Genre: Sports (Football)
Year of Release: 1991
Date Reviewed: 11-11-98
As an individual who, in spite of his love for competitive sports, has not been blessed with any real athletic gift, I accept my lot as a purely vicarious athlete. However, I seem to do so restlessly. That is, I still donít seem to have exhausted my desire to indulge in fantasies. I continue, at an age when most would dismiss such activity as ludicrous and childish, to periodically envision myself as the gangly power forward who makes the last-second shot -- the gallant quarterback as he negotiates the one-minute drive to victory -- the humble but exalted golfer as he walks down the eighteenth fairway, any negative thought drowned out by the simultaneously hushed and raucous cheer that surrounds him on all sides -- the toned weightlifter... oh hell, I donít even weigh half as much as the things those people lift.
My point, muffled though it may be by my rambling sentimentality, is this: When I play a sports game, the chief aspect I look for is the tendency of the game to enmesh me in its world. Will I feel legitimately that I can do anything in a given situation? Will I want to see the game through to the end, hoping to be placed on high as the World Champion of the sport in question? Will I feel a sense of triumph in achieving a thrilling final play? In fine, does the game thrust upon me that sense of Homeric heroism (less the foe decapitation and what-have-you, of course) I want to feel, or does it hinder my experience with slow/uncontrollable players, and a clock that runs out when rules state that it shouldnít?
Iíll not pretend that a game of that nature is easy to come by. Regardless of platform,* most sports games seem to have some imperfection that encumbers the aforementioned feeling. Still, in my time, Iíve had the good fortune to run across a few that capture it -- Ice Hockey, Baseball Simulator 1.000, NBA Jam, and a few others. The thread that ties those games together -- allowing them to produce that coveted feeling of excitement and involvement -- Iíve found to be the fact that they tinker with (or in some cases, ignore) the restrictions of human skill and/or some other limiting facet of the sport in question, thus making the impossible -- the thirty-second multi-goal comeback, the mile-long homerun, the who-knows-how-many-degrees reverse slam dunk, etc. -- seem possible. It is chiefly for that reason that I place Tecmo Super Bowl among that elite group of sports games. The game truly makes me feel that my players can achieve anything at a given moment, and it plays at the quick, exciting pace so essential to my enjoyment of such a game, in spite of its technical imperfections.
To even discuss this gameís imperfections seems gauche after such an introduction as I gave it, but the presentation is, honestly, too erratic to ignore. The graphics used on the field are, quite frankly, slipshod. Aside from being hopelessly undetailed, the player sprites often form markedly ugly color combinations -- though, I admit, thatís not always the fault of the programmers (orange and blue do not, I repeat, DO NOT make a pleasing combination.) Still, those players whose uniforms contain green can be nearly indecipherable against the field.
The only thing that works in favor of the gameís graphics does so quite effectively. That thing is the presentation of cinema scenes -- brilliant, contoured renditions of the gameís happenings, both detailed and aptly animated. Also, these animations are only displayed in select, predominantly random situations, as showing them in every available case would cause the player to become annoyed by their lack of variety. Still, well done as these scenes are (we are, after all, dealing with the company famed for Ninja Gaiden), they do not completely compensate for the more constantly-displayed field backdrop.
As with the graphics, the game seems musically bi-polar. Most of the in-play songs are nothing more than self-repeating pieces, devoid of any clear inspiration, and conveniently at their very worst during regular season play. Notably, the little ďra-raĒ tune that plays each time the computer gets a first down tends to rub salt in the playerís wounds for having given up that many yards, sending him/her into a tailspin of irritation that impedes his/her concentration and results in the playing of that song once again (but maybe thatís just me.) Nevertheless, certain songs are quite enjoyable, even though they happen also to be the most rarely played. For example, the ending song (which accompanies this review, and is undoubtedly the capstone of the soundtrack), as its name implies, is only featured on one special occasion, which does not necessarily have to occur. Thus, the player is met mostly by those songs that will tend to bother him/her to the greatest degree.
However, the presentation could have been a far more severe impediment to the experience of Tecmo Super Bowl had the rest of the game not been so superbly done.
The play control, for example, fits the game perfectly. That is, play occurs at a somewhat frenetic pace, aided by play control both responsive and simplistic. When passing, you press A to snap the ball, then run around in the pocket for a time, -- unhampered by the all-too-common tendency of sports game sprites to skid several yards or freeze every time the player attempts to change direction -- and ultimately press B to throw your pass. Pleasingly, the pass is actually thrown around the time the button is pressed, thereby lessening the number of situations in which one has to concede a sack because of an unresponsive QB. Rushing is even easier, as any handoffs or pitches are executed automatically. As a result, the player doesnít have to fumble (and I use the term literally, in reference to certain other games) with the controls while perfecting his/her timing in order to set the runner in motion. Rather, the back is set moving by the computer, and the player has no greater duty than to direct it.
Naturally, the challenge is not at such a level of perfection, but it is manageable on the whole. The only real discrepancy is the frequency of breakaway plays. Practically every rush that is not stopped behind the lines results in at least fifteen yards. However, since that happens as often to the player as it does to the computer, it isnít tremendously bothersome. More chiefly annoying is the fact that, quite often, computer players will get a sudden burst of speed, causing them to break away from the playerís defenses and bolt down the field, before either scoring a touchdown or being stopped nanoseconds in advance of doing so. Still, the player can manipulate the computerís bungling defensive strategy by zigzagging across the field after breaking into open areas, and beget similar results as the computerís frequent perpetuations of non-human speed, thereby leveling the proverbial playing field.
However, this gameís greatest asset is not a traditional one. Rather, it is the regularity of big plays, abetted by the quick pace. Cross-field touchdown passes are quite frequent, as are many other such situations. Simply, this game increases the frequency of those marvelous moments, and while one could complain that this cheapens their importance, most seem to believe that it makes the game all the more enticing. Tecmo Super Bowl resurrects the idealism -- the hope of achieving greatness -- that draws people to both football and all competitive sports. Nothing, in this game, is impossible.
* Actually, most ďnext-generationĒ sports games seem to get off on the wrong foot by concerning themselves more with realism than enjoyment.
Plot: not considered
Play Control: 10
Intangibles (moments of heroism): +1.5
Analytic Score: 9.1 (rounded)
Personal Score: 9
They kind of look like those "Shock Zone" figurines, now that I think of it.
HE COULD.. GO.. ALL.. THE.. WAY!! Nope -- not funny in print either.
And this from an Indianapolis Colt... Boy, times change.
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