As someone who only got into American Football in my late teens, my first gridiron game was on the PlayStation 2. As such, I missed out on all the 8-bit and 16-bit games, the ones remembered by others so fondly. But as Legend Bowl does such a good job recreating those classic games with more modern features, I may not need to bother with the older ones anymore.
Legend Bowl is a classic looking sports game based on American football. Released in 2021 on PC, it now finds its way to home consoles. It is very much in the same style as Tecmo Bowl and others of that same period, but whereas that had the license for teams and players, Legend Bowl doesn’t. But don’t worry, it doesn’t really need it.
Many cities in the NFL are featured here. The Philadelphia Eagles are the Philadelphia Liberty, the Cardinals are now the Arizona Scorpions and the Dolphins are found here as the Miami Sharks. Kit-wise and colours, most in Legend Bowl have borrowed liberally from their real-life counterparts.
If this doesn’t suit you though, you can take one of these teams and create your own. In fact, you can create a single player, or redesign the whole team however you choose. Update their stats, look, jerseys, the lot.
Legend Bowl doesn’t get off to the greatest of starts. There is a tutorial, but it appears to be far more concerned with making quips about the coach having to explain movement and passing in video game terms rather than properly explaining the mechanics. Subsequent lessons are available, but these don’t have any structure at all. For example, a lesson on blocking just puts you, a blocker and a QB on the field and then just lets you get on with it. Whilst it does allow you to get a feel for the game, I prefer my tutorials with a bit more structure and explanation.
It is still the best place to start but afterwards you’ll want to head into Franchise mode for the real meat and bones of Legend Bowl. Here you get the Franchise mode you would expect from a more modern game. It comes with the ability to play it purely from the point of view of a head coach running things from the sideline, a front office to hire and fire, hall of fame, playoffs, stats and more. It is a very comprehensive mode.
You can also create a 16-team bracket for some knockout competition in Tournament mode. This doesn’t come with all the bells and whistles of Franchise mode – understandably so – but does get you into the action quicker.
The action on the field is very arcade like, definitely feeling more like the classic football games than the more modern counterparts. But it does still come with modern touches: the roar of the home crowd on a 3rd down, chatter and bickering amongst the two teams, and a very in-depth playbook. Thankfully there is still the coaches pick option when choosing the next play that gives you a much smaller selection to choose from. Very useful if you cannot tell a dime from a shotgun formation.
One major difference is the removal of onside kicks. Since the rule changes in NFL, this method of quickly getting the ball back from your own kickoff has been nigh-on impossible. Legend Bowl, acknowledging this, has ‘borrowed’ from XFL the fourth-and-15 rule. Rather than to attempt an onside kick, a team can elect to try a fourth-and-15 to recover the ball. In all honesty, I don’t think it will be long before a similar method is approached by the NFL.
Legend Bowl doesn’t feel quite as optimised as it could be. For a game that thrives on a pixelated retro look, there are frequent loading times. Moving between modes often has a loading screen prompt, and there are certain options in the settings that warn of increased loading if turned on. As for whether these are to be improved after release or not remains to be seen.
Staying in the settings, the first thing I would recommend is turning the difficulty down. You may be a Madden pro but Legend Bowl is a different beast. Breaking a tackle is done by spamming the A button to fill a bar, but at the default difficulty it leaves little time to do this before the opponent has done it to you. Similarly too with passing the ball – there is no room for error when holding the corresponding button to throw to a receiver. Certain options in the difficulty settings can prevent you constantly being intercepted of whiffing a pass in an unintended direction.
For a game that looks like Legend Bowl, you’d be forgiving for thinking this was just a throwaway American Football arcade game. The truth is, there is as much depth here as the modern Madden games, without all the unnecessary bumph of barely distinguishable modes that EA are obsessed with adding in.
Whether you simply jump into a new Franchise, or play a quick tournament with all the modern features you would expect, Legend Bowl may not be a Madden killer, but it can stand toe-to-toe with the licensed franchise.