Drop everything and download: Retro Bowl

The maker of New Star Soccer tackles a very different kind of football

With the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers securing their tickets for Super Bowl LIV on Sunday night, NFL fever has gripped Stuff Towers.

Even if you’re one of the people who only tunes in for one game a year and falls asleep after the half-time show, the chap who made New Star Soccer has released an American football game for iOS and Android that should get even the most casual fan in the mood for the big game in Miami on 2 February.

What is it, then?

Imagine if Sensible Soccer had been made for America’s version of football and you’d probably have something that looked a lot like Retro Bowl.

It makes you the boss of an NFL franchise, putting you in charge of managing your star players, keeping the team and fans happy, and gradually improving your roster on the road to the Retro Bowl – the biggest prize in 8-bit gridiron.

On the field, you only take control when your team is in possession, deciding whether to attempt a pass or handing the ball off for a running back to rush with. Throwing the ball involves a classic pull-back-and-release slingshot mechanic, much like you’ve used a thousand times before in games like Angry Birds and Desert Golfing, while swiping up and down helps a player in possession to avoid being tackled.

Each quarter lasts 90 seconds, with a full 16 games between your team and the potential glory of the playoffs.

Is it any good?

Put it this way: you won’t need all five of the free games it gives you to decide whether you’re going to unlock the full version of Retro Bowl. When you land a pass in the hands of a receiver there’s a real sense of satisfaction that just makes you want to play another game, while successfully deflecting a long kick off the inside of the upright with a ‘doink’ has the same effect (especially if it’s windy). It’s a feeling that will be very familiar for anyone who got addicted to New Star Soccer.

American football games are usually either too simple or far too complicated but Retro Bowl trims it down to its core parts without losing the subtleties that make the sport so compelling. You get to decide whether to kick the ball or go for it on fourth down, so while the off-pitch parts might lack a little depth in the long run, when it comes to gaining yards and scoring points it seems to strike an almost perfect balance.

The game’s old-skool look has been brilliantly realised too, right down to the menus and the option to turn on scanlines if you really complete the look.

Any downsides?

There’s no real defensive side to the game. You only know what’s going on when your defensive line is on the field through Championship Manager-style text commentary and the only way you can affect how well you do without the ball is by upgrading players throughout the season or hiring a better defensive coordinator. But most people only really want to be a quarterback anyway, right?

With elite quarterbacks such as Patrick Mahomes increasingly able to use their feet almost as well as their arms, it’s a shame there’s no option for the QB to run the ball if none of their favoured receivers can get open, but it’s easy to see how that might over complicate matters.

There are in-app purchases as well but they’re very low-key, especially compared to the later version of New Star Soccer. You can pay actual cash for Coaching Credits (99p for 20, £1.99 for 50 or £2.99 for 100) rather than earning them in the game, but you won’t feel like it’s unfairly holding you back if you keep your wallet in your pocket.

Where can I get it?

Retro Bowl is free to download from Apple’s App Store or Google Play, although without paying 99p to unlock the full version you’ll be limited to just five games. That’s got to be worth a punt, right?