The reason that classic sports games like Tecmo Bowl are so fondly remembered is that they were accessible. You didn’t have to know a whole lot about football to have fun with the game, and the same is true for the iPhone remake Tecmo Bowl Throwback. The game manages to capture that arcade-style spirit of its predecessor quite nicely, but fumbles thanks to an uneven implementation of touch screen controls.
Like the classic NES and arcade games its based on, Tecmo Bowl Throwback is a 2D version of football that boils things down to the basics. You only have four passing and four running plays to choose from, which makes things both faster and easier to understand for new players. All you really need to play is a basic understanding of the rules. And some quick fingers.
Hut, hut, hut, hut, hut, hut, hut…
There’s no virtual d-pad or joystick in the game, it’s all based on touch controls. And this works better in some places than others. Passing, in particular, is very easy to get the hang of: after the snap you simply tap on the receiver you want to pass to and it happens automatically. Kicking also works well enough, as you simply tap the screen as a meter rises and falls, in order to determine the power of the kick.
But not everything else fairs quite so well. To control how a players runs you tap where you want him to go, which is simple, but also makes it feel as though you don’t have very much control. And when a player reaches the point on the screen you selected they’ll simply stop until you tap the screen again. Selecting players while on defense may be the biggest pain, as you literally have to keep tapping on the screen to scroll through players, instead of simply being able to tap on who you want to control. It doesn’t make much sense.
Tecmo Bowl Throwback has, essentially, two game modes. There’s quick play, which automatically selects the teams and location for a one-off game. There’s also pre-season, which is exactly the same except you can choose the variables, and then there’s all-star which, again, is the same except you can only play as two all-star teams. The season mode is where you’ll spend most of your time.
Pick your poison.
Here you can play up to three seasons of 17 games each, and though the game lacks an NFL license, the 28 clubs available all clearly resemble pro teams. The season mode is especially great for number junkies, as it records all sorts of player and team stats for you to obsess over.
The visuals have received an update, which makes them feel slightly more modern without losing the retro charm of the original. That is, except for the cut scenes. When something important happens, like a touch down or quarterback sack, you’ll be treated to a brief, mildly animated cut-scene with bland looking 3D-style visuals. These wouldn’t be so annoying if there was a little more variety to them, but even worse is that they sometimes interrupt the actual gameplay. You might throw a pass, for example, and then see a cut-scene that looks as though an opposing player blocked the pass. Except, when the cut-scene is over, your player catches the ball, at which point you may not actually be paying attention like you should be. It’s annoying and disorienting.
There’s still fun to be had with Tecmo Bowl Throwback, and it remains as accessible as the series has always been. But you’ll need to fight with the quirky controls and ignore the intrusive cut-scenes before you can really have fun with the game.