Editor’s Note: The following is a review based on playthroughs of Seasons 1-5 of “Retro Bowl,” based on the state of the game as it was in May of 2020. Since then there have been many updates to the game, adding features and updating the game’s algorithms. As such, this review does not reflect the current state of the game, but rather, my initial impressions with it in May of 2020. Click here to see my review of the game as of July 30, 2020. I do not anticipate revisiting the game again, but I might if it changes significantly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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