Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December 1, 1991: Tecmo Super Bowl

TORRANCE, Calif. - It was one of the last games released for the original NES, sort of a curtain call for the system that revolutionized video games. It was a game that could have easily been ignored, become a footnote to history as nothing more than a sequel that improved on the original.

When the original Tecmo Bowl was released in 1989, it was considered revolutionary for its time. Using real NFL player names and teams (but not team nicknames, as the NFL didn't give permission), the game was wildly popular, despite its limitations. For example, there were only 12 teams to pick from, there were only nine players per team on the field at once, and each team could only pick four plays.

What Tecmo Bowl did, though, was set the stage for its sequel. Tecmo Super Bowl was released on December 1, 1991, as the creators were looking to cash in on the popularity of the original. The improvements were staggering. For the first time, a video game used every real NFL team as well as the actual names and abilities of real NFL players. It instantly became the most realistic football video game ever made.

There were more improvements. Super Bowl allowed for 11 players on the field for each team, allowed for eight offensive plays, and even allowed players to substitute players and change the playbook. All of these options seem trivial now, but at the time, they were truly revolutionary.

Perhaps the biggest legacy Tecmo Super Bowl had was in helping enhance the legend of certain players. For example, nobody ever played the game without at least once picking the Raiders and using Bo Jackson for a length-of-the-field touchdown run. Christian Okoye had one great year as an NFL runner, a year that happened to coincide with the release of Tecmo Super Bowl, allowing him to achieve video immortality as defenders bounced off his avatar game after game. Lawrence Taylor will always be remembered as a legendary linebacker, but also as a sure-thing kick blocker in Tecmo Super Bowl.

Tecmo Super Bowl quickly developed a cult following. As one of the last NES games released, its short shelf life gave it little chance to grow stale in the minds of gamers; along with Super Mario Brothers 3, it's one of the most fondly remembered NES games. It has also become one of the most emulated, as copies of the game can be found all over the internet, including versions updated with current teams and rosters. The NES has long since gone away, but Tecmo Super Bowl continues to live on.

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