I'm the last person in the world who'd ever end up on a Wheaties box, but Legend Bowl reminds me of playing NCAA Football with my older brother, and that's pretty cool.
- Title: Legend Bowl
- Release Date: August 9, 2023
- Price: $24.99
- Suggested Audience Age: Rated T for Teen by the ESRB
- Availability: Switch (Reviewed), Steam, Xbox, PlayStation
- Recommended for fans of: Tecmo Bowl, Management Sims, and Local Multiplayer
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
My older brother and younger sisters were always the sports kids in the family. I played little league and soccer and basketball, but I was absolutely terrible at all of them and would have rather been curled up in my bed playing Pokemon on my GameBoy Color. The only sport I ever really got excited about watching was college football. Both my parents and my older brother all went to the University of Oregon, and for a lot of my life going to Autzen Stadium was a weekend routine in the fall.
At home, my brother and I played a ton of NCAA Football. He was always better than me, but I remember hours and hours of playing together, watching him play, creating teams and players and signs for the crowd to hold. I even learned formations and specific plays and then could spot those formations when we watched real games on TV. That franchise has been dead and buried for years, and I’ve basically never touched a “real” sports game sense. I’ll pick up an arcade take on a sport here and there, but anything that aims for “sim” doesn’t interest me at all.
When I started up Legend Bowl on the Switch, I looked at its chunky pixel art and thought I was in for a 16-bit version of NFL Blitz. Instead, I’ve found a game that’s just enough sim to keep me hooked up through the franchise mode, but with some options to speed up play for a slightly more arcadey feel.
At a glance through the menus, Legend Bowl gives you just about everything you might want from a football game (except for licensed teams and players). An exhibition mode allows you to quickly start a game between any of the game's 32 original teams for 1-4 players. There is a creation suite where you can modify the appearance and stats of players, as well as make your own coach or change the colors, logos, or locations of any of the teams.
The real meat of the game, for me, is the Franchise Mode, which lets you create a coach and then take a team through a 17-week-long season. There are a ton of options for managing your roster, stadium, and training facilities here, and the promise of off-season decision-making that will impact the next go around, but mostly I’m digging this mode for giving me a structured schedule to play through.
The thing that surprised me with Legend Bowl (and keeps surprising me each time I play) is that the actual Football in the game feels really good. I mean, yeah, it’s the core gameplay element in the game, so you’d hope they’d have really focused it in, but the surprise is that the gameplay feels way more modern than the aesthetics look.
I have mostly played with five-minute quarters, but other than using a quicker run time there's very little missing from the football experience here. Both teams have eleven players on the field, you can choose from a massive list of plays (the offensive playbook has 23 formations!), and you can fake snap or audible while on the line. The clock stops at two minutes for a warning, CPU players will wait to snap to run down the clock, and they'll even bring out those stupid chains to measure first downs every once in a while. It’s a pretty dang thorough football game!
Once you’ve snapped the ball on offense, you’ll either automatically hand off if you’re picked a running play, or you’ll step back and prepare to throw to your receivers using the face or shoulder buttons. While running, there are all sorts of options to juke or throw your shoulder, but the game’s tutorial teases that you’ll probably just mash the A button to sprint.
Some Surprising Fumbles
Overall, everything in Legend Bowl works for me, but there are a few minor hurldes. On the simulation side of things, there are a few missing pieces… There’s no option to lateral while carrying the ball, and the only penalty I have seen has been when I intentionally stepped offsides on defense. Within the franchise mode, each week you might get prompted with trade requests from other teams or contract negotiations from your players, but there does not seem to be a way for the player to propose a trade or preemptively cut a player.
On the gameplay side of things, I find myself wishing that between plays would move just a bit faster. A pre-release patch actually added an option to skip the animation of players huddling up, but you still have to wait for a second or two after choosing a play for everyone to get into position. It may sound minor, but with a game I’m mostly playing handheld I wish I could jump straight from choosing a play to being ready to snap the ball.
My biggest issue, however, also feels like a glaring omission. There is no auto-save in Legend Bowl. Each time you advance to a new week in Franchise Mode it first simulates the rest of the league’s games, then shows all the trades and contact negotiations that take place between games, then you start the game. Then you play the game. Then you finish the game and have to choose “End Game” to leave the final box scores and go back to the Franchise menu. At no point in that entire process, including when you finish the game and go back to the Franchise menu, does the game save. No, in order to actually save any of that, you have to quit out of the Franchise menu, at which point you get a prompt asking if you want to save your progress.
I have replayed the same game so many times because of going to the Switch home menu to swap games without first quitting out of Franchise mode.
Since NCAA Football is dead and EA Sports doesn’t understand that the Switch exists, Legend Football is a great pickup for Nintendo fans who are looking for some quick football action. It’s got a ton more depth to it than Retro Bowl, but between the retro aesthetic and a massively helpful “Ask Coach” option when choosing plays, it’s also very easy for anyone to pick up and play.
I don’t know if I’ll keep running the Seattle Emerald’s new coach Crush Mashly (fresh off a title run in the AEW) through multiple years of the franchise mode, but I know that this will be an easy game to pick up whenever I get a bit of a football itch.
I also can’t wait to play it with my older brother.