Review – Legend Bowl (PS5)

“You can never go home again.” It’s an old phrase, that I get reminded of almost anytime I play a retro title. Many recapture the mechanics and the feel, but few recapture the fun and the enjoyment that I remember. In fact, most serve to remind me that I have moved on, games have moved on, games have gotten better. Legend Bowl does everything right, but like the Dallas Cowboys and the playoffs, it just can’t find a way to win against nostalgia.

Hitting random buttons is my jam.

The two biggest names in football games will forever be Tecmo and Madden. Tecmo (Super) Bowl was always the top-down, horizontal, left to right, field. When Madden came out, it introduced us to the vertical, isometric, south to north, field. Super Pixel Games does its best to pay homage to both, and I would even say it succeeds. If you love retro gaming, and/or sports gaming, then Legend Bowl may absolutely hit that right tick.

When you start, you are introduced to a small, but humorous, tutorial. This is used simply to show you the basics of offense and defense, teaching you to read routes, snap, pass, run, juke, spin, shed blocks, tackle, kick, etc. From there, you get the usual options you might expect. You can head over to the practice field, start an exhibition game against AI or another player, or kick off a bracket style tournament. But what is a football game without Franchise Mode where you play as the head coach, run your team, upgrade your facilities, trade players and compete against 31 other 16-bit teams of the LBL. Coach Mode is a nice touch and can be toggled on or off before each game, across all game modes.

Main menu play modes.

The teams are geographically correct but, of course, alter the team names and colors from what you may be used to. Skirting around this, Legend Bowl does allow you to edit team names, logo’s, uniform colors, even including alternate uniforms. Even the endzones can be modified. It’s nice for people that want a more authentic season.

All the above is what makes Legend Bowl a fun, thoughtful entry into retro sports and goes out of its way to deliver a classic arcade game with a modern coat of paint. However, for me, playing is where it ranged from frustrating to not fun and a reminder that going back isn’t always best. The idea of making a mixtape is intriguing, but the act of getting the source tape to the song you want, each and every single time, is something I am just glad I never have to do again. Apple Music is here to stay, and I welcome our overlords of progress.

Welcome your Baltimore Rav… errr.. Stars.

Difficulties range from Rookie to All-Pro, but even playing on Rookie, control sensitivity can be insane. You hike the ball to drop back, press and hold the button of the receiver, then release when at the desired strength is met. The issue is the meter takes all of one second to fill up and drain again. I’m also not fully aware of exactly how this routinely affects passing. A less strong pass has you lob the ball, while a stronger one has you bullet the ball in there. There are plusses and minuses to both, but too often my passes would sail nowhere near the receiver. Eventually you get the timing down, but it detracts from the entire point of lobbing or rifling a tight spiral at your target. The window it gives you doesn’t allow for much more than the same timing every pass. Kicking works the same; hit it at full and you nail the kick, you hit it almost anything other and you shank it.

Long gone are the plays with A and B, or even X and Y. Now you have bumpers and triggers and thumb sticks to calculate into every play. Tip screens almost feel intimidating with all the information it gives you, as do all the sub menus.

What happened to just an A and B receiver?

Graphics and sound work wonderfully to pay homage to its time, but I honestly can’t think of much else to elaborate on. At what point is 8 and 16-bit graphics just 8 and 16-bit graphics? It works great, along with the synthesized music and muffled English, but drawing with crayon is sometimes just drawing with crayon.

I get that I may be sounding like an old curmudgeon, and there is actually a decent amount to unpack here. Legend Bowl may be everything you want if you are looking for that retro sports game to take you back to after school matches versus your neighborhood friends. In the end, it just feels a little too complicated and unforgiving to enjoy the simple presentation from yesteryear in front of me. Or maybe retro gaming is now a young man’s game. The looks, the sounds, the modern control use, the light touches of humor, Legend Bowl really does deliver on the past. It just doesn’t do enough to make the past match my nostalgia for it. Hopefully for you, it does.

Graphics: 6.0

Retro arcade graphics are fun and done well but did nothing to stand out beyond feeling like just that.

Gameplay: 8.0

Extensive modes, menu, and sub menu options can keep you playing how you like as long as you like.

Sound: 6.0

Much like the graphics, the sound is wonderfully nostalgic but beyond that, it never feels like it adds anything more.

Fun Factor: 6.5

In the end, it just felt too complicated and unforgiving to enjoy the trip down nostalgia lane.

Final Verdict: 6.5

Legend Bowl is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC and Switch.

Reviewed on PS5.

A copy of Legend Bowl was provided by the publisher.