Tecmo Bowl Throwback iPhone Review

Posted June 1st, 2011 at 2:00 pm

By Brian Sipple
Nostalgia is a funny thing. Those who enjoyed playing Tecmo Bowl in the late 80s and early 90s are likely fond of its over-the-top arcade style of football. Those who belong to the Madden generation would take one look at the 2D side-scroller and wonder what crusty museum they had just wandered into.

Tecmo Koei Games is no doubt banking on the former with the release of Tecmo Bowl Throwback on iOS. The game is attached with a hefty price tag of $7.99 and features three modes: Pre-Season, Season, and All-Star. Streamlined and outfitted with a multi-touch control interface, Throwback sets out to recreate the magic that launched it to the forefront of arcade gaming back in its day.

In keeping with its name, much of Throwback doesn’t deviate from the tried and true Tecmo Bowl formula. You’ll notice right off the bat that the graphics are almost an exact replica of the original game – with the exception of more three dimensional players. The game is still played out on a 2-D, side-scrolling field that seems devoid of any visual flare. There’s not even any support for the iPhone 4’s retina display as apparently the developers at Koei deemed it pointless. I guess I can understand trying to keep with the retro theme but even a slightly more updated look wouldn’t have hurt.

What really dampers Throwback’s enjoyment is the fact that it tries to retain the same control style as its predecessor. On its face this approach seems reasonable, but it doesn’t translate well to the iPhone’s touchscreen. As always players start by choosing from a short set of plays which are divided equally on offense between run and pass. A simple touch of the screen snaps the ball and what follows can best be described as an excercise in chaos.

Every single action is controlled by simply touching the screen, with no buttons or directional pad to speak of. To run you constantly touch a spot on the screen ahead of the player to keep him moving. Once engaged with an opposing player an icon appears telling you to tap as quickly as possible, either to shake a tackle or bring down the ball carrier on defense. With my hand tapping ahead of where I wanted to go I would often end up covering the action on screen and miss oncoming defenders, not to mention the moment I made contact with them. It’s the equivalent of running with a blindfold on and it makes breaking off long runs near impossible.

Passing is no less tedious. After the snap the quarterback can pass the ball by touching a receiver. The problem is there’s no way to lead a receiver or place touch on the throw. Any touch ahead of the receiver is registered as an attempt to scramble – and the quarterback takes off like he’s Michael Vick. This means passes are often thrown directly at a receiver’s current position causing them to halt in order to make a catch. Passes are all straight darts as well, making them all too easy for linebackers to swat away.

You won’t find much in the way of options when examining Throwback’s feature list. An All-Star mode pits the best players from each conference against each other. There’s also a Pre-season (which is equivalent to an exhibition mode) whereas in Season the player selects from one of 28 non-licensed teams to control over a 17-week period to try and make the playoffs. I admired the way each of the teams and players have their own positive and negative attributes. Additionally, there’s a fair amount of stat-tracking in Season mode to provide it with a mildly compelling atmosphere. Still, the lack of overall features for Throwback’s $7.99 price tag simply cannot be ignored, and even a simple multiplayer mode would have meshed well with its style of play.

For better or worse the design of Tecmo Bowl Throwback perfectly captures the spirit of the original game however little else stands to offer a worthwhile experience. Throwback’s not trying to reinvent the wheel, but instead of making the wheel faster frustrating gameplay mechanics end up driving it over a nail. With a limited amount of content the game thrives only in nostalgia. While hardcore fans of the series might deem that worth their $8, anyone looking for a true football fix on their iPhone won’t find it here.

Tecmo Bowl Throwback is available now for $7.99 in the app store for compatible iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad devices.