Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tecmo Super Bowl - More Than Just Nostalgia

Tecmo Super Bowl is a NES game based on the National Football League that was released in 1991. I was nine when the game came out, and I have many fond memories playing it as a kid. I didn't play it for that long, however. When I got to college, everything changed. I bought a used NES and a handful of games, including Tecmo Super Bowl. All of a sudden, my dorm room would be filled at all hours with friends playing competitive games for bragging rights (and beers). Later, I brought my NES to work and would play games with coworkers over lunch. The same sense of competition occurred in that setting. Tecmo Super Bowl is just damn fun, even today.

Over the weekend I went to a local bar to play in a 64-person Tecmo Super Bowl tournament. When I played in the tournament, I was again reminded of how it was in college. The vast majority of the players were in their 20s - my generation. We all grew up playing the game and we still loved it. Many players played the game online, using emulators, against other players. They knew the best plays to choose for each team, which roster substitutions to make, which players to utilize on defense. In other words, they were way better than me. Yet, I enjoyed the tournament all the same and wasn't dissuaded by the skill level of those around me.

I started to think, why is there such a community left around Tecmo Super Bowl? Why haven't these people gravitated towards Madden? Is it just nostalgia? Or is it something more? I think nostalgia has something to do with it, but the beauty in Tecmo Super Bowl is its simplicity. The game has two buttons, not dozens like modern football games. It is simple to pick up and play with anyone. It's easy to catch up to the skill of above average players. There isn't that much strategy involved to get to that level. To become one of the best is certainly far more difficult, but not impossible.

There is something else, though. The randomness in the game helps it out. It's impossible to know exactly why a player fumbled a ball or dropped a pass. It seems like dumb luck - most likely it's a dice roll behind the scenes, based on the stats of the players involved. There is a sense of overarching skill needed to win at the game, but that skill has a sense of randomness that makes it so any player could win a game. I almost beat a couple people way out of my league over the weekend, because of this luck. It was exciting, even though I lost all three of my games.

The NFL is successful, in part, because on any given Sunday, any team could win a game. Madden does not come close to approximating this when you play it. The very good players routinely destroy everyone else in Madden. This isn't the case in Tecmo Super Bowl. There is enough luck involved that all parties usually feel like they have a shot at winning the game. I certainly felt that way this weekend. I even proved it, by losing all three of my games by a mere touchdown. All losses, sure, but I didn't get blown out. Many of the people at the tournament told me how they played thousands of games online, in competitive leagues. I didn't even know there were online leagues. Yet, I wasn't that far off from a win or two.

I think this is a large reason why the game still has a cult following today. People enjoy that simplicity and the fact that the game doesn't require full mastery to beat upper echelon players. The game has a nostalgic factor to it, but it's so much more than that. It is about how anyone could win a game. I think this is what has led to the cult status of the game today. It's really interesting how the constraints of an older system, with less controller inputs and processing power to do complex mechanics, can actually be a better game than the full sports simulations that come out today. The operative word there was better game, not better simulation. To me, this is why the game is still very enjoyable to play today.

If you would like to check Tecmo Super Bowl out, it's available on VNES. Normal emulator legalities apply, so play (or don't) at your own discretion. I'd love to here what anyone thinks about the game, especially those of you who haven't play before.


  1. I've been grappling with the concept of introducing luck into games recently. Obviously it can be integral in certain games in certain situations--for example, Risk would be an entirely different game without the luck of the roll. I can't count how many times I've lost to my little brother at Risk because his constant stream of 6's trumped my "superior" strategy. While this can get annoying at times, I understand that it's a necessary part of the game.

    But then there's other games like TF2's critical hit system which I'd rather be without. Perhaps it's only certain kinds of luck that I'm okay with...

  2. Congrats on the timely Gamasutra article. TSB is truly a great game. I agree that the folly of games like madden is that they are more interested in simulating the visual experience of football instead of focusing on the fun aspect. Many studios are trying to remake older games/licenses with the new consoles, but it isn't working (the Wii being the exception and case in point). Design and abstraction, not visuals, should be the focus. I think this is the key problem facing game development today. It is very similar to animation in that the closer you get to reality, the less appealing the viewing experience becomes.

  3. Native english speakers Soccer is known as a popular outdoor activity in England which has changed into a part in its culture. There can be various football competitions in the uk. But outside the competition and severe energy worth mentioning tournaments is definitely the unifying principle belonging to the sport that should carry the application through models. www.scorespro.com