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For those of us who are older gamers, the mere name Tecmo Bowl conjures up nostalgic memories of days gone by. No doubt that anyone who is at least in their thirties remembers getting together with friends and firing up the NES for some classic arcade-style football action with either the original title or its sequel, Tecmo Super Bowl. In the pre-Madden days, this was the football game. I, for one, spent countless hours of my youth playing both of the original titles in the series. Unfortunately, future sequels failed to live up to the simple pick-up-and-play fun, and over time the Tecmo Bowl series faded into obscurity -- that is, until the November 2008 release of Tecmo Bowl Kickoff for the Nintendo DS. With fond memories of the original dancing about my head, I plunged headlong into this revival, hoping it would be able to recapture the magic of bygone days. It hasn't.
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Tecmo Bowl Kickoff features two different, interchangeable control schemes. You can use the control pad to move the player, the X-button to change receiver or bring up the special-teams menu on the Playbook screen, and the A button to snap the ball, break tackles, switch players, and perform a number of different tasks. The B button also can be used to change players when on defense. Alternatively, the Stylus and be dragged across the screen to move. Clicking on the on-screen snap icon starts the play, tapping on a receiver throws him the ball, and touching a specific run or pass play causes the offense to run that play. Personally, I prefer a mix of the two, using the d-pad to move and the buttons to hike the ball, change players on defense and break tackles, but the Stylus to select a play and throw a pass. Anyway you slice it, though, it's a bit awkward and not as easy to get used to as the older titles in the series. Also, I'm quite bothered by the lack of a sprint or speed boost button.
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There's a fair number of options here. You can play a quick game, go through a season mode, or even hook up with someone for a local wireless or online Wi-Fi game. In addition, there are more plays than before -- four running and four passing per team. That's all well and good, but there are some fundamental flaws with the core gameplay. For starters, the passing game has far too low of a success rate, as more often than not passes will either be broken up by defenders or picked off outright. The rushing game is more reliable, but it's way too hard to break a big run when you're on offense. Make no mistake, Tecmo Bowl has always been a game of chance when it comes to play calling, but this time around, there are in-game cut scenes that seem to take certain key moments out of your hands. Hoping to stop the offense on a critical fourth-down conversion, or block a field goal like in the old-school versions of the game? Too bad, you'll just have to watch a cinema to see whether the computer has decided you were successful or not instead.
Due to Electronic Arts owning the exclusive rights to NFL teams and players, the game instead features invented teams, players and conferences. Unfortunately, some of the default names are absolutely laughable. Whose idea was it to create franchises with names like the Tennessee Tarbenders, the Indianapolis Narwhals, the Chicago Chinooks or the Cleveland T-Rexes? Fortunately, the game does allow you to go in and edit the team names and colors, and thus revert them to their NFL counterparts if you so desire. Of course, had they just made halfway decent team names to begin with, most fans wouldn't have to bother with this feature, so it feels as though its kind of unnecessarily forced on the gamer. Another annoyance comes when you're playing through season mode. Before and after your game, you'll be forced to sit through each game as the computer auto-plays them, and then saves after every single one. It's an irritating process that takes far too long.
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Graphics and Sound
Visually, the game isn't really any better or worse than Tecmo Super Bowl, at least not as far as makes any difference. The players are a little smaller, but for the most part, the game still looks like the Tecmo Bowl that we old-school gamers all know and love, which is just fine with me. Musically, however, I think things have changed for the worse. For starters, the original game's classic theme song has been ditched and replaced with a hard-rock instrumental. Bad move for a title counting on high nostalgia value for some extra sales. The soundtrack was pretty poor on the whole, and in spite of the inclusion of the old "hut, hut, hike" quarterback calls, it wasn't long before I decided to start playing the game with the sound turned down. The game was more enjoyable that way, which is never a good sign.
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Tecmo Bowl Kickoff is a colossal letdown. Newer gamers will easily prefer Madden NFL 09, because that title sports far more features and far deeper gameplay than this rather light arcade-style football title. Meanwhile, those of us with fond memories of the original will be turned off by the broken passing game, the weak presentation, and the dozens of other little nagging flaws. The first NES Tecmo Bowl title is available for download on the Wii Virtual Console for a mere 500 points or $5.00. In my opinion, that game offers much better value for the money, so if you own a Wii, make sure you pass on Tecmo Bowl Kickoff and download the original instead. If you're still not convinced, however, I implore you to rent before you buy and give it a test run. Sure, it has a deep season mode and online multiplayer, but that really doesn't matter because in the end, the game winds up being more frustrating than fun. No matter how much you've loved Tecmo Bowl in the past, spend some time with this version and I guarantee you'll come away disappointed.