Underrated Retro – Tecmo Bowl (NES)


This week we have another not-so-underrated game:  Tecmo Bowl.  Developed by Tecmo, the game we all know and love was released for the NES in 1989.  Before that, it was a hard-to-find dual-monitor arcade cabinet.


Tecmo Bowl was the first game to feature the NFLPA license.  Other games at the time, like LJN’s NFL, carried only the NFL license, so they could only have the team names and logos.  Having just the NFLPA license meant that you could carry the player’s names, but not the real teams.  As a result, Tecmo Bowl’s teams are only known by their city names.  The colors DO bare a striking resemblance to real-life, though.

Tecmo Bowl Box

The game-play was extremely simple and fun.  Each team had a selection of 4 plays:  Most teams had 2 running plays and 2 passing plays – and a corresponding run and pass cover play on defense.

There were exceptions for a few teams.  For instance, San Francisco and Miami, who had three passing plays and one running play.  This worked well for San Francisco, who had Joe Montana and Miami with Dan Marino.


After you choose a play, you’re off to go perform that play.  If the defense chooses the same exact mirror play (usually a 1:4 chance), then the offensive line gets bulldozed and the receivers are covered like stink on a monkey.  This usually always results in an interception if the defense covers the receiver.

The game had a number of quirks that players can exploit, in regards to players on teams and their effectiveness.  Simply put, a lot of players were overpowered.


Chicago (with Walter Payton and Mike Singletary) and San Francisco (Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott) were two of the top teams because they had top talent on both offense and defense. Los Angeles had the fastest offensive player in the game:  The ever-infamous, Bo Jackson. But only one running play which utilized him (Marcus Allen was used in the second running play).

New York had a decent offense but the fastest defender in the game, Lawrence Taylor. Minnesota is among the worst teams in the game with the unfortunate combination of average talent and a terrible playbook which includes an extremely ineffective wide receiver reverse run.

Tecmo Bowl Graphics

The graphics in the game were good for it’s time.  The players are small and obviously not very detailed, but the field is bright and so are the menus.  Adding the half-time show  with pixel-art cheerleaders and band is pretty a nice touch.

Tecmo Bowl Halftime Show

The music in the game is catchy and memorable.  The boot-up music is probably one of the most famous NES dittys of all-time.  And after the first kick-off, you’re treated to a cool little tune that sets the pace for the game.  This same music repeats after every play starts.

In the end, Tecmo Bowl represents football on the NES.  When people look back at some of the best American Football games of all-time, Tecmo Bowl is the one that is always mentioned as the forefather of all the great Madden games that have proceeded it.

Tecmo Bowl's End Credits

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