Tecmo Super Bowl
Why the Greatest Football Game Ever Still Has a Place in Society
The time is December 1991, and the video gaming sports world is about to be changed forever. Tecmo Super Bowl is about to be released on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the United States, and nobody yet realizes the impact that this one title will have. Before Tecmo Super Bowl came out, sports games were relatively unplayable. It was difficult to pass the ball, run the ball, and maneuver around the field. It was impossible to even run a single successful play. The computer, which you would be playing against, would effortlessly complete plays. Before too long, you would be frustrated, and would give up even trying to play the game. It was too difficult and not simple enough.
The earliest sports video games were too difficult. Too much thought had to go into the game and the controls were too complicated. Two years before in 1989, video game makers finally made a sports game worthy enough to play. The game was called Tecmo Bowl, which was re-released on the NES, after its initial successful arcade release in 1987. The game only had 12 teams, equipped with four plays, but it was not licensed by the NFL. Meaning the gaming developers could not use official team names (e.g., Giants, Eagles), however, the NFLPA did give their consent, as the game used the likeness of the players on the suspected teams. For example, Miami (which clearly would have been referring to the Dolphins) had Dan Marino as its Quarterback. Legally, Miami could not go by the Dolphins in the game. Therefore, this gave gamers a chance to use their favorite NFL stars.
It was a very easy game to pick up. On offense, you could only pick from four plays: two runs or two passes. You had to throw to the open receiver, or you would automatically be intercepted by whoever was covering the receiver. On defense, you just had to pick the fastest player and attempt to get the ball carrier by repeatedly tapping the tackling button. To kick field goals or to punt the ball away, all one had to do was wait until the meter was at its fullest to pull off the best kick. As far as running went all you had to do was to avoid the defenders trying to tackle you. Simply move the directional pad on the controller in the direction one wanted to go and hope that your guy was faster. The game was easy, fun, and those of any skill levels could play. On top of that, the quarters were only two minutes long, so it was a short time commitment. However, it was Tecmo Super Bowl with its enhancements that would blow the roof off of the video gaming world.
When Tecmo Super Bowl was released in the United States, children, teenagers, and adults alike, experienced euphoria. Gaming features that are now taken for granted were newly introduced. For the first time ever, a football game was licensed by both the NFL and NFLPA. Therefore, for the first time ever all 28 NFL teams, as it was in 1991, were available to chose from. All correctly placed in their six division alignment – AFC East, AFC Central, AFC West, NFC East, NFC Central, and NFC West.
These were the days before the additions of expansion franchises, the Jacksonville Jaguars (1995), Carolina Panthers (1995), and Houston Texans (2002). Also, this is before former Cleveland Browns owner, Art Modell, moved his team to Baltimore in 1996 to become the Ravens. Furthermore, this is before the Cleveland Browns were re-instituted back into the NFL as an expansion franchise in 1999. Lastly, these were the days before the NFLs last divisional alignment in 2002. This refers to how the Central division was disbanded to create the newly formed North and South divisions in both the AFC and NFC.
At its height, the AFC Central included six teams beginning in 1999. They were the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Tennessee Titans. The NFC Central, on the other hand, had five teams at its height. At the start of the 1977 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers officially moved to the NFC Central after a one year stint in the AFC West the previous season (because they were an expansion team). Joining the Buccaneers in the NFC Central were the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, and Minnesota Vikings.
Understanding the divisional alignment of the NFL helped those who were only casual fans of the NFL to pick up on some of the league’s consistencies. For instance, the fact that every team plays their divisional opponent twice a season. This helps the casual fan to understand why the Giants and Redskins are such bitter rivals. Furthermore, it also explains why divisional records are so important over the course of the season. If the Giants and Redskins both finish the regular season with identical 13-3 records, who wins the NFC East? Good question. Let’s say the Redskins finished divisional play with a 7-1 record, but the one loss was to the Giants. The Giants, in contrast, finished 6-2 in divisional play, also taking one loss at the hands of the Redskins. Despite splitting both regular season meetings, the Redskins would win the NFC East crown due to their superior divisional record.
In 1991 such accuracies were a big deal. This helped to create Tecmo Super Bowl legends out of QB Eagles (Randall Cunningham), Bo Jackson, Jerry Rice, Lawrence Taylor, Derrick Thomas, Rod Woodson, and Deion Sanders to name a few. All these players were dynamic in the game and any time that one played, it was always a good idea to choose one of their teams to play with.
Some of the iconic features that came from this game was stat tracking, team playbooks, season mode, celebrations, cut scenes, and clutch ability. As stated before, none of these features are a big deal to today’s gamer, but almost 30 years ago, it made all the difference.
The ability to keep track of stats was in an instant hit. One could go through a 16-game season and see to how one stacked up to the NFLs best. Maybe one wanted to lead the league in receiving with Green Bay’s Sterling Sharpe or break all-time single season receiving records with San Francisco’s Jerry Rice. All of that was possible with this game and it made it immensely more fun. Regardless of what team was picked, what superstar was used, or what team was inhabited, stat tracking was a must to see how good one was at playing the game. Whether one wanted to dominate with the best or take on a challenge going from worst to first, stats had something for everybody.
If one was huge a know-it-all fan of the NFL this was amazing. That fan could already mentally go through how each team played and easily figure out what team they wanted to play with before even starting. However, as a casual fan of the NFL, or perhaps even being completely new to the NFL, this was a game changer. One could go through trying out teams to see how they operated. Using the Los Angeles Raiders, one would come to figure out that running backs Bo Jackson and Marcus Allen made the offense go. Using the passing skills of Quarterback Jay Schroder was only necessary when throwing deep to Wide Receivers Willie Gault and Mervyn Fernandez. The New York Giants were virtually the same team. The only difference was that the Giants depended on Ottis Anderson and Dave Meggett at running back. The biggest difference was in defense. The Giants had superstar Linebacker Lawrence Taylor, which made playing defense much easier because he could cover more ground. The Raiders had no such player, meaning you had to be more of an advanced player to play quality defense with them.
Celebrations, Cut Scenes, and Music
I do not know if it was just me or what, but this aspect of the game is what made it a game changer for me. The makers of Tecmo Super Bowl did an excellent job of putting the gamer inside the world of NFL football, while making the game simple and easy. To this day, I feel no other football game has done a better job. When scoring a running touchdown, the running back would always spike the ball and run into the arms of a teammate. Likewise, when throwing a touchdown pass, which was my favorite. After showing the recipient of the touchdown celebrating, it would cut to a scene of an elated quarterback swinging his arm in celebration. This was to mimic Joe Montana, at the time, the game’s best, and most successful quarterback. To this day, that scene still gives me chills. When throwing passes, the game would sometimes, depending on the pass, cut to a receiver making a diving attempt, or show a receiver out jumping a defender to make an exceptional catch. He would always land on one foot. These cut scenes became synonymous with the game, but it is my belief that it added flare and dramatics to the game that have never been matched.
The feeling of being in an NFL game was never more apparent than with the musical element of the game. When playing through a 16-game regular season the music consistently stays the same. However, the moment one clinches a playoff berth the mood changes. One only officially found out their destiny once the season concluded. This was unless the player clinched one of six of divisional titles. The music instantly becomes edgier, your opponents are not only faster, but smarter. When I first experienced this, I really felt like I was immersed in a playoff game. I felt the pressure to perform at my absolute best. When a game can create that type of atmosphere, it has done its job. Once again, I have never seen it duplicated among sports games.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqbxR5NVZI8 (regular season music)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKSspY9Kpqc (playoff music)
Lastly, the most significant celebration in the game, was that of clinching a division title. As a causal fan, this helps to not only understand the importance of a divisional title, but much more accurately describes what needs to occur for a team to win a divisional title. Nothing was more significant than finishing the game that would lead to a divisional title. Usually, starting after the 12th week, the clinching game becomes more of a reality by the week. After winning the game and seeing the usual stats, one would sit the controller down to enjoy the scene.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miyWiPAN_lc (Division Title)
This scene still not only gives me a sense of accomplishment, but it still gives me goosebumps.
Great players were better than the rest in Tecmo Super Bowl, but Tecmo Super Bowl enhanced it. If one needed a sack, a touchdown, a clutch pass, a turnover or tackle, or a big catch one always had those guys to go. The San Francisco 49ers had Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Ronnie Lott. The Buffalo Bills had the likes of Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, and Thurman Thomas. Even teams not as good had these players. The Atlanta Falcons had Deion Sanders, while the Pittsburgh Steelers had Rod Woodson. It can be argued that those are the two best defenders in the game, while the Steelers have the best defense in the game. The point is if one plays the game enough times, one begins to find out that every team has at least one of these players on either side of the ball. It gives the game a depth that many did not possess.
It is fun to reminisce on Tecmo Super Bowl through rose colored classes. However, the truth is even though this was a great game, hindsight has a way of bringing it back down to earth. Because video games have gotten better and more intricate over the past 30 years, it is easier to spot the glaring flaws of Tecmo Super Bowl.
Even though Tecmo Super Bowl had the official rosters of the NFL, they were not all accurately displayed. For example, unless one had a superstar, the player one selected on defense would not be fast enough to stop opponents. Or, unless one had a prominent offensive threat, that player would not be fast enough to be a legit playmaker. As a matter of fact, the overall gameplay was so poor that one would be unable to run a regular offense.
For example, if one had a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers who depended on their running backs, Warren Williams and Merril Hoge, then the player of that team was in trouble. As the season progressed, team defenses became more frantic as they were able to cover ground much quicker, not allowing many rushing yards. Therefore, when running a play, the player would be lucky to gain 3 yards on a play. The only way to break through this issue was to either have Thurman Thomas (BUF), Bo Jackson (LA), Emmitt Smith (DAL), Neal Anderson (CHI), or Barry Sanders (DET). Every other running back was susceptible to the issue of extreme fatigue.
In this case, the main way to move the ball down the field consistently was to throw the ball and throw it often. I still enjoy playing this game to this very day and I can say with certainty that this method will be about 85% of one’s offense (this is not an exact estimate). Learning how to pass is crucial to one’s success. So, for a game that practically introduced the modern sporting game, the passing game is the easily this game’s best feature. Possessing one of the game’s best quarterbacks, Joe Montana (SF), QB Eagles (PHI), Warren Moon (HOU), or Dan Marino (MIA) made it significantly easier to pass. If one mastered this art they could easily complete roughly 75% of their passes if not more. However, unlike the running game, basically every quarterback could complete passes, especially deep passes.
Going through the season, one would simply have to play games to figure out the type of passes their quarterback could consistently make and keep making those passes. However, there were two quarterbacks that the game’s developers were extremely unkind to – Pittsburgh’s Bubby Brister, and New England’s Steve Grogan. One would be lucky if they completed 50% of their passes with these two (no joke).
The wide receivers functioned similarly to the quarterbacks, where the elite ones would basically come down with any ball if it was thrown their way. This was the group, however, that the developers were the kindest to. Every wide receiver or tight end could catch. The difference was the consistency in which they could catch and whether they could stop an interception amid coverage. This was probably one of the most frustrating aspects of the game.
As great as Tecmo Super Bowl was, its greatest flaw was that it really did not function like a football game. I know that you probably had to read that again, because in concept, it makes no sense. However, let me explain. On defense, the player could only pick one player and you could not switch. If you did not have the fastest player, you were out of luck. Every defense played in a 3-4 alignment (meaning three down lineman and four linebackers). This was slightly confusing, but not a major deal. If one picked the San Francisco 49ers and wanted to pick the disruptive Charles Haley as their defender, they would pick him at the outside linebacker position. This was in direct opposition to his usual defensive end position he played in real life.
Regardless, when playing defense, the player would select a play (as that player had 8 to choose from), and not an actual defensiveness play. By the way, I do not think that aspect of it was the issue (more on that later). If the player got it right, then everyone would blitz, and they would have a higher chance of stopping the play unless playing against a seasoned player. However, if the play ran as it should, without the all-out blitz, then honestly anything could happen.
Basically, one would choose a run, so that their defense would focus on the run. Likewise, to stop the pass one would pick a pass play to focus on the pass. Even so, the defense could literally do anything. One’s defenders could run up to the line allowing two wide receivers to run free up the sideline. Or they could cover all the wide receivers but one, leaving that receiver wide open. There was no way to know what would happen pre-play, so the best solution was to have the best player on the defense and do one’s best to stop the play.
The absolute best way to stop a play was the blow it up before it even happened. Whether that was a running play or pass play. This usually consisted of sliding into the offensive player or wrestling them down. If one did not bring them down immediately, it was likely that a touchdown would be given up. Regardless of the skill level of the ball carrier or quarterback throwing the ball, if they were given room to maneuver or complete a pass, they would score a touchdown. Playing through a season, the competition not only became stiffer, but every play was capable of a touchdown. Therefore, being able to stop a play before it started was the key to success. Still, the best maneuver for success was the nose tackle slide. I think the best way to explain this is to show it.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmzLAR5DK2o (Diving into Opponent)
This move could not be used for everything, but it could probably solve about half of one’s problems on defense if not more.
Even with naming these issues in the game. The two biggest were a lack of football moves and accuracy of all players and teams. Tecmo Super Bowl was fun because one could just run and maneuver down the field without thinking. I believe that led to the game’s huge success, but it also, equally led to the game’s downfall. There was no way to spin, jump, tackle, hurdle, stiff arm, juke, dive on purpose, or jump to block a pass or knock down the ball from receiver. All of the skills that are normalized in football games today were missing in Tecmo Super Bowl.
As mentioned earlier, Tecmo Super Bowl was released in December 1991. The season schedule that is followed is from the 1990 regular season, so the skill levels of the teams and players is based of the 1990 season results. When playing the game this is easily noticed because the best teams are the 49ers, Giants, Bills, and Raiders. The four best teams when the 1990 NFL season ended. Some of the best players are Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Warren Moon, Bo Jackson, Lawrence Taylor, Deion Sanders, Rod Woodson, and Derrick Thomas. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these were some of the premier players in that era.
The issues arise when exploring the ratings of middle of the road players, units, and teams. When playing Tecmo Super Bowl one quickly notices that certain teams are exceptional in certain areas. The Houston Oilers are arguably the best passing defensive team in the game. Their secondary intercepts the majority of passes thrown their way. Yet, during the 1990 regular season, Houston ranked 14th in pass defense. This clearly makes no sense as to why they are that good. The Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Raiders were ranked 4th and 7th respectively in team defense in 1990, yet in the game, they are relatively poor defensive teams. Because neither the Dolphins nor Raiders have the one superstar defender their defensive team greatness is nullified. The developers made no way to operate with teams based on what makes a team good on the defensive side of the football. For instance, setting the edge to stop a runner from getting around the defense, having a physical close guarding secondary that makes catching passes difficult, and tough linebackers that were efficient run stoppers.
Rushing is the toughest aspect to execute in the game. In 1990, the Detroit Lions finished 11th in rushing. Hardly a dominant rushing team and they finished with a losing record. That 11th place finish says more about Barry Sanders extraordinary ability as a playmaker more than it touts the execution of Detroit’s offense. Because of Barry Sanders, the Lions are a top 5 rushing team and that is inaccurate. Meanwhile, the New York Jets were 5th in rushing, clearly an effective rushing team. However, when a player tries to get the running game going with running backs, Brad Baxter and Blair Thomas, they ultimately fail.
Equally as frustrating is the imbalance in how teams’ function. The Seattle Seahawks finished the second half of the 1990 NFL season with a 6-2 record and barely missed the playoffs. Yet, when selecting them they are clearly the worst team in the AFC West. They are talentless and easy to defeat. Even Steve Largent, a very good wide receiver, is barely a playmaker. The Raiders have Bo Jackson. The Broncos have John Elway and their defense. The Chargers have Junior Seau and Marion Butts. And the Chiefs have Derrick Thomas, along with the two headed rushing attack of Christian Okoye and Barry Word. The developers committed a disservice to the Seattle Seahawks. Meanwhile, outside of the Chicago Bears, the NFC Central was porous. Each of the other four teams finished tied for second place with 6 wins. For some reason, when selecting a team like the Green Bay Packers, their ceiling is high. Quarterback Don Majkowski has a strong arm, making him one of the game’s best. This is despite having an underwhelming year versus his 1989 season for which he threw for over 4000 yards. Furthermore, the Packers have a very competent defense, which should also not be the case. They had unimpressive 18th ranked defense in 1990.
Why Should Tecmo Super Bowl Make a Comeback?
This is a completely fair question. Why should an old game that no longer has an impact on the football or gaming world make a comeback? The answer is simple. It is the perfect way to introduce newcomers and casual fans to the game.
The Madden football series, which has monopolized the football gaming market, is for gaming addicts, fans who want to be coaches, and fans who take their love of football too seriously. Those who just want a simple game to play, with simple controls, that will only take about 10-15 minutes have nothing to play. With the 30th anniversary coming around the corner for the games release there is no better time to make the arcade sports game king again.
The greatest reason for Tecmo Super Bowl’s downfall was lack of creativity by developers. They released multiple game for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo systems that lacked the true spirit of Tecmo Super Bowl, while introducing no meaningful upgrades. Virtually the developers became lazy and did gamers no justice. The only decent future game was Tecmo Super Bowl III and I think this version was not very well done either. My opinion is not shared by many, but in short, Tecmo Super Bowl lost its identity. With Madden on the rise Tecmo Super Bowl felt the need to change their style. In the process, they lost their identity as a quick, fun to play football game with awesome cut scenes and music. Despite their best upgrades by far in the series, Tecmo Super Bowl ultimately failed by trying to become more of a realistic gaming franchise.
Therefore, for the past twenty plus years, Tecmo Super Bowl quickly became irrelevant and quickly dissolved in popular culture. Now the game only lives online, where it is updated with current rosters every year, and played by enthusiasts like me.
With all of that being said, the only way for Tecmo Super Bowl to be relevant again is to embrace the future and forget the past. Those of us who were children at the release of the game are now in our 30s and 40s. We are no longer the primary audience. The primary audience are causal football fans, women, Tecmo Super Bowl players who only can embrace change, and gamers who just want to have fun. Below is a list of aspects that need to be the concentration of the game:
• Keep the spirit of Tecmo Super Bowl for NES (1991), but add modern gaming futures
• Teams need to be accurately displayed
• Playbooks need to be simple. Have a selection of 8-10 plays
• Defenses need to be simple as well. 3-4, 4-3, Nickel, Dime, and Hail Mary defense are the only defenses that need to be available
• Audible system needs to be simple. Maybe choose from 4 routes (out, in, slant, and fly)
• With offenses as wide open as they are, Tecmo Super Bowl was made for how football is played now
• Realistic but simple graphics
• Easy to do maneuvers
• Explanation of basic football notions and rules while playing the game (with the option to turn it off for more advanced or knowledgeable players)
• Comeback of cut-scenes and music
• Games must be able to be played in 10 minutes
This is a good list to keep in mind when bringing this game back as it will help it grow. This might make original Tecmo Super Bowl players upset, but the list is absolutely necessary for the game to make a legit comeback. However, the greatest change that needs to occur is – the name needs to change. Like I stated earlier, we are no longer the main audience. If you have any good suggestions please leave them in the comments below, but I’ll start. Ultimate NFL Football. Now, let’s go out and make Tecmo Super Bowl great again!