The Greatest Sports Video Games of All Time (maybe)- Tecmo Super Bowl for Playstation 1
Let’s take a look at Tecmo Super Bowl for the Playstation 1. This was the last Tecmo football game to have the official NFL license. It was not loved when it came out but I think history should look more fondly on the game than it does. Tecmo Super Bowl came out during an onslaught of American Football games. It was competing with NFL Gameday and Madden Football, as well as Konami’s Full Contact Football. Tecmo Super Bowl came out in 1996 with rosters based on the ‘94–95 season. This game came out during a tumultuous time for me, the Browns were murdered by Art Modell and then they reanimated the corpse in Baltimore. It hurts my heart to play this era of games but here we are. This was one of the first games to have the Baltimore Ravens. Does Tecmo Super Bowl have the same magic that it’s predecessors did? After Tecmo Super Bowl III Final Edition for the SNES and Genesis, the series really felt it peaked. Spoiler alert, it did peak at those games but let’s look at why this one isn’t as bad as people think.
What is Tecmo Super Bowl? Tecmo Super Bowl for Playstation 1 is the first 32-bit entry into the vaunted Tecmo Super Bowl series. This series of games goes all the way back to the arcades but the first entry most people are familiar with is Tecmo Bowl for the NES and it’s sequel Tecmo Super Bowl. Tecmo Super Bowl is an American football game. You have single game modes and a season mode. Tecmo Super Bowl has historically been known for it’s simplicity. Play calling was basically a game of Rock, Paper, Scissor where the offense picks a run or a pass and the defense tries to guess the correct play.
Once the series hit the 16-bit era play calling became more complex. They added different defensive sets that rely more on traditional understanding of football, like choosing a Dime package over a 3–4 and when. The series is know for it’s raised sideline camera that shows the entirety of the field. The viewpoint was able to be changed in the PS1 version because the game is fully 3D modeled. You can rotate the camera to the more traditional “behind-the quarterback” raised camera that Madden defaults to now. Even with these changes and options, this game is a simple football game compared to it’s peers like Gameday or Madden.
How is the roster? The roster in this game is great. It hits the beginning or some great players careers like Isaac Bruce while the game is representing the prime of other players like Jerry Rice, John Elway, and Eric Metcalf. Randall Cunningham, Junior Seau, Deion Sanders, and Chris Spielman are all represented. The game does a great job of showing the player’s faces after every play. If Jeff Blake completes a pass, they show his portrait at the end of the play. It’s pretty cool and actually a great way to learn the rosters. That said, you can really feel the difference between good and bad players in the game. There are a lot of random animations players get that break plays. Isaac Bruce will catch a pass and immediately get tackled while Carl Pickens has an auto hurdle that breaks every tackle and he constantly gets 80 yard plays. It’s a neat way to differentiate players but it’s frustrating because as a used you don’t control it. It never gets old having Andre Reed explode down the field like a rocket Or watching Eric Metcalf take a punt for a 40 yard return like real life.
How are the graphics? Eh. The graphics are decent compared to NFL Gameday or Madden for the Playstation1 but compared to Tecmo Super Bowl III Final Edition the game looks bland and boring. The animations and colors of the 16-bit games are amazing. There is a lot of depth and detail in the grass and the player models are really expressive. The cut scenes are detailed with nice flourishes like the ridiculous font used for touchdowns and other events. The move to the Playstation eliminates all of that. The grass and stadiums are flat and not well textured. The player models are bland and pixelated which is par for the course at the time but it hasn’t aged well. Lots of fans of the series claim this is the series that lost the magic. I don’t completely agree with that but looking at the art style of this game…well I see where that criticism stems from. I would argue any football series that is missing the Browns will immediately have less magic but I am biased. On a positive note, you can spin the camera around the field and players for both gameplay and replays. It’s neat to see the animations of players from all angles. If you press triangle while running into the end zone your player raises his hands in the air in celebration. It looks good in 3D. The game looks good in motion, it’s just jarring to see it look demonstrably worse than it’s 16-bit counterparts.
Is the sound good? The commentary is fantastic. They commentate the game like it’s an anime cutting to the final credits. The commentator will ask during a play, “I wonder how they tackle this situation?” “3rd and 11 yards to go, will they pass?! I wonder!” and then they have the usual, “Great play!” The game also says the score out loud which was a big deal at the time. At the end of close games, if you’re down the commentator will say, “Can they come back and take the lead?!” The situation specific dialogue is really impressive for the time. The music is catchy. Tecmo Bowl has the best music in the series by far but this game is no slouch.
How is the gameplay? Tecmo Super Bowl plays like a game made by people who never played football but watched a few games and were told to, “make a video game of that.” I think this is why the game has such universal appeal as a series. Football is a slow, complex game and if you don’t know the rules it’s hard to get into it organically. Tecmo Super Bowl hits the high points of football with running, passing, and tackling. All 2 button processes at most, and most actions are one button. No C gaps or A gaps to think about. Pick a passing play or running play and hope the defense guesses wrong. Even with the added nuance of playbooks in the PS1 version of Tecmo Super Bowl, the game is still very simple. If you pick one of any myriad of defenses to stop a run and the other team runs, they are not gaining yards. If they pass it on your run defense, it’s going long. This leads to a single player experience that’s competitive because the computer can make plays and it doesn’t feel cheap. The player has the same tools for success. The only thing that is game breaking is QB runs on offense. It doesn’t matter who your Quarterback is, they can take off for 5 yards on almost every play. It feels like the developers knew this and nerfed QB run speed pretty heavily but so many times the defense is in man coverage and they have 3 lineman rushing it’s too easy to break off a run. When I needed a first down, single back formation with a QB sneak was the play.
Passing is easy. You press “X” to hike and “O” to cycle through receivers and “X” to throw the ball. It’s fast and easy. Receivers don’t complete routes well so hitting players in stride is difficult but an open receiver will almost always catch the ball. The game brought back the random jump animation as well for the best receivers. Like I stated earlier, the random animations to differentiate players is frustrating. I want to have control over the players jumping for balls. It’s an interesting to way to balance players. I think it’s better than having guys drop a lot of passes compared to better players.
Running feels decent. Interestingly enough, running in Tecmo Super Bowl feels almost exactly like running in NFL Gameday. They have similar graphical styles and blocking is similarly nebulous. It’s just hard to tell where hit boxes start and end on the blockers and defenders don’t really get sealed….unless they do. There are also times where 5 defenders will jump on a running back at the line and the back just won’t go down. You won’t even realize it until you accidently press a direction and he’s still moving. This unpredictability makes breaking runs feel great but it also makes goal line runs feel impossible. I had zero success pounding the ball up the middle but sweeps and tosses worked relatively well because the back can just outrun the edge.
Defense is just a game of praying you picked the right play and hoping you get a tackle. The player just doesn’t have a lot of control on defense. You can jump and tackle. That’s it. An argument could be made that defense in Football games didn’t get fun until NFL Blitz or later with the Hit Stick in Madden 05. There is no hit stick here. Just praying you don’t get hurdled into the void trying to tackle Michael Irvin. Kicking is fine. The PAT meter goes from left to right and you need to aim it towards the goalpost. It is not a power meter. It’s unique. Not surprised it didn’t catch on.
Final Thoughts- Tecmo Super Bowl is not bad. There are so many nigh-unplayable football game corpses when you look at the history of gaming and this is not one of those. This game holds up. It holds up in the most meaningful way. It’s infinitely playable. The passing still works, the gameplay still flows, and I could hand the controller to anybody and they would be able to play. That is not the case for Gameday or Madden form the same era. For me, the magic of this game is still present. There are few games as universal as Tecmo Super Bowl and regardless of version they are all similar enough that anybody who is familiar with one can play them all. It’s the NBA Jam of Football “simulation” games even more so than Blitz in some way. Blitz is so fast, it’s jarring and can be hard to wrap your head around but Tecmo Bowl, and it’s subsequent sequels are perfect “pick up and play” football games. THAT is why Tecmo Super Bowl for Playstation 1 is one of the best sports games of all time! (maybe).