things went with the console wars.

This is the version of the game that I remember the most. My friend rented it on the Sega Genesis, and I found a copy of the SNES ROM in high school.    

PlayStation’s Tecmo Super Bowl

This port is a little strange. I couldn’t find much information on it, and it gets lumped into the first Tecmo Super Bowl. I’m not sure why it wasn’t called Tecmo Super Bowl IV, which would have made more sense. It reminds me of how some remakes of classic movies use the same name as the original.

I don’t remember playing this back in the 90s. It did some things that made sense then, and some improvements were made over Tecmo Super Bowl III. Looking back at the game, I think it doesn’t look as good as the 8 and 16-bit games.

The graphics weren’t pixels in this game. It went with 3D graphics that many other franchises went with during the mid to late 90s. It probably looked good back in 1996, but when I look at it now, I think the SNES and Genesis versions look much better.

There are some good things in this version of the game. It brought in unlimited trades, larger playbooks, and different play perspectives. This version of Tecmo Super Bowl was closer to what Madden was going for.

I wouldn’t say I liked this version of the game. I thought the controls weren’t as good as the 8 and 16-bit games. The defense and the passing game were significantly worse than the previous games.

This was an attempt to modernize a popular franchise. Tecmo wanted to bring this series into the 3D era and find a larger audience. There would be a Sega Saturn version of the game, but it was canceled.  

Later Games and Re-Releases

There were a few attempts to bring Tecmo Super Bowl back. One was on the Nintendo DS, and the other was on the PS3 and Xbox 360. There is also the mobile game Retro Bowl. I had no idea the first two games existed.

Other arcade football games were also released, including a ROM hack of Tecmo Super Bowl that included updated rosters. I don’t know when they started making these, but has released them yearly. You can download the ROM files from their website.

It would be nice if Tecmo, now KoeiTecmo, would start to make another version of Tecmo Bowl. They seem to be focused on making other games. Tecmo had abandoned sports games altogether for a while. I haven’t seen any indication that they will return to the sports game market.  

Memories and Final Thoughts

Most of these games were rental titles for my friends and me. My brother and I would rent Tecmo Bowl, and we got Tecmo Super Bowl for Christmas. I remember playing Tecmo Super Bowl III on the Genesis with my friend Joey.

What I remember the most was yelling at my brother for looking at my controller when I was selecting plays and restarting the game when it looked like I might win. Those are fun memories of a time that isn’t coming back.

When I first played Tecmo Bowl, I had no idea what an arcade sports game was. These weren’t supposed to be realistic simulations of Football; they were supposed to be quick and fun games that were easy to get into. There wasn’t much of a learning curve in the Tecmo Bowl series.

While Tecmo stopped making football games, other companies picked up the idea of arcade sports. The Mutant League games, NFL Blitz, and others picked up where Tecmo Bowl left off. It wasn’t the first arcade sports game, and it wouldn’t be the last.

Published by Paul Werkema

Hi! I'm here to share my hobbies with all of you. I love video games and books, so I write about the books that cover video games or are novels about video games.

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