TECMO SUPER BOWL 3 / Tecmo / SNES
Tecmo Super Bowl 3 continues down the trail begun by the second game, which is towards a more subdued, realistic and "mainstream" sort of look and feel in an apparent attempt to keep pace with the Maddens and the QB Clubs of the time.
This one is more refined than TSB 2, however, and has a better menu system and play-calling. The "create a player" mode makes its first appearance here as well as a free agency system. On the whole it's much improved, but the trade-off for these interface and gameplay improvements is that you lose even more of the classic Tecmo Super Bowl "feel".
The improved semi-isometric view of the field is retained from TSB 2, but the ugly and clumsy menu system is dumped in favor of something much more streamlined and easy to deal with. You can now play up to three seasons back-to-back, and if you can win the Super Bowl with the same team three times you unlock a whole bunch of Hall of Famer players (denoted by jersey number and team) who can be recruited from free agency. There's still a three-week trading period prior to each season, but it's overly simplistic and clunky - you basically get three chances on a 1-in-100 shot of being able to trade a crappier player at one position for a better one (no inter-position trades allowed), and the computer also seems to be able to swipe players from you without you getting a chance to approve the trade. Free agency is a little better, but is marred by the fact that no CPU-controlled teams participate, and the same pool of players seemingly just sits there from year to year and stagnates. Players also don't seem to statistically rise or fall between seasons, thus keeping their free agency value fixed at all times. You can create something like 30 players, and dump them into the free agent pool, but even with restrictions on statistics they still tend to be far better than the rest of the roster. Created players CAN increase in skill from year to year based on their performance, but they usually start out at an advantage already anyway. Trading and free agency also only occurs prior to the first game of the season; once you end each mode you're stuck until next year.
On-field action features a much more robust playbook and an audible system, as well as allowing you to sub in new plays in the middle of a game. Gameplay is largely the same as it has always been, but the pace is slower here than the NES and first SNES games, and players don't tend to get "juiced" as ridiculously even into the playoffs. It's much more rare for the CPU to rip off huge runs with a running back, as your defense plays to the ball a lot quicker and smarter now, but a human player can still pretty easily exploit long bombs down the field if they have a good receiver.
Overall the gameplay is a lot more balanced, especially if you tend to play solo. The trade-off is that cinematics have been cut down even further than those of TSB 2, and when they do appear it's usually just some static picture. Cinematics seem to have been done here by the artists that did the Ninja Gaiden arcade game and look kind of creepy, with eyeless players, but the game also has tiny digitized pictures now of a lot of the players that appear when they rip off some sort of a big play along with their stats. There's also no music on the field whatsoever for the first time in the series, just ambient crowd noise and player grunts. At least they got rid of that annoying kid calling plays, but the new voice sounds all groany and weird. Still a small improvement though. I wish they had done *something* celebratory for the playoffs and Super Bowl, but it's about as sedated as the rest of the game. One nice touch is that the computer automatically selects MVP awards and an All-Pro team at the end of the season based on stats, though it only seems to make one for the whole leauge rather than assembling AFC and NFC Pro Bowl teams (the MVP thing is also a little goofy - 29 sacks and a bajillion tackles with Greg Lloyd, 8 ints returned for 6 touchdowns by Rod Woodson, and some Cowboys lineman with 10 sacks and two forced fumbles gets the defensive MVP? WTF?)
The rampant fumbling of TSB 2 seems to be gone here but injuries, if you choose to play with them on, can be random and ridiculous. I had two linebackers over the course of the season get injured while sacking the quarterback. When does that happen? Of course, you can just turn these off, and fumbling can now be turned off as well.
I understand why hardcore fans rank the NES and even the first SNES version higher than this one, even though this is probably overall the most polished product by far. People like that zippy, broken gameplay they got used to on the NES, not to mention the rad cinematics and music, and overall it's probably better for multiplayer. I think TSB 3 is far and away the better solo player experience than any of the previous games, however, and multiplayer is still good enough to be among the best football games of the 16-bit era. You'd like a bit more robust roster and franchise mode options, but these things were unheard of on consoles in 1994-95, and even the scanty offerings here are way beyond what other football games of the time had. With updated roster patches and gameplay tweak patches from knobbe.org this is still an exceptional football game on the whole and easily my personal favorite of the 16-bit era.
* Gameplay Video