Review: Tecmo Super Bowl '19


Tecmo Super Bowl (TSB) is the follow up to the immensely popular Tecmo Bowl (TB) on the NES. It was released in 1991 for the NES, Genesis, and SNES. The gameplay can be described as arcade-like, with fast action, vibrant colors, and simple gameplay. Unlike the Madden football game series, which are considered more as simulation games, TSB has more universal appeal as the controls and gameplay are simplistic enough for most to pick up and play.

Modern versions have all 32 teams are represented

I had both TB and TSB back in the day, as I was/am a football nut. There were a lot of improvements made in TSB:

  • eleven players on the field for each team (TB has nine)
  • official team licenses and NFL Players (TB only had the players, not the real teams) 
  • double the number of plays, sixteen-game season with saving
  • expanded rosters with substitutions
  • season stats
  • and more

This game is so addictive, it makes you want to keep coming back and completing the entire season's schedule. If your team makes the playoffs, you continue play as far as you can make it, and perhaps maybe to the Super Bowl. As far as I can remember, this was the first NES  sports game to offer such a lengthy campaign. Unfortunately, only the 1991 season schedule can be played, but even still, it had immense replayability as you can choose any of the other teams and play through them again.

all eleven players are on field for each team

Other Tecmo Super Bowl games followed during the 16-bit generation, such as Tecmo Super Bowl II Special Edition and Tecmo Super Bowl III Final Edition. These all had upgrades in all departments, but for some reason the 8-bit NES iteration retains a cult following, having annualized rom hacks each year. I ordered a physical cart of this year's edition, TSB 19, from tecmobowl.org. The cart is playable on original hardware, but may not be compatible with emulation based clone systems like the Retron 5 or Super Retro Trio.

Updated rosters are a staple of sports games
The rom can also be dowloaded from that same website for free, if you prefer to play with an emulator or Everdrive. This is just as enticing because there are several iterations of the game that are uploaded by members of the TSB rom community. Each version has tweaks to gameplay, rules, uniforms, colors, and so on.

One might wonder what could be different about a nearly 30 year old 8-bit game that would be interesting these days. Well, TSB 19 has loads of improvements and changes to the gameplay, such as playbook editing, adjustable quarter length, current rosters, to name a few. There is an active fanbase that scrutinizes player attributes, team playbooks, roster changes, and make frequent edits to the rom. There is a cult following for this game to the point where regional tournaments are held all over the country; I think this is awesome. I'm not a pro by any means, so I wouldn't enter one myself, but I'd love to attend one just to watch.

As deep as the TSB has become, you don't need know much about football to enjoy the game. If you understand the basic rules, you can play the game. Of course, those who understand the nuances will fare better than the average person. Anyone can become decent after playing a few games. The real fun is playing another person, and throwing all football logic out the window as you go for it on fourth and eleven from your own twenty yard line.


Additionally, I actually feel like this year's Chicago Bears roster is one that is worth playing, something that I haven't said for a long time. When the Bears traded for Khalil Mack earlier in the month, I was worried that the trade would not be reflected in the game's roster, but to my delight it made it in before pressing.

I love these 8-bit renders of player photos

What appears to be a simple 8-bit arcade-like sports game is surprisingly deep, with loads of replayability. In my humble opinion it is still one of the best multiplayer games not just on the NES, but of all time. Despite its programming limitations, it stands the test of time; the epitome of gameplay over graphics. The modern updates to the game are just icing on the cake. If you haven't ever played Tecmo Super Bowl, or its been a while, do your self a favor and give it a try. Better yet, play with a friend for bragging rights.


Review: Brawler 64 Gamepad by Retro Fighters


I'm not a huge fan of the original N64 controller. I find it bulky, but not in a satisfying way. It is unergonomic when using the "main" part of the controller, the analog stick. Your wrists are unnaturally close together when holding the center and right grip, causing strain after some time. The left grip, or 1/3 of the controller,  is used for the d-pad, which is an afterthought as there were so few 2D games made for the console. The d-pad is surprisingly subpar, and given Nintendo's legacy of awesome NES and SNES controllers this is a shock. The A and B buttons are fine, and there is some ingenuity with the differently-sized C buttons, making them easily distinguished by touch. The shoulder buttons are fine, no complaints. The trigger, or Z button is on the center prong, along with the analog stick. This means you fire with the same hand that you move with, which is opposite of most first person shooter games today.


When I heard the Retro Fighters was releasing a modern-layout controller for the N64 I was intrigued. I preordered one right as the initial batch was released. The initial release was panned by reviewers for a physical issue - the left shoulder button was catching the analog stick when the stick was pushed in a certain direction. This was no good, and the company worked to resolve the issue. I was worried that my order would be one of the first iterations. I have just received mine last week, and I am happy to say the analog stick/shoulder button issue has been resolved.


There were two reasons I purchased this controller. First, the overall shape has been modernized, assuming a more conventional design with two handles. The overall size and form factor feel comfortable and familiar in the hand, an immediate improvement.



The second reason is the analog stick. The original stick was long, with a plastic thumb tip, not unlike a golf ball tee. It would eventually grind at the base of the plastic concave fitting, and loosen over time. All controllers loosen over time, but the N64 controller did so to the extreme. The new analog stick feels like a Playstation 2 stick, both in shape and texture. While these are positives, the stick has an odd octagonal gate at the base, preventing smooth rotation if pressed to the limits; a jarring, bumpy rotation results. Again, this only happens if you press all the way to edge and rotate, otherwise you will not notice it.

The original analog stick, being slightly longer than the average analog stick, offered better precision. Because it was longer, it offered a greater level of control when compared to a shorter, stubbier, modern analog stick that we have become used to. Imagine steering a car with a large wheel and a small wheel. Each motion on the small wheel would result in a large movement, whereas the same amount of motion on a large wheel would result in a smaller movement. This is noticeable when playing Mario 64. The range of motion between walk and run is noticeable and controllable. When
using the Brawler 64, there is less control in between walk and run. You can get used to it, but it will throw off seasoned players.

The port on the bottom of the controller allows for either a rumble pak or memory card. I have had no issues using either, although I hear 3rd party products do no always work here. I am also told that the transfer pak for Pokemon games does not work as well. I do not own these games so I cannot comment on that.

All in all, I find it a much more appealing and comfortable controller than the stock controller. I have used this for all of my N64 gaming since I purchased it, and have no regrets. The shortened analog stick does take some readjusting to, but I think it is worth it. I am not an N64 enthusiast, so I'm sure there are some game-particular nuances that I may be missing, but from a general perspective, I recommend this to anyone who has ever had issues with physical configuration of the original N64 controller. You can purchase one at https://retrofighters.com/#home for $30.



Review: Ultra Massive Video Game Console Guide


Mark Bussler is the creative force behind the popular YouTube channel Classic Game Room (CGR). He would be considered an industry veteran, having created CGR in the late 1990's and was one of if not the first person to review video games on the internet, along with then co-host David Crosson. If you are reading this, then there is a good chance that you have watched some CGR videos on YouTube; it is widely considered to be one of the premier channels on retro gaming. Recently CGR has shifted its new content from YouTube to Amazon Prime. You can still view older videos on YouTube, but he is no longer posting new content there. In an interview with fellow retro game YouTuber Pat Contri (Pat the NES Punk), he cited lack of intellectual property protection, saturation, and finances as the reason.


In addition to shifting his video content to Amazon, Mark has started production of retro game related publications, available in both print and kindle format. One such book is the subject of this review, the Ultra Massive Video Game Console Guide (UMVGCG). This book is an amalgam of photographic appreciation of the covered subject matter, review guide, personal history, and fan service to the dedicated CGR fans who will pick up on the inside jokes and references. At the time of this writing there are four volumes available on Amazon.


Each volume features a selection of consoles. Each featured console has been photographed from every angle, and has personalized history from Mark. The tone and verbiage is in the characteristic CGR style; I can hear Mark's voice as I read his candid, overzealous, yet honest opinions.


Along with a glut of photography, he presents a practical buyer's guide for each system, keeping in mind gameplay/cost. Its not so much a top ten or best of list, it focused on how to get the best value for the consoles, which is more useful, considering the interwebs are littered with top ten lists (mine included). With the ever-rising cost of retro games, being able to find value becomes more and more important.

Every controller, every angle

Other features include boxart closeups, controller closeups, random pictures of consoles in the wild (litterally, like outdoors), and montages of game cartridges and disc cases.

These boxart spreads are fantastic

If you don't know, Mark has a background in documentary and film making. His photography moves to the forefront of these books, maybe in excess. It is clear that all the photos are presented with know-how and care. This is definitely a new take on retro gaming console publications. To be honest, I think maybe he could have trimmed the volume of photographs down a bit, or swapped some hardware pics with more in-game photos. There are 230 pages, and the photographic content dwarfs the written content by a wide margin.

Did you know the Nintendo 3DS is a migratory console?

The books cost $40 on Amazon, and while they are of decent heft, I think the could have been focused down some of the photography, and sold at a $30 price point. However, I could see a coffee table book, combining the first three volumes being a nice hardcover format (the fourth volume is a dedicated book to the Sega Genesis, and I gather that future volumes will be specialized as well). 

All in all, these are nice visual retrospective books. Being a longtime fan, picking them up was a no-brainer for me. They are definitely unique, and celebrate retro consoles in a way not done before.