you ready for some football? Tecmo Bowl football?
up! The NFL lockout may be over, but something even better is
kicking off: a prototype of Tecmo Bowl for the Nintendo
Entertainment System. So leave the $10 cups of beer and $15 nachos
in the stands, and catch Nintendo football fever!
Bowl changed sports video games forever. At first glance,
the game's offerings may seem basic and stripped down by today's
standards, what, with a limit of only 18 players on the
field, four plays in the playbook, no official NFL names, and
the exclusion of several teams like Philadelphia.
can be deceiving. Tecmo Bowl sacked every football game
that came before it, and arguably many that came after. Don't
believe me? Go check out 10-Yard Fight and report back
to me. More importantly, Tecmo Bowl served as warm-up practice
for possibly the most celebrated and long-lasting sports title
ever created, Tecmo Super Bowl.
Siskel to Roger Ebert during a round of Tecmo Bowl in 1989:
"See, I like him saying 'HUT, HUT, HUT.' I like the fact
that I can make a football player annoy you." (Image source: YouTube.com)
Bowl set the standard for all pick-up-and-play sports games
to come, before the genre began being weighed down by heavy
simulation. As was the case with Ninja Gaiden,
Tecmo took a successful arcade game and converted
it for a home console release on the Nintendo Entertainment System. The result was a game that threw
out all realism and anted up the stakes with monster 100-yard
passes, unstoppable end zone to end zone running plays, and zero
fumbles but interceptions as common as completions.
Bowl's genuinely naïve, yet unbelievably addicting, little
package made even me, the
furthest thing from a jock, want to pass the virtual pigskin until my
thumbs hurt and I needed a Gatorade and fruit snack break.
out, Marino! Laces always out!
Bowl is not necessarily designed for the obsessive sports
fan, the kind of person whose entire existence revolves around his or her hometown team. You know, the type
of person who only shows passion in life when he or she is phoning
into a sports radio program to call someone a stupid idiot.
Tecmo Bowl is largely for the rest of us ("the sane")
who fondly recall those wonderful Thanksgivings growing up, playing
touch football with cousinsfor those of us who used to throw
a NERF football as high as we could for a crowd of waiting kids to dive
for in the schoolyard. Tecmo didn't let rules and penalties
interfere with the experience; Tecmo Bowl represents a purity of
the game, a digital preservation of seventh grade recess and those
weekends of on-the-fly pick-up games, rolling around in a cold
wet field of rain-slicked mud until the sun went down and you walked
home filthy, exhausted, and happy.
scrawny to play football in a league or on my school's team,
I played it safe and stayed with sissy European football as a kid. Soccer
became my sport of choice because of my cross country running
skills. I went for more breakaways than anyone else.
If the other team's cover was too much, and I didn't have room
to run, I knew I could pass the ball away to get defenders off
me. If worse came to worse, I could always kick the ball
like hell over on their end to make them scramble for it so I could
catch my breath.
football, though, you're nothing but a running target. You're
a foot soldier on the front lines in a strategic game of wargaining
a little ground here, a little ground there. The ball is a ticking
time bomb strapped to your person, ensured to take you down to
the ground every time. There's no pussyfooting around in football,
and that's exactly why I pussied out of playing any real football.
Certain Tecmo Bowl playing rules may differ slightly
from professional football rules."
Bowl instruction manual
Bowl provided me with hours of sheltered late night scrimmages. It's really no mystery why gamers still talk
about Tecmo Bowl and Tecmo Super Bowl, why they hold tournaments around
the country to this day, why ROM hackers update the rosters to
reflect the current-day NFL, and why Tecmo has recently been reviving
the franchise againat its very core, Tecmo Bowl remains
dedicated to the fundamental principles of game-making: easy-to-learn playability
and instantly rewarding fun. Nada mas, nada menos.
said all of that, it didn't take long until Tecmo Bowl
fans found out how to game the systemgame the game, so to
I had a Tecmo Bowl bookie, I'd put my money down on New
York, Chicago, San Francisco, or Los Angeles every time. Individually,
Lawrence Taylor (LT could block every field goal and extra point
attempt), Walter Payton (a speed demon on offense), Joe Montana/Jerry
Rice (love and marriage, Joe and Jerry, can't have one without
the other), and Bo Jackson (a.k.a. Black Jesus) dominatedBo,
is one of only a handful of Nintendo Entertainment System games that incorporates
voice samples. You'll never tire of hearing the muffled cry of
the announcer proclaiming, "Touchdown!"
to this game, Mr. Jackson could add one more to the list of things
he knows: Tecmo. So-called "Tecmo Bo" has been bestowed
with such amazing digital athleticism that he could run down an
entire quarter by traveling the length of the field and back,
in one play, as the other team crawled on the AstroTurf, trying
in desperation to grab hold of the supernatural superstar. The
only thing missing when Bo took charge was tinty Benny Hill music.
Tecmo Bo's in full effect.
a tragic twist of irony, Tecmo Bowl did not concern itself
with injuries, but that's exactly what took Bo out of the real-life
game. While Bo's career was cut short due to a hip injury, his
legacy lives on every time two friends fight over who gets to
pick LAto this day, the injuries keep coming.
34's godliness has become the stuff of Nintendo legend over the
years (The Book of Bo Jackson, if you will, in The Nintendo Player Bible),
but it's a little known fact that two editions of Tecmo Bowl
exist all because of another skilled player. The earlier edition
of the game has Eric Dickerson as running back and Albert Bentley
as kick returner on Indianapolis, while a later edition has those spots going to Albert
Bentley and Clarence Verdin, respectively.
Tecmo had been given permission from the National Football League
Players Association ("NFLPA") to use real NFL players' names, an
article in The New York Times dated June 11, 1989 reveals that
Dickerson's lawyers claimed that their client never authorized the
use of his name and likeness to the group-licensing program (link).
funny thing is, his name was too long to fit in the game, so Tecmo
shortened Dickerson to "Dicker." What's more, all of
the player sprites look the same, save for color palette swaps
(and even some of those are incorrect, as a few Caucasian players
appear as African American and vice versa).
any event, the star running back must have prevailed in his lawsuit
because future Tecmo Bowl copies are entirely Dicker-less.
the NFL, Dickerson would be suspended several times while with
the Colts for such things as "insubordination" and "conduct
He would not make an appearance in Tecmo Super Bowl.
Bowl is cool as ice.
Bowl has had an immeasurable impact on popular culture, even
appearing prominently in the 1991 Vanilla Ice movie Cool As
(Victor Dimattia, or Timmy Timmons in The Sandlot) should
be at little league practice, but he ditches baseball to take
a spin with Johnny (Vanilla Ice) on his neon-yellow motorcycle.
Tommy returns from the sweet ride to plop down in front of the TV to
play Tecmo Bowl until he discovers two burglars inside
the house with him.
Tommy attempts to get away from the bad guys, the phantom game
continues on its own, choosing plays from the playbook and everything.
Someone in the crew must have liked Tecmo Bowl, too.
(Kristen Minter, or Heather from Home Alone) comes home hours
later to find the game stuck at the playbook screen. She turns
the TV off, unaware of her brother's kidnapping, and heads off
to her room to contemplate her love of Ice.
film had a budget of $6 million and grossed a little over $1 million,
just enough to pay Vanilla Ice's $1 million salary (link).
How totally uncool.
however, is cool. When a Tecmo Bowl prototype cartridge
surfaced online from a game store located in Dallas, Texas, I jumped
faster than Pacman Jones in a strip club.
EPROMs housed inside have what appear to be the game's name in
on white program ("PRG") and gridiron-green character (or "CHAR"
as it's abbreviated) stickers.
10/12, this presumably places the prototype four months before
the official release in February of 1989. Curiously, both stickers
have "P-2" written on them.
top portion of the label on the cartridge features a star motif with a background that looks almost like a precursor to the visual style
that Tecmo Super Bowl would adopt in 1991.
at the back of that cartridge, baring it all for the world to
see. This free spirit is missing its patent Caution label, forcing
me to take on full responsibility as its new caretaker to warn
others of the dangers of immersing the game in water. I'm
up to the challenge.
There are no
3.88 MM security screwbits, either, on this guy but rather tiny
flat head screws that serve to hold the cartridge together.
to the in-game goodness, the prototype shows a more primitive,
less patriotic-looking title screen logo. Everyone knows there's
nothing more American than football. More people watch the Super
Bowl than go out to vote in presidential elections. Tecmo, a Japanese
company, was wise to exploit this.
addition to that, the copyright shows the year 1988 instead of 1989.
The title screen logo marks
the only graphical variation between the two versions.
like the copyright date on the title screen, the prototype's roster during
the credits is a year behind the retail game. The players
are all the same, however, and correspond to the first edition
of the game with Dickerson as running back.
prototype has a quick little quirk that pops up after a play is
finished. Right before the game transitions to the playbook screen,
the prototype spews a bunch of jumbled graphics all over the field.
This happens so fast that I couldn't even capture the abnormality
on an emulator via screenshots. I had to rely on my reptilian
reflexes and use the PrntScrn key.
several lines of changes existing in the prototype code, I could not
find any other noticeable differences while investigating the
actual gameplay. The game still handles the same, Bo still plows
through everyone's defenses, and the large-haired cheerleaders
still make me proud to be an American.