Legend Bowl Review

Legend Bowl by developer Top Hat Studios Inc and publisher YoYoGamesMicrosoft Xbox Series X review written by Nick with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Football season is coming up sooner than later, and as the leaves change color and the cooler air surrounds us – I get excited. Legend Bowl helps to embody that excitement as it combines nostalgia and a surprising amount of depth in this non-licensed American football title.

Tecmo Bowl is the clear inspiration here, in the name and the visuals. That tickled a little something in my psyche, as my more recent years have seen me focus on football games like Madden – and for a short time – the 2K NFL games. However, I cut my teeth on the NES Tecmo Bowl. I later played the sequel games and ate them up.

That however, was the 80’s and 90’s, and it raises the question whether or not this type of a game still has a place in more modern gaming. I think the answer here is ‘yes’, but it is going to have some niche appeal, I suspect. First the basics: This is not a Madden-killer by any means. If you are looking for a AAA presentation with real NFL teams and players? You’re not getting that here, at least not out of the box. Now, to Legend Bowl’s credit, there is a lot of flexibility in player and team editing. On PC there’s already plenty of NFL roster mods available that can be imported to create a more realistic NFL facsimile.

I actually spent more time than I had expected to with some of these editing features, because I generally like putting my own customized spin on teams, and these features were fun to play with. Aside from those editing features, there’s a few different modes to play with. Exhibition is the kind of quick game you would expect, and Tournament Mode is basically the playoffs to a championship (like the original Tecmo Bowl) and there is a Training Camp Mode that tries to teach you the basics. I’ll admit – I didn’t really expect to need much out of that mode given my extensive history of playing video game football, but Legend Bowl is a different kind of game than I was used to. While I thought the tutorials could have been better, they were certainly necessary.

Last but hardly least is the Franchise Mode, which is where most of my time was spent and where I suspect fans dedicated to this title will also get the most bang for their buck. It’s a pretty traditional setup with choosing a team, creating a custom coach (or using an existing prefabricated one) and playing a full schedule with stats being kept, player progressions and more. It culminates in a championship and then an offseason with free agency and drafting. These RPG-lite elements have always been among my favorite aspects of sports titles and Legend Bowl does a solid job on this front. There are just a ton of stats to look through, and it feels like a fully flesh, deeply featured mode that is really well done.

The presentation is going to be hit or miss, and is one of the reasons I feel as though Legend Bowl is a rather niche title. The pixelated graphics give off a retro feel that compliments the catch chiptune music nicely. Because of these more limited character models, gameplay has some tweaks as a result. Things like trying to break through the offensive line is represented with a bar that you fill up by mashing a button to bust through. In fact, a lot of the elements here feel like mini quicktime events. On the one hand, almost all games are this, but it’s more pronounced here since it’s visually represented on the screen. At the higher difficulty levels, you will generally lose these, as the computer is simply going to be better at spamming an input button than most people.

The gameplay is another reason why I could see Legend Bowl failing to appeal to a broader audience. The passing mechanic is interesting, as it has a press and release, again with a bar that fills up to try and guide you. Though after a while I was oblivious to the bar as it only distracted me from looking at the receivers down the field once I got the timing down for my QB. Some of the defensive and ball carrier controls also didn’t feel as intuitive to me as I had hoped – especially early on. It felt a bit like I was being asked to unlearn everything I had learned from video game football over the years. I eventually got the hang of the controls, but it was often times frustrating, especially the passing mechanic which felt like it just leans to one extreme or the other (bullet or lob pass) most of the time.

Legend Bowl does lean into a more arcade feeling, yet doesn’t quite feel like the old school Tecmo Bowl games it visually reminded me of. There’s a lot of menus here as well, and I suspect they work a bit better on the PC with a mouse and keyboard than they do on console with a controller, but it’s hardly a deal-killer, just an inconvenience.

On the whole, Legend Bowl does a lot of things right, but isn’t going to dethrone Madden either and that’s okay. If you are a diehard NFL fan who wants to play a more realistic simulation, there’s a good chance that Legend Bowl is not going to scratch that itch. However, if you can adjust to the more arcade-like controls and don’t mind the numerous menus, there’s plenty of fun to be had here. I just had to make sure to give myself time to learn to play the game, which is a different type of game than most other football titles. The numerous statistics make the Franchise Mode the most rewarding feature of Legend Bowl, and those willing to push through the learning curve will find plenty of reason to come back to it.

Score: 7 / 10



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