Retro Bowl Review

Being a football fan is tough – that’s American Football, not soccer for those at the back, though I suppose it can be tough watching your star player pretend to fall down and hold the wrong knee. These days if you want to play anything NFL flavoured, it tends to come with a big Madden label at the top. That’s not exactly a bad thing, since Madden is as reliably engineered as a German car, but there’s a distinct lack of joy.

Joy is a hard thing to quantify. Review percentages for graphics and audio are common, but the indescribable feeling of a game that brightens your day is often overlooked. Retro Bowl is a perfect example of gaming joy.

Retro Bowl is American football by way of the by-gone 8-bit era of game design. Chunky sprites are built from equally chunky blocks, and the colour spectrum skews towards the NES’ perfectly tuned 56 vibrant options. Honestly, who needs more colours than that? It’s all accompanied by the happiest chip-tune theme song ever, and at no point have I tired of it. I don’t think I ever will; I’m actually sat with it playing while I’m writing.

Retro Bowl is all about offense. Defence runs via text commentary like Football Manager, and you’ll grip tightly to your Switch while you hope your opponents fumble or miss a field goal. The appearance of ‘TOUCHDOWN!!!’ at the end of a play can be a truly crushing moment, but it perfectly recreates the feeling of futility that most NFL teams have when playing against Patrick Mahomes. Unless you’re the Bengals.

Offense is where you take control, and despite the game’s basic setup, it’s a brilliantly realistic representation of gridiron. Passing has you controlling the arc of your throw, either with an analogue stick or with touchscreen controls that are more Angry Birds than Joe Montana. To be honest, the touchscreen controls are perfect, with different strokes for diving, juking, and moving. I often found myself playing with them due to the immediacy they provide, and if you fancy playing it on your phone you’ll find it’s a great experience.

Besides that you can focus on your running game and pounding the ball home, or you can call audibles if you don’t like the way the defence has lined up against you. Games are short, snappy, and genuinely the most fun I’ve had with a game in a long time.

The Front Office section lets you manage your team’s key attributes, working within your salary cap, upgrading your stadium, and your training and rehab facilities, all of which have knock on effects for your team’s recovery, growth, and popularity amongst the fans. You use coaching points here, and across every aspect of your back office, and you have to weigh up the options of an upgrade, hiring new staff, or a meeting with a player to improve their morale. Coaching points are harder to come by at the outset if you’ve opted for a low ranking team, but it all helps to make your organisation feel realistic and meaningful. It’s quite an achievement.

While Retro Bowl isn’t officially licensed, they’ve gone for the classic option of being able to rename all your players, coaches, and teams. So, if you fancy an accurate roster just hop onto the internet and start editing. Fancy some college ball? Just change all the team names and you’re ready to go. The only downside here is that you don’t have the ability to change a player’s appearance, meaning you’re stuck with whatever look they have. When there’s some great pixel renditions of players – there’s a perfect Dak Prescott lookalike for example – it’d be great to alter their appearance alongside the names.

Leaderboard support is coming after launch, but its omission doesn’t cause any great pain. As a bonus, Retro Bowl supports both the NES and SNES Switch controllers so you can experience it in the way whichever deity you believe in intended. As a final, and definitive double bonus, Retro Bowl is only £4.99 (or £2.99 with a launch discount), making it more or less essential.

Retro Bowl is pure gaming joy, wrapped with a nostalgic little bow. It’s also the best American Football game in years.
  • Simple and intuitive gameplay
  • Great front office options
  • Touchscreen controls
  • Needs a few additions to complete customisation
Written by
TSA's Reviews Editor - a hoarder of headsets who regularly argues that the Sega Saturn was the best console ever released.