I don’t like football. Not in practice, anyway. In theory, I think it’s a great sport. In practice, football players seem to be generally terrible as human beings, whether in high schools or in professional leagues in Canada or the US, and football fans are often worse, especially in the US, where fans of opposing teams look more like members of opposing cults to an outsider like me . As a result, football is an amazing and exciting sport surrounded by awful people, so I don’t like football, which also means that other than Pigskin Footbrawl, Mutant League Football, and Football for the Atari 2600, I’ve never played a football video game (or a real football game, for that matter). So when I saw Tecmo Super Bowl had made the cut, I knew I was finally going to have to play a sports game I’d heard hyped for over two decades.
So, a few days ago, I tried playing Tecmo Super Bowl. Since I’ve never really followed football, I wasn’t sure who to pick, but since my favourite hockey team is the Detroit Red Wings, I chose the team labelled DET. I believe they are either the Tigers or Lions. Pretty sure it’s Lions. Definitely not the Pistons because during the 5 minutes I liked basketball in the late 80s, my favourite player was Isiah Thomas. In any case, I picked the Detroit team, who I believe have a long history of being super, duper terrible, unlike my Red Wings.
Anyway, I played a preseason game and won a close contest against Indianapolis. I was not impressed. I figured I should’ve gotten my ass kicked as it was my first time playing and it isn’t the kind of game I’ve played often. But it wasn’t just that I was surprised it was so easy. It kind of felt…lacking. Normally, this is where I would abandon a game, but since I had to review it, I pressed on. (I did find out later that the game makes preseason games easier.)
Since there didn’t seem to be a “season” mode, just Preseason, Season Game, and Pro Bowl, I decided to try whatever “Season Game” was. It turns out that the “Game” in “Season Game” doesn’t stand for “game” in the sense of “one game,” but more like “game mode known as Season.” I don’t know. Maybe football folks don’t call the regular season what I thought most sports did. Maybe they call it “season game.”
– Guy wearing foam cheese on his head: Hey dude, are you ready for the start of season game?
– Other guy who is inexplicably shirtless and covered in some form of paint or make-up: Yeah, guy, season game is my fav!
– *Both guys start making out with each other while moaning “football.”*
I believe the above scene is fairly common at what is colloquially known as “tailgating.” If it isn’t, I cannot think of any other reason why people would hang out in a parking lot on purpose.
Moving on. Season Game is really Season Mode and this was when everything started changing for me. In fact, if you were to package me playing the game as some sort of series of highlights for a morning sports show, three or four football dudes with obscenely large heads would come on after the highlights to discuss me playing this NES game and one one call this particular point the “turning point.” The other three men suffering from macrocephaly thanks to repeated head trauma would nod in approval. One would probably drool a little. It is also when I started needing to remind myself that Tecmo Super Bowl is an NES game, because as I started playing this season, I kept comparing it to games like NHL 94 or Pele II: World Tournament in my head, Genesis games that came out several years after.
Sure, NHL Hockey, the first game in EA’s NHL series, came out on the Genesis in the same year. The game is great. Though obviously not as polished or as full of features as future games in the series would be, it still marked a significant and positive change in the hockey video game genre. I imagine Tecmo Super Bowl did much of the same for football video games. Being able to pick which play you wanted to call next, and have 8 options, 4 passing plays and 4 rushing plays, must’ve been incredible in 1991. It’s double the options you had in Tecmo Bowl. Being able to choose which teams you would control yourself and which would be controlled by the computer meant that you and several friends could conceivably play an entire NFL season and playoffs where you and 27 friends could each take a team and play through all of it as some kind of ridiculous, but awesome, competition. You can also choose to “coach” a team, which allowed the player to choose the play, but them computer would then execute it.
On top of what you’d called gameplay options, the game also had some other neat features. Fumbles, the coin toss, timeouts, stats tracking, injuries and substitutions, and cutscenes. The cutscenes, especially for a potentially blocked kick or pass, or for a particularly tough catch, were a very nice touch, not only because they looked neat (for the time), but also because they heightened the tension. Seeing your little sprite of a player catch or miss the pixelated ball, or having the pass intercepted, while being covered by two opposing players is just so much cooler when, just before the ball arrives, the game cuts to a scene of an opposing player jumping and narrowly missing the ball, followed by another scene of your player jumping and snatching the ball out of the air. Soooooo much cooler. Atari 2600 Football had none of this.
So I kept playing and won the Super Bowl. If I’m honest, had it not been for the review, I would’ve quit after six games. I got bored. Real bored. This isn’t totally the game’s fault. I don’t like football. Getting a touchdown with Bo Jackson or Barry Sanders was never going to make me feel the way I felt scoring goals with Steve Yzerman and fighting as Bob Probert. I’m a huge hockey fan and doing those things with my favourite players was amazing. If I’d been a football fan though, I can see Tecmo Super Bowl blowing my 10 year old mind in much the same way. There’s a reason why people still play this game today. There are annual tournaments and hacks and mods for it still getting made. How many sports games can boast the same?
Though it may have been surpassed by the Madden series of football games, even a non-football fan such as myself can admit that this game is a classic. Part of the reason I can say this is because I fully expect a bunch of people to comment about how much fun they had playing this with siblings, parents, or friends; how they’d have tournaments; how they’d get pissed at the one who always took the Raiders; how it is still they’re favourite football game. You folks have to have these stories because I have them with my favourite hockey games and because that’s the nature of video games in general, but especially with sports games in particular. For the only sports game to make the cut, I might’ve personal preferred to see NHL 94, but Tecmo Super Bowl is just as worthy of the 142nd spot.