Retro Bowl Switch Review - A Miniature Super Bowl

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A first down in Retro Bowl, showing the pre-play routes.
Credit: New Star Games

New Star Games has been around a fair while. Mobile games have been its forte, with consistent success coming from games like New Star Soccer and New Star Cricket. Over the years I've sunk a great deal of time into its bite-sized sports experiences, which put you in the studded boots of a sportsperson on a career to become the next big thing.

Retro Bowl is a journey slightly outside of this comfort zone. Instead of taking on a single player's career and attempting to bring yourself to the top of the world both professionally and commercially, Retro Bowl has you leading a whole NFL team to national glory.

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It's been out on mobile devices for a while (free of charge), but the Switch version is available for £4.49, without in-app purchases or extra optional bits to buy on top.

So, how high does Retro Bowl for the Switch get drafted?

The Retro Bowl draft screen, with prospect players and their star ratings.
Credit: New Star Games

No Touchbacks

Retro Bowl's main selling point is its simplicity. Even if you aren't fully familiar with the rules of American Football, you'll find it pretty simple to get to grips with. Retro Bowl offers some quick tutorials telling you how to pass, how to move, and how to run, along with a couple of extra mechanics like scrambling with your quarterback.

Certain aspects of the real-life NFL aren't included in Retro Bowl, and the game benefits from this - although it's worth knowing if you expect to be able to play it as though it's a Madden game. Rules like touchbacks after kickoffs aren't present - you have to run the ball back every time or you'll concede a Safety. There are also no penalties, which I think benefits the game big time. The worst thing about the NFL is watching a great play happen only for it to get called back for a holding call on a random offensive lineman.

The simpler the better, and New Star Games did a great job of translating the game's controls, which were perfect on mobile devices with touch screens, to a console with analogue sticks and a bunch of buttons. To pass, you just drag an aiming reticule to where you want to throw the ball and your QB will do it (to varying degrees of success depending on their skill rating). It's not quite as satisfying as the mobile version where you pull back on the QB's arm like you're aiming a slingshot, but does a fine job with the Switch's control limitations.

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There's also a lot of control afforded to you when running with the ball. While in the mobile version, I often found myself swiping up and down to juke around, controlling a running player with the Switch's sticks feels nice and easy. Each game is super quick to drop into - it's been my go-to for bus journeys.

A touchdown is scored in Retro Bowl.
Credit: New Star Games

Defence (Clap Clap)

Something you might've noticed in my assessment of Retro Bowl is how all my explanation revolves around the offensive play. That's because your defence doesn't exist in Retro Bowl.

Maybe that's unfair to say. Retro Bowl absolutely has defensive play, and your opponents will be playing defence against you on every snap. It's just that the player isn't able to take control of any aspect of the defence, with the game skipping through opposition possessions with your D's star rating the only thing that really matters. If it's higher, they'll score less often. That's about it.

This creates a weird balance when building your team in the background. The old mantra is that 'offence wins games, defence wins championships', but your defence will never get a pick-six on Retro Bowl. If you absolutely stack your defence and don't bother with offence as much, you'll lose most of your games. Conversely, if you beef up your offence with a superstar quarterback, a ridiculously strong running back, a couple of fast receivers and a big tight end, you'll be romping to the opposing end zone easily.

It's strange that the balance isn't there. Given Retro Bowl's clear inspiration from the NES classic Tecmo Bowl, in which players could face each other on both sides of the football, it feels like a missed opportunity.

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Of course, it's absolutely harder than I'm making it sound. You can't just 'turn on defence' - that'd be like developing a whole different game. But it'd be nice if we at least had the ability to call plays and predict a pass vs a run as we could in Tecmo Bowl.

The Retro Bowl menu screen.
Credit: New Star Games

The Big Game

There's still a lot going on for Retro Bowl though, particularly on the Switch.

Despite Retro Bowl's lack of an option to play on defence, it offers a great deal of polish and a surprising amount of depth.

It's important to mention too: Retro Bowl on the Switch is purchasable with a one-time payment, offering the full game experience without the option and feeling of missing out that comes with a free-to-play game that offers extra currency through purchases.

For me, this is a marked improvement on the mobile version. I know the economies of the different platforms are different, but it's just so much more comfortable for me to play a game without the nagging thought in the back of my mind that I could be having more fun if I just handed over a couple extra quid. On this version, there's no such worry. If I can't afford to sign that offensive lineman or renew my coach's contract, that's something I should've thought ahead on and saved up for.

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The dynamic difficulty system is also a great aspect of Retro Bowl. Admittedly, I found the first season a bit easy, particularly given how bad my team was, but once the game figured out my skill level each opponent actually felt like they were living up to their rating.

Verdict: 4/5

Retro Bowl does a fantastic job with what it's trying to do. Being a mobile game ported onto the Switch, it was always going to be a challenge to figure out how to make it work, but New Star Games has come out with another lovely arcade treat.

There are areas I'd like to see changed. This ranges from minor gameplay bits - players slow down to a crawl after sprinting for a while meaning you're highly unlikely to get long touchdown running plays - to the overall design - the feeling that defence is hugely undervalued - but for what it is, Retro Bowl does a great job.

Pick your team, always throw it long to your fastest receiver, and have fun. Perfect timing for the Bengals to win Super Bowl LVI (I shall be editing this if the Rams win).

Score: 4/5

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch. A code was provided by the publisher.