Death By Algorithm | “Retro Bowl” Seasons 1-5 Mobile Game Review [Free Version]

Editor’s Note: The following is a review based on playthroughs of Seasons 1-5 of “Retro Bowl.” Since this review went up, I have played an additional 27 seasons of the game, and my views have evolved on the game. While this review accurately represents my experience playing the first five seasons with the game, I felt the need to revisit the game to see what it has to offer beyond Season 5. To see my review of Seasons 6-32, click here.

It’s not every day that you get a game that manages to undo all the good it has to offer. Unfortunately, New Star Games Ltd.’s “Retro Bowl” is one of those games. 

I’m going to be upfront about this. I’m giving this game a 0/10, the first of its kind on this site. As a critic, I try to give at least partial credit where partial credit is due. I gave the mobile game “Happy Glass” a 4/10, despite the fact that its predatory monetization made the game virtually unplayable. I gave “Coffee and Kareem” a 5/10, as while it was a very distasteful film, it still had good qualities to it. “Retro Bowl” too has some good qualities, the difference is they are completely negated by its flaws. 

Get ready to fill your *not* NFL standard roster of 10 slots. Because as we all know, all NFL teams have 10 players on them.

WHAT IT IS: “Retro Bowl” is a NFL team simulator in which you manage your own team as its head coach. You draft players, you make trades, and you cut players as necessary. So far so good. 

The game lets you play as your pre-selected players during live games, but only on offense. When the opposing team has the ball, a computer algorithm decides their fate, as dialogue boxes tell you what happens.

On its surface, “Retro Bowl” is a barebones team management simulator, and a pass simulator. 

Retro Bowl Review: A Mobile Game That Transcends the Platform
You’re in the Red Zone, where most NFL teams have a high probability of scoring. However, if you throw anywhere near a defender, they will intercept you. And that 47 seconds on the clock is 9/10 enough for the opposing team to score a touchdown, even from your one yard line in the 2nd or 4th quarter.

The Good

This will be brief. The only thing it has going for it are the few areas where it gives you an active choice. The pass simulator, in which you play as your team’s quarterback and get to pass to your receivers via a minigame, can be quite fun when it works. 

It’s also about figuring out who you’re going to draft, and who you’re going to sign, though the game intentionally limits itself. You can only have 10 players on your team at any given time, which forces you to just not have key positions on your team, although in the passing minigame, you will have nameless sprites fill those positions, although they won’t be any good. 

There is also a kicking minigame, but this will be virtually unplayable unless you have a kicker on your roster. 

You can play as many seasons as you like. But you might not want to play for long. 

Retro Bowl – Beta Sign Up (Android) (With images) | Retro, Retro ...
This is your view for most of the game. If you don’t want eye strain, don’t play this.

The Bad

Now let’s get to the bad, itemized in the following categories: 

NO CONTROL ON DEFENSE: While this game lets you play both as the QB, kicker, and occasionally as a receiver, you have absolutely no agency on defense other than the players you select for your roster. Instead, a broken computer algorithm decides your fate, and you learn what happens via dialogue boxes. 

Half of the game of football is defense, and as such, “Retro Bowl” feels like half a game. To make matters worse, the defensive algorithm is very sporadic, unless you have a perfect defense. 

The game uses a star system to rate the offense/defense that you’ve crafted, but it doesn’t matter whatsoever, especially in the eyes of the defense algorithm. Your five-star defense will always give up a TD to even a two-star offense if you leave 40 or more seconds on the clock. 

HAIL MARYS EVERY DAY: The defense algorithm is so broken that it gave my opponents successful Hall Mary throws in three consecutive games. You know, Hail Marys, the EXTREMELY common throw that is also used commonly as a phrase for something you see every day. 

Expect ridiculous, game breaking outcomes like this a lot. 

Retro Bowl Review: The sports fix you need right now - The Retro ...
There is a decent season system. But it’s bogged down by extraneous morale/fan systems, an unnecessary currency, and a lot of algorithmic imbalance.

INTERCEPTIONS ALL DAY LONG: You can take the time to build a five-star offense. You can max out your salary cap to get the very best Wide Receivers and Running Backs money can buy. If you throw anywhere close to a defender, even if you are going up against a horrible 2-star defense, they will intercept the ball 9/10 over the top-notch receiver you bought. 

And because their defense algorithm is so broken, their team will score a touchdown after the turnover, even if their team is starting on your 1 yard line and there is 40 seconds on the clock. There really isn’t any point in building up your defense. Whether you have a one star defense or a five star one, the outcome is still the same. It completely breaks your immersion in the game.

Interceptions : RetroBowl
You can win the Super Bowl with the Cleveland Browns in this game, and your fans will barely care.

ITS OWN USELESS CURRENCY, EXTRANEOUS METERS: The NFL has a salary cap that allows poorer teams to be competitive, meaning that, unlike MLB and other professional sports, making a successful NFL team is more about money management than having endless funds. 

“Retro Bowl” features a salary cap, except it doesn’t matter. You won’t be able to buy any players, because you not only need cap space, you need to have enough of the game’s own currency called Coaching Credits. 

Coaching Credits basically represent your reputation in the organization. You need them to have the authority to sign free agent players you have cap space for, to upgrade your stadium and workout facilities, but also to have meetings with your players to improve their mood.

What?

Yes, each player also has a mood bar that needs to be taken care of, or else they turn toxic and start negatively affecting the morale of the team. 

Yes, there’s also a morale bar you need to keep track of. Like your star ratings, they don’t seem to do anything. 

I finally did it. A Retro Bowl Trophy for all 32 teams. : RetroBowl
Thes game’s record-keeping is nice, but it adds nothing to the gameplay.

You also have a fan approval bar, which is also broken. In my first season playing the game, I won the Super Bowl (they call it the Retro Bowl) with the Cincinnati Bengals, who have never won the Super Bowl before, and the fans barely cared. The game is supposed to be in line with the real-life NFL, as it keeps accurate records of all Super Bowls from Super Bowl I to Super Bowl LIV, so it’s not like it exists in some fantasy land. If the Cincinnati Bengals won the Super Bowl, that would be the biggest thing that happened in their team history. 

POOR ART STYLE, CONTROLS: The game goes for a retro-style akin to what you’d see on the NES, which is fine enough, but it doesn’t work for a phone game.

During its kicking and passing games, your teammates are hard to see and hard to control because they are so small, which is an issue, as the game itself demands pinpoint accuracy. 

The game tries to incorporate modern uniform color schemes, but it just doesn’t work. Half the time they look ugly, and if you’re playing a team whose uniforms have even remotely similar colors (i.e. the Bengals vs. the Browns), you’re done for. 

If you have anything less than perfect eyesight, I recommend avoiding this game at all costs. 

Retro Bowl App for iPhone - Free Download Retro Bowl for iPad ...
The game is littered with annoying little choices like this.

A RUINED GAME: “Retro Bowl” is a game that intentionally makes itself worse, especially through its roster limitations and frustrating gameplay, in order to sell you a solution: Its Unlimited Version. 

But the damage is done. While you might find some momentary joy in its passing game, you’ll be frustrated by its out of control interception and pass completion algorithms. While you might enjoy building up a strong defense, your work will be squandered by the game’s broken defense algorithm. And while you might enjoy building an overall team, you’ll have to make the awful choice of choosing between having things like a WR or a RB — two positions key to the game of football —because the game intentionally limits its roster space. 

Every pro is negated by at least one con. It’s a game where it’s possible to make incremental progress in, but at any second, you can be knocked down via algorithm for no fault of your own. “Retro Bowl” is less a game of skill than a game of chance, based on an algorithm.

It’s a shame, because it had potential. Instead, it’s a game whose cons outweighs its pros.

“Retro Bowl” Seasons 1-5 gets a 0/10

4 thoughts on “Death By Algorithm | “Retro Bowl” Seasons 1-5 Mobile Game Review [Free Version]

  1. I want to know how much EA paid you. Retro Bowl is the only game on the Google Play Store I would give a 10/10.

    The screenshots in your own article show a 53 season record of a player who won it all 75% of the time but you claim the game is impossibly difficult. You like its retro “NES” style but don’t recognize that implementing defense would be far more difficult than the offense. Give it time, the team developing this is tiny and they have limited resources. You complain about having multiple things to juggle within the game (morale, fans, cap space, coach credits) but without those things the game would be overly simple and boring. Frankly, you complain about interceptions a lot and it just sounds like you’re bad at gaming.

    Your “review” has literally turned into a meme on the lively and fun r/RetroBowl subreddit. This game is a masterpiece and is only continuing to improve. Maybe if you liked football or a mobile game that is impressive enough that a PC gamer reaches for it more often than any other game he has, you’d agree.

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    1. Thank you for you comment, and I’m glad you enjoyed the game!

      I’ve seen the reddit, and it’s clear that this game has a very passionate fanbase that disagrees with me, which is fine. Part of the beauty of gaming discourse is the myriad of opinions that it allows. I wouldn’t call this game a masterpiece, but I am glad that it has passionate fans like yourself who support it.

      I am considering doing an updated review on this game, seeing as this review was based on my playthroughs of 5 seasons, and in that time since, I’ve gotten to season 32, and my views on the game have evolved. While many of my criticisms of the game still stand, I do realize that there is a level of enjoyment to be had in this game, even if you have to approach this game much differently than a game of actual football (I still disagree with the 10-person teams, as it forces you to go without what are usually key positions in football, and I’ve found that you have to use RBs much differently in this game for them to be effective).

      In my opinion, each pro of this game has a con, but to me, the fact that there is some enjoyment to be had in this game means this game might not have deserved the 0/10 mark, and since this review went up, I have wondered if I was too harsh on the game.

      Perhaps I was. This is one of those cases where my experience in seasons 1-5 was very different than seasons 6-32,as the game is very different once you have enough Coaching Credits to effectively manage your team (though I still think it’s an extraneous system).

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      1. Wow. You replied. Cool!

        Sorry for the hyperbole. I’m glad you’ve seen that there is good in this little game. I agree that it’s not perfect and that there are things that could be better. I also think (and I think there are a lot who agree with me) that part of the appeal of Retro Bowl is that it doesn’t try to do all things.

        I am curious if you have seen that the roster size can be increased to 12 which also increases the salary cap to $200 million. I find that the 12-man roster is just about right for the feel of the game.

        To your point about RBs, at first look they are pretty useless except as a check-down, but with good roster balance and the right skill players you can build an exceptional ground-n-pound team, or go for a West Coast, or the ever-popular air raid. The point being, with some practice and careful drafting and signings there’s a lot more depth to the game than at first glance.

        Something else that others are using to enrich the game experience is the customization of team colors with hex values, team names, and player names. Yes, loadouts can’t be shared online (yet I’m guessing), but what other mobile game, including Madden, has even that level of customization?

        I don’t work for or am at all affiliated with New Star Games, but I am a little protective of this title. I had never spent money on a mobile app before playing the demo for this and I immediately got Google Opinion Rewards and eagerly saved up the $1 to get the full version (I still won’t give Google real money). Needless to say, I was pretty shocked at your original post.

        I am glad to see your new blurb at the top saying you will be revisiting the game and I’m looking forward to reading what else you have observed in your next article

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    2. I haven’t played the paid version, but I would imagine 12 roster slots would be a lot of help. Ironically, I learned that instead of handing the ball to RBs, if you throw to them like you would a WR, they will rip through any defense. More often than not, my games after writing this centered around RBs making 20, 30, 40 and 50 yard carries, and they ended up being the highest paid players on my team.

      I was a bit surprised how this blew up on Reddit, but dealing with people who disagree with you is part of the being a critic. I imagine many will disagree with my revisited thoughts as well, especially because I don’t scale my mobile game reviews; I hold them up to the same standards I would of handhelds that appear on equally capable hardware (for mobile games, I try to draw a comparison of what the DS Lite was capable of years ago).

      My biggest issue still remains to be the Coaching Credits system, as the reason why I had such a different experience after Year 6 is that I finally had enough of them to experiment and get the players that I wanted. Once I was able to use all of my cap, I had a much better experience.

      I am appreciative of your readership and hope to get my revisited review up soon!

      Like

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